#MyBodyStory is a series of reader submitted pieces about what it’s like to live in your body. Because every body has a story, and every story deserves to be heard.
Do you have a #MyBodyStory to share? Send it to [email protected]
And now, here is Marialuisa’s Body Story:
The opinions expressed in #MyBodyStory are the writer’s own.I think it was around the time I had 11 years old that my feet started to look funny. At the time, I was taking homeopathic treatments for bad allergies and I thought all those vials may have had something to do with the shrinking of my toes. All other toes kept growing normal, except for the 4th toe in both of my feet. It’s not like my feet looked like a Sally Hansen’s commercial before but now this 4th toe was reluctant to go back in its place and just appeared to float on top the 3rd and 5th toe.
At first I found it comical, I would tell my sister “Look! I can’t fit all toes in my slippers!” leaving the one small toe outside. This was 5th grade. I was a class clown meets tomboy. By the time 6th grade came along and we went to our graduation beach trip (with many teacher- chaperones, of course), I realized this would become an issue. I brought my first camera with me and remember staring at the photos of the trip. I could see my pre-pubescent body wearing a yellow bikini. It seemed OK, except when you looked to the bottom half of the photo. There it was, the little pinky toe.
6th grade is a tough year. Some girls are more developed, some, like me, fall behind. My mom assured me that was fine, we came from a family of “late bloomers” she said. Yet I knew this was different. I knew I was different. I don’t remember voicing my insecurities to my mom. From her perception, I was always a fun-loving kid who was very confident. And maybe because it was important for me to appear confident, I brushed under the rug the feelings of self-hatred that were slowly, but surely, chipping away my self-esteem.
I don’t remember at what point sandals, flip-flops, in general, any shoe that had open toes became off-bounds. Buying shoes became an impossible task for my parents and a anxiety- ridden event for me because not only were my feet deformed, they were also wide. After watching several episodes of a plastic surgery TV show, I grabbed a blue pen and started to draw lines of all the tweaks my feet needed, like if I was a surgeon myself. And I was not the only one thinking about surgery. My parents, driven by their need to see me happy, would cut-out articles found in airline magazines of so-and- so doctor who promised to fix my feet around. My dad would diligently email photos of my feet to these doctors, trying to figure the best possible solution.
That is how we ended in a podiatrist office in my hometown. First things first, the doctor needed to know whether there was a bone or a bone split in two that had caused my feet to look the way they did. To everyone’s surprise, there was a bone! A small one, but a bone. I was diagnosed with Brachymetatarsia! A condition in which there is one or more abnormally short or overlapping toes that requires surgical treatment to correct.
Then, the doctor began to show me photos of other feet like mine. Mine looked much more mild than some of the pictures he showed me and I was honestly shocked because until that point because I had not seen any other feet like mine. Lastly, he said that getting surgery would leave me 3 months without walking and that even after surgery, there was no guarantee I would walk the same. WHAT DO YOU MEAN I WON’T WALK THE SAME? There could be complications. I looked at my parents and immediately, there was a unanimous consensus: the operation was a no-go.
From that point on, I resigned to my fate of concealing. And I became really good at it. I would wear close-toe shoes everywhere, including at the beach (I own an unhealthy amount of espadrilles). If I had to be barefoot, I would do this trick where I would cover my left foot (the one that the 4th toe sticks out the most) with the right foot. I would also curl my toes a lot, a habit that my mom was quick to notice.
In an 8th grade beach trip with friends, however, I did not do a good job concealing and that ended up being a terrible idea. A girl quickly remarked “why is your toe so freaky?” followed by a hyena-like laugh and the stare of all the other girls. Just like that I was outed. I could hear the talking behind my back, “why do her feet look like THAT?” I could not wait for the trip to be over. This was not the first time I was asked about my feet. When someone would ask me why my feet look the way they do, I always brushed it off with “that’s just the way they are” or “that’s how I was born” which at best, came out as a quick answer and at worst, came out as an aggressive retort.
Just a couple of years back, a friend asked me and I remember thinking: How is it possible that I am 25 years old and still feel like 5 years old when someone asks me about my feet? It quickly dawned on me that this question was always going to come up, no matter how old I got.
Later that year, I decided to focus my master’s degree at Central Saint Martins to figure out a way to lower stigma in the disfigured community and the solution was MIGA Swimwear. MIGA Swimwear is a swimwear line inspired by women that have disfigurement, from birth defects and burn scars to paralysis and skin diseases. Our mission is to empower women to share stories about their bodies and their resilience to combat stigma, creating a community of self-love and self-acceptance that promotes empathy and awareness towards the disfigured community.
For our first collection we have partnered up with the Burn’s Unit at NY-Presbyterian Hospital, and have designed pieces inspired by the stories of burn survivors. Our first collection will be available through Kickstarter in May. To get more details please email [email protected].
Follow Marialuisa on Instagram