Whenever I catch a glance of myself in a store window as I walk past, I'm surprised. I've been an amputee for thirteen years – ever since I was diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen. Still, in my head, I think I walk just like everyone else. The full-length windows show me differently. I have a slight limp. My hip dips as I walk. My prosthetic socket is visible through the side of my jeans and squishes up one butt cheek. I'm fascinated by this stranger everyone else sees. Even now, there are so few differently-able people in the media that I will sometimes walk back and forth trying to image what I look like to other people. A process that becomes more complicated when I am wearing shorts or a dress.
I dislike the way my prosthetic leg looks most when it is off. I roll it under the bed at night. I cover it with a towel by the pool. It looks lifeless, dead. I am reminded that one day it will be left behind when I die. It will be someone's job to take a piece of me to be dismantled and donated to landmine victims overseas. The actual appearance of the titanium pole, plastic foot, and springs don't bother me as much as the way other people stare. I can feel it when you touch me. I can also feel the way a friend freezes the first time they do it and are afraid they've done something wrong. Their body language communicates their debate of whether or not to take their hand away.
In this culture of images, our currency is made up of envious or admiring glances. Advertising encourages us to be the center of attention but only for the right reasons. I've become accustom to the way people look at my body as they try to figure out is wrong. I'm not used to the nasty looks people give me when I am with my girlfriend.
When I first came out a year ago, a female friend commented, “so you like ugly girls.” She immediately tried to pass it off as a joke. We were flipping through Facebook profiles of the girls I had crushes on. In some ways, I am so grateful to her for her insensitive slip-up. Her accidental honesty made me realize I was trying to blend in and pass for a beauty norm I didn't even find attractive. Real punishments exist for falling off the grid of accepted standards. Yet, real freedom comes from trusting your own vision.
My girlfriend grew up in a “glass closet” with people telling her she was gay before she even knew it herself. When I hold her hand in public, I feel a little of what she lives with day to day. She worries that people think she's a guy and sometimes she gets called “sir.” Yet, I think her long-lashes behind her black-framed glasses, her short boyish haircut, her quirky grin, her sneakers, and her hoodies make her adorable. And she tells me everyday I'm beautiful. So, why are we holding out for universal approval?
If I am honest, I like my scars. Doctors offered me cosmetic treatments to make them less noticeable. Prosthetists regularly ask if I want a skin-tone covering or a foot that adjusts for heels. I decided against both for the same reasons I never wore a wig during chemotherapy. Pretending makes me uncomfortable like a persistent itch. Even when it's scary, I want to be myself. I want to be seen for who I am and where I have been. My “flaws” are so much more interesting than any accessory they're selling this season.
After yoga, I walk around my city at night and marvel at all the stories you can read written in the way strangers carry themselves. If I drop my judgements and my fears, I can see the truth: a homeless man kneeling on the sidewalk to apply a band-aid to a homeless woman's arm, a couple switching lollipops as they leave a restaurant so she can have the cherry flavored one, a young woman tugging nervously at a trendy running skirt as she stretches, and a middle aged man dashing down the street in his suit. Perhaps we cling so tightly our standards of perfection because the truth is overwhelming—we are all so heartbreakingly beautiful.
Diagnosed with bone cancer at age 15, I spent a decade getting scans, surgeries, and chemotherapy treatments. Three years ago, I decided to take an active role in my own health. I quit chemotherapy and started researching anti-cancer lifestyles. Now, I eat a vegan diet, practice yoga, pursue my dreams, and honor that little voice inside me that tells me to do impossible things. Currently, I get scans every six months to check that I am still cancer-free. I don't wait for those verdicts to tell me when I can start living. I'm too busy making my impossible things possible. Visit me on Twitter, Facebook , and YouTube.