By Alexandra Boutté
Being unique is lovely, but at times it can be a burden. Nonconforming body shape, unusual gait, emotional commotion, and the eyes of the public can all stack up and create a mile-high load that feels like it might crush you.
When you compare yourself to any able-bodied stranger who passes you on the street, you don’t see their “flaws” or their struggles, so the natural tendency is to assume they’re completely carefree—and to judge yourself harshly. Have you ever thought they may be just as uncomfortable in their skin as you are?
Because amputees tend to stand out in a crowd, we can feel like circus performers when we allow our insecurities to cloud our vision. The fact is, being different is a blessing that makes everything more interesting. Like a slow-cooked soup, seasoned with a little of this and a little of that, a diverse community is a lot better than a bland one. Each spice works with the others to add something special to the overall flavor of life. As amputees, we add depth and complexity to the broth of humanity.
The same recipe for delightful difference applies within the limb-loss community. Another amputee’s success does not make your own struggle more difficult. If someone in your support group is walking with less of a limp than you, it doesn’t mean you’re failing at mobility. If you are in a wheelchair, you are not less worthy than someone who is walking in a prosthesis. Life is not meant to be a race to a predetermined finish line. We are all running on our own track, and the goal is different for each of us. When we place ourselves in someone else’s lane, we are only doing ourselves a disservice. Trying to be someone you aren’t only takes you somewhere dark and devoid of real joy.
Learning to fully love yourself, “flaws” and all, is the most beautiful thing you could ever do. I knew I was beginning to accept my body when I stopped trying to hide my limb loss behind clothing. My prosthesis is not shaped like a natural leg. The gap where a knee would typically be is pretty noticeable when I wear jeans. For a long time, I would only wear really baggy jeans, or I would shove myself into a pair of pantyhose under my jeans so I could stuff padding into the vacant knee. But all the effort it took for me to look “normal” only made me feel more different than ever. One day I finally asked myself who I was trying to fit in for, because it certainly wasn’t doing anything for me.
I felt so free the first time I put on a pair of fitted pants that clearly showed all the bumps and dips of my prosthesis—like everyone was looking, and I was proud to be on that stage. The vibes I was sending out into the world? Think Beyoncé headlining the Super Bowl. I was starting to feel like myself in this imperfect body, and it felt damn good to walk down the street that way.
Another milestone on the journey toward accepting my disability came when I stopped denying my need to use a wheelchair occasionally. Instead of avoiding theme parks and dreading long walks through the airport that would end in blisters, I now gladly sit my butt down, rest my residual limb, and conserve the additional energy it takes for an above-the-knee amputee to walk (40 percent more, to be exact).
Building and maintaining my confidence is an ongoing task. I am still learning to push comparisons out of my head and steer my mind back in the right direction. It takes work, but it’s worth it for my happiness. And I hope my example helps other amputees who don’t yet recognize the beautiful person they see in the mirror. I will forever be thankful for those in the limb loss/limb difference community who showed me early on how much potential sat with me.
I now understand that I don’t need to be or look like anyone else. Being me is more than enough. If anything, my limb difference only makes me look and feel more powerful. I display my scars proudly like a Purple Heart medal, because I saved myself.
Alexandra Boutté is a sarcoma survivor and above-knee amputee. She writes regularly at her blog, Limbitless Sunshine (limbitlesssunshine.com).