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My Twisted Sense of Body Image

“Whoa!” I exclaimed, “ It looks like my leg grew back!”  After years of prosthetic legs that were made to look “real” but always left something to be desired and an eventual switch to the completely bionic look, I finally looked down at what appeared to be two human legs.  My left and right calves, feet, toes, and toenails were symmetrical for the first time in my life.  This was the day I received my cosmetic leg from Alternative Prosthetic Solutions.

I proudly wore this leg, and was grateful to have it when I was a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding because we had knee-length dresses and I didn’t want to distract from the bride.  She could’ve cared less about my leg showing, but I was happy to have an opportunity to “hide in plain sight” by wearing my cosmetic leg.  It was so odd to be able to wear shorts  or a skirt without the usual sideways glances from strangers to which I had grown so accustomed throughout my life.

Interestingly, the time period when I wore my cosmetic leg was immediately after I had a revision surgery and was on crutches without a prosthesis for 8 weeks.  During that time, I struggled more with the fact that I was an amputee than I ever had before.  It was the first time I really felt disabled because of my amputation.  This was the first time I felt like I wasn’t whole, and it was also the first time I had any real desire to wear a prosthesis with a cosmetic cover.

But something still didn’t feel right.  After a few months of wearing my cosmetic leg, it was cast away to the depths of my closet.  After a few years of my cosmetic leg’s toes creepily hanging off a shelf in my closet, scaring me each and every time I caught a glimpse of it, I finally sat down and really reflected on my seemingly unconscious decision to cut it out of my life.

What I realized was at first somewhat shocking, but really not surprising once I REALLY thought about it.  My “ideal” body image was not me with two biological legs, but rather me with 1 biological leg and 1 kickass prosthesis.   Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have a mother who taught me that I defined who I was and how I wanted to be seen by others.  During my first 25 years of life, I defined myself as a girl with ambition and a good sense of humor and I wanted to be seen by others as a strong woman who was confident in her own body.  My revision surgery deeply impacted the second part of this because it shattered my confidence in my own imperfect body, a confidence I had always maintained up until this point in life.  I latched onto my cosmetic leg because I could hide my biggest physical imperfection and was more closely aligned with society’s image of a “beauty” that requires symmetry.

Looking back on this a few years later, I’m oddly happy to report that my cosmetic leg continues to haunt a shelf in my closet.  While I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to rock a prosthesis that looked ridiculously close to a biological leg, I’m even more grateful for the fact that I’m once again completely comfortable in my own skin (and carbon fiber).  I know it probably seems weird to a lot of people that I’d feel more comfortable with a carbon fiber “robot” leg than a prosthesis that mimics a biological leg, but it’s the image of myself with which I’m most comfortable.  I don’t care what society says because I’ve discovered that I’m most confident when my prosthesis is on full display and people know I’m a woman with imperfections who loves my body anyways.  

This was originally written for LIM359, which is the nonprofit I co-founded, and then I republished it on AmpTriLife in late 2016, but I felt like it was worth sharing again because it’s been tucked away for a few years…