It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our shallow and perfection-obsessed culture is poisonous for girls and young women. Our society constantly smacks us in the face with ads, images, and stories about how we need to look as beautiful as possible in order to succeed and be happy. And even Hollywood is starting to take notice of how unhelpful this is. More and more celebrities are opening up about their eating disordered pasts and unhealthy relationship with their bodies. Stars like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato and Katie Couric have come clean about how their poor body image led to dangerous health problems. And the ironic thing is that these women are all thin and conventionally pretty. So if these beautiful people can barely manage to accept their figures, how is someone who is missing a limb supposed to love her body? And what does it say about us as a culture that many of the bodies we envy and wish we had are the results of eating disorders and low self esteem?
As a young woman born without a left hand, I quickly learned that the way I looked did not exactly conform to the ideal. I was a chubby kid with extremely frizzy hair and glasses a few sizes too big for my face. Looking back, there was nothing inherently wrong with my appearance but, back then, it certainly felt that way. When I was 12, I went on a crash diet and soon became addicted to the feeling of pride that came with moving the bar to a lower weight on the scale. Exercise became my obsession and food became my nightmare. I lost way more weight than was healthy and was diagnosed with an eating disorder promptly upon my first doctor’s checkup of the year. And to be perfectly honest, I still struggle with food and weight and my eating habits on a daily basis….even 9 years later. And trust me, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give if I could stop at least one person from going through the same grief I did.
I don’t want to be a Debbie downer, but I do know that a lot of the readers of this blog are young women with limb differences and parents of little girls with limb differences. And I feel like this is a very important topic to address, especially earlier in life. Self image is important and it doesn’t just have to do with weight. I also struggled for years with the thought that I was ugly and that boys wouldn’t like me for the way I looked. But these are obviously not healthy and not productive thoughts.
Now as a 21-year-old woman, I’m the most confident I’ve ever been. I’ve learned (albeit the hard way) that self-hatred is not attractive and that guys don’t go for perfection anyway. A guy who really loves you will love you for everything you are and not for the fact that you’re not as skinny as Angelina Jolie. But before that (which I also learned the hard way), you have to love and be comfortable with yourself. That’s harder said than done, of course. But I won’t leave you completely alone on this. Here are 4 things that have helped me feel better about the way I look:
– Tell yourself that you are beautiful. (Or if you’re a parent, tell your daughter that she’s beautiful.) It sounds really corny, but this is essential. You know when they say “fake it ’til you make it”? Go by that rule and say it to yourself until you fully believe it.
– Pamper yourself. There’s nothing like a manicure or a bubble bath to make me feel like I’m worth it. Relaxation is so necessary and so healthy.
– Surround yourself with positive people. If you’ve ever seen Mean Girls (or walked into any high school), you know that body-shaming is often a group activity. Ban your friends from talking about their physical flaws in your presence and make a pact to focus on what’s good in your lives.
– Surround yourself with positive images. While it’s impossible to avoid the ubiquitous ads featuring women with seemingly perfect figures and features, remind yourself that beauty is diverse and is not limited to one body type. Check out Elle Magazine’s spread about Paralympic swimming champion Jessica Long, who looks as gorgeous as any standard model in the fashion industry.
I hope these tips help and lead you to realize that a limb difference is just that: different. And “different” is not synonymous with “ugly.” Difference can be beautiful. And as Ryan Haack from Living One-Handed says, “Different is Awesome!”
At the end of the day, this is the best tip I have for you – In order to be happy and have others like you, you need to be
younger thinner prettier yourself.