#MyBodyStory is an ongoing storytelling series uplifting women’s bodies and voices. Because every body has a story, and every story deserves to be heard!
The opinions expressed in #MyBodyStory are the writer’s own.
And now, here is Toni’s #MyBodyStorySometimes I avoid watching my shadow when I walk so I can’t see how obvious my limp is. It’s probably the one thing about being an amputee that still makes me self conscious because it’s so glaringly obvious something is different about me even when I’m wearing pants or a long skirt and you can’t see my prosthesis. I don’t like to look at myself in building windows and I hate seeing how drastic my body dips when I watch old home videos. You know how instagramers flawlessly capture themselves effortlessly walking down the street? If I post a photo of myself mid-walk, know it took 37 takes and that’s the one where my body is actually straight instead of leaning to one side because of my limp.
If I can’t see my limp, I can’t really tell I’m doing it. Due to the way my right leg grew, (I have Class C PFFD, which means my right femur is significantly smaller than my left femur, making my legs uneven) it changed the placement of my hips. So while I have a major limp, my hips are actually pretty level. Sometimes the only way I know I’m limping is when I’m wearing a necklace and it jingles back and forth around my neck. So sometimes I get to live blissfully ignorant of my limp and it feels really freeing for me.
My limp is one of the first things that made me really feel different from everyone else. In kindergarten, my teacher loved penguins. Our whole classroom was decorated with them. I think I still have my penguin desk name tag in a box somewhere. She had us watch a video about penguins and all I remember from the video is them waddling around the ice. I remember it so vividly because a kid shouted, “HEY! That’s how Toni walks!”
I think I remember my classmates laughing, probably not out of malice, but laughing all the same. I don’t remember my teacher’s reaction or if I had a response. I do remember holding back a small burst of emotion — kind of similar to the reaction I have when I watch a movie that doesn’t quite make me cry, but definitely makes me sad. I remember the breath of air never quite made its way out of my body. It was lodged in my chest. Stuck there.
I remember thinking, “I do?”
At five, I didn’t know I walked with a limp. Or if I did, I didn’t realize other people noticed. This is probably the first memory I have of someone directly pointing my leg out and making me feel some sort of negative emotion about my leg and my limp, even if I didn’t understand what that emotion was. Looking back and knowing how to identify emotions now, I can only assume that was the first time I felt shame.
I didn’t tell anyone about it for a really long time. If I told someone that meant it hurt my feelings, and even then I didn’t want to let someone else’s words hurt me or control me in any way.
On top of that, I thought my mom would be upset or hurt right along with me and I didn’t want her to be hurt. Five years old and I was more worried about making my mom upset than feeling hurt myself. Truth be told, I think I knew that boy didn’t mean it in a mean way. He meant it as an observation. Or at least I think that’s what I told myself. I mean, that’s what I tell myself now anyways.
When I finally told someone about it years later, I made it into a funny life story. That way it felt less significant. I got to control the narrative. I got to say, hey listen to this funny story about my leg because I’m light-hearted and I’m fun. Even if internally I feel anything but those things.
Humor is my coping mechanism to the tenth degree. Jokes about my leg are my way of comforting people. (Hence my signature hashtag, #lifeofapirategirl.) If I joke about my leg, then it’s not the elephant in the room. It’s the ice breaker to the obvious question new people are salivating to ask: “What happened to your leg?” And I’m okay with that. It doesn’t just make them comfortable, it makes me relax, too. After we air it out, I don’t feel like they are just wondering about my leg the whole time. They are actually getting to know me the person, not just me the amputee.
Most people want me to tell them positive stories about being an amputee. They want to hear I’ve battled all my demons and I’ve come out the other side happier and mentally healthier. But I will never not be authentic about being an amputee.
I struggle regularly with different aspects of my life. While I’ve come a long way since my days of being afraid of people staring at me and making comments and judgements, I still have things about being an amputee that make me feel so completely different from everyone else in a negative way. And while I’ve gotten to the point where being different is exciting for me, there are always times when I just want to feel like everyone else. That’s not a bad thing and I’m not ashamed to say it. It makes me human.
So no, I’m not perfect and I still have fears living this life. I still have moments of embarrassment and shame, but it’s how I handle those moments that’s more important. This year I decided to tackle this fear. I’ve been watching myself in the morning walk into my building. I try to remember to keep my head up so I can see my dips in the window. I’ve been taking more photos of myself walking and really studying my “imperfect” walking pose to see what makes me feel uncomfortable. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’ve posted one, but I can feel it coming soon. I know when I do post this photo, I won’t be blissfully ignorant and seem free anymore, but instead happily aware and fully liberated.
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