This year’s Halloween costume came together at the last minute, but I think it turned out okay.
I’ve made it no secret on this blog that I wasn’t the most confident person growing up. I hid my limb difference as much as I could and refused to display it in photographs until very recently. I was taught from an early age that my lack of a hand was something that should be hidden. If you look at the pictures (the few that do exist) of my early teen years, you’ll find it’s nearly impossible to tell that I’m missing half my left arm. By that age, I’d already become a pro at disguising my defect (or what I considered a defect back then, rather) using sweaters, jackets, long sleeves and gloves. I was determined to look as normal as possible and grew embarrassed whenever someone would call attention to my missing hand. Things have fortunately changed since then and I’ve come a long way in building a better self image. But sometimes I think about my old pictures and regret all the anxiety and energy I put into hiding myself.
When I think about my relationship with my disability as a child, I always wonder if maybe there were things I (or those around me) could have done to help me feel more confident about looking different. I did go to camp for kids with disabilities a couple times, but their main focus was more on learning to use my Myoelectric prosthetic and functioning in a two-handed world. They didn’t really address the topic of body image, and it wasn’t like there was any representation of limb difference on TV or in movies. So who’s a limb different girl to look up to in this looks-obsessed society? When is a child with a disability allowed to feel like she can be beautiful just as she is?
A few days ago, a close family friend sent me a link to a post about a photographer who snaps pictures of her daughter and creates beautiful dream-like scenes with them. The little girl, Violet, does not have a left hand, but that’s hardly the main reason for staring at the images. Violet’s mother Holly Spring has used digital editing to transform the backgrounds into several different fantastical worlds for her daughter to inhabit, images that include giraffes, enchanted meadows, and sunset boat rides. Her muse and model absolutely shines as she smiles, poses, and dances for the camera. And what’s one thing I can’t help but notice in all the photos? While not all the pictures display her smaller arm, little Violet clearly makes no attempt to conceal it.
What we see in Spring’s photos is a girl who has more confidence as a kindergartener than I’ve been able to muster in more than two decades. Her joy and freedom and self esteem are palpable. What we don’t see, however, is Violet’s mother who stands behind the scenes. But Spring is more than just the photographer here. She is the one responsible for her daughter’s glow, building Violet’s confidence by casting her in the spotlight and showing her how beautiful she is. I think the most important factor in growing a child’s self-confidence is letting them know that someone they love believes in them and believes that they’re beautiful, that their physical difference does not detract one bit from that beauty.
Violet is still young, and her opinions about herself will develop and evolve as she grows older. That’s a fact of life, and we all go through moments of self-consciousness and insecurity. But I hope that when that time comes, when doubt sneaks its way into her mind, that she will take one look through her childhood photos and summon even an ounce of the easy confidence she displays in those radiant images.
(Second and third images belong to Holly Spring)
One question I’m asked frequently (after the inevitable “What happened to your arm?”) is this: “How much does a prosthetic hand cost?” Let’s put it this way – you know when people facetiously claim that something crazy-expensive costs an arm and a leg? Well, that’s pretty accurate. And while I’m not entirely sure how much a leg costs, I can assure you that an artificial hand is a big investment. A Myoelectric arm prosthesis (the kind that lets you open and close the hand) will set you back upwards of $20,000. And the cosmetic hand (read: the one that’s just for show) is not too far behind.
To put this information in perspective, here’s a list of things that my artificial hand most likely costs more than:
1) A car –
Unless you’re driving a Beamer (or something of equal or higher value), chances are good that my robotic limb is more expensive.
2) Breast implants –
I’m not saying I would get them, but I totally could… Let’s just say, I could look like Heidi Montag right now if I’d pursued this route.
3) A year of college –
According to CollegeData.com, a year at an out-of-state public college will set you back $22,203 on average. And if you decide to attend a public university in your state, my arm could pay for about two years. Crazy, huh?
4) A year’s worth of rent –
Maybe this wouldn’t be so helpful if you’re living in (extremely overpriced) NYC, but you could definitely get a pretty decent apartment anywhere else.
5) A Louis Vuitton bag –
Actually, depending on which bags you pick, you could probably afford a whole designer wardrobe.
6) A small wedding –
Granted, it wouldn’t be a Kim Kardashian/Kris Humphries affair, but this sum of money could buy a girl with simple tastes her Pinterest dream wedding.
7) A year abroad –
You know that gap year some kids take between high school and college? My prosthetic could fund that in full and may even last you a few years after that.
8) Diamonds –
Who cares about having an artificial fourth limb when diamonds are a girl’s best friend?
9) Laptops for the whole family –
And I’m talking good laptops, something like the MacBook Air.
10) A year’s worth of concerts and music festivals –
Concert tickets for big-name artists can get pretty expensive. With what it costs to buy my fake hand, you could probably even follow one of them on their next tour (that’s what? 20 concerts across the globe? With front-row seats?).
So the next time I casually say that I would “give my left arm” for something on this list, know that I am most likely actually considering it….
(All images/GIFs in this post found via Google.)
I know, I know – the title of this post sounds ridiculously arrogant and narcissistic. But hear me out! Just the other day, I overheard someone (hi, Mom) gushing on the phone about how sweet it is that my boyfriend Daniel loves me with or without my arm. I knew she meant that he doesn’t care whether or not I wear my prosthetic, but her comment made me think about similar things I’ve heard all throughout my life. It reminded me especially of an email a church community leader once sent out in an attempt to inspire its recipients. The email featured a series of photos of a married couple and their children doing various everyday family activities. The wife and mother in the images happened to be missing both legs, and her husband’s marriage to her was being touted as an example of “true love.” It was supposed to be a “heartwarming” message, but it had the opposite effect on me.
The idea that a disabled person is somehow less deserving and less likely to find a partner is one that our appearance-focused dating culture and media unfortunately perpetuate when they publish stories like the one I mentioned above. And when well-meaning people share these faux-inspirational love stories online, they are unwittingly contributing to a belief that demeans people society considers less-than-perfect and ultimately devalues the concept of love as a whole. A good relationship requires the two people involved to view each other as equals. So when we are encouraged to see an able-bodied person as a saint or a martyr for dating/marrying someone disabled, that relationship becomes severely unbalanced and puts the latter person in a place of disempowerment and dependence. A healthy relationship is a two-way street, and love needs to be present at both ends for it to work. If we praise one person for loving the other, we imply that the other person is less deserving of affection and that their love means less. That’s just not okay, nor is it accurate at all.
Unfortunately, this idea has so saturated society’s minds that I feel the effects myself all the time. I can’t explain how rude it is when someone tells me that they’re so glad I found someone or that it’s great that my boyfriend isn’t shallow. Ouch. That can be a huge blow to anyone’s self esteem. (Do these people even think it’s a compliment when they say something like this???) In any case, they’re wrong in their assumptions about my relationship. My boyfriend is not selfless or saintly for loving me. He is not with me because of any sense of pity or self-righteousness. Dating me is not a sacrifice, and I am not a charity case. Yes, I’m incredibly blessed that I found an amazing man I’ve grown to love deeply. But my boyfriend is equally lucky that he’s with me. We both have a lot to offer each other, and our relationship is based on love and trust and caring and attraction (both mental and physical.) It’s an insult to both parties in a relationship for anyone to assume otherwise.
So I leave you with this: the next time you read or hear about one of these “inspiring” stories of “true love,” be happy for the couple (because yes, all love is beautiful) and then roll your eyes and move on with your life.
Being toned and fit and extremely hot is not strictly for people of the two-handed variety. But it does require tons of discipline and several hours of working out, the latter of which can be a bit of a challenge for those of us with a limb difference. Luckily, most exercises can be adapted to fit different levels of ability to yield the same results. And we all want flat abs and muscles, right?
I’ve tried out many types of workouts, from trampoline gym classes (yes, that’s actually a thing) to kickboxing (don’t try to punch people with a prosthetic fist, seriously) to a Brazilian “bum bum” butt-lifting program. And while I’m not very athletic, I’m definitely adventurous when it comes to trying new things. So I’ve had plenty of opportunities to figure out which workouts are best for me and my body. And this might come as a surprise, but my three favorite workouts are pretty cliche and normal. Also, they’re really easy for anyone, one-handed or not, to do.
When I was on the local swim team as a kid, I was hitting the pool three nights a week after school. Swimming laps over and over for two hours at a time was not always exciting, but I did gain a lot of energy and muscle tone. Swimming is easy on the joints and gives you a full-body workout, so it’s my number-one exercise pick. It also doesn’t require me to wear my prosthetic, which is always a plus. And no, in case you were wondering, I don’t sink to one side when I swim. (And yes, someone actually asked me that once.)
I NEVER ran as a kid. I didn’t think I was capable of running until very recently when I hired a trainer to help me get ready for a 5K. I’m awkward as it is when I walk, so I just assumed that awkwardness would be amplified if I tried to run. As it turns out, anyone can be a runner once they learn the proper techniques. So I started running and have been doing so almost five days a week for the past few months. With a good playlist and comfortable sneakers, I can run for hours. (Okay, maybe not hours. But definitely minutes. Lots of minutes.) And I still get my cardio in, with or without the fake arm.
Confession: I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool yoga girls who eats a vegan diet and buys everything organic and leads a stress-free, super-zen life. But I’m way too anxious and fast-paced and New York to do that. So I think the second-best thing is making time for a yoga class every once in a while. (It’s also the only place in my life right now where it is culturally appropriate for me to wear yoga pants.) And aerial yoga’s my favorite because you get to hang from a trapeze and it almost feels like you’re doing ballet. The floor poses are a little more complicated because I like to do yoga without my prosthetic. I’ve struggled with a few of the poses that require you to balance on both hands. Jen from Born Just Right suggested I use yoga blocks to even out my body and make it easier. And that makes a world of difference. So if you find yourself at a new yoga studio, make sure you ask for extra blocks to use during the more challenging poses. Besides that, though, I’ve never run into any problems with yoga. It’s incredibly relaxing and stress-relieving, so I highly recommend it if you’re a nervous type like I am.
I also feel the need to add a disclaimer here: I haven’t been working out as often as I should lately. Maybe this post will keep me honest and help me stay motivated? We’ll see about that. I’ve already promised myself a morning run tomorrow (if I remember not to press the snooze button eight times….)