Editor’s Letter: The Art of Reinvention

According to the comedian George Lopez, “When things are bad, it’s the best time to reinvent yourself.”

Things were definitely bad for our cover subject, Cairn Atkinson, in early 2019 as she recovered from a left hemipelvectomy. Her physical adaptation to living with limb loss was difficult but manageable; she felt able to exert some control over the process and find her own comfort level. The social and emotional adjustments were a different story, though.

“When I would be out and about, I felt people were just looking at my missing leg,” Atkinson told Amplitude. “That’s the first thing they would notice.” But that was the last thing she wanted to talk about—especially early in her recovery, as she sifted through her emotions and tried to focus her sights on the future.

To change the subject, Atkinson essentially created a new persona: a retro fashion queen, garbed in the lustrous outfits of midcentury modern America. Though she was born decades later, Atkinson had a lifelong fondness for the glamorous hairdos and wardrobes of the early 1960s. And, as a former high school theatre performer and stage manager, she had the style sense and attention to detail to pull it off.

Sure enough, people stopped asking her what happened to her leg and instead wanted to know: “Where did you get that gorgeous dress?” Then she was encouraged to enter a vintage pinup contest, where she met a community of people who barely noticed her limb difference and simply appreciated her ability to embody bygone standards of beauty.

And so Cairn Atkinson, cancer survivor, reinvented herself as someone else entirely: Flamingo Florence, pageant princess extraordinaire. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that Flamingo Florence gave Atkinson a path back to herself after limb loss—a way not only to accept her new body, but to celebrate it. “It helped me build confidence,” she says. Read more of her story and see some of her awesome outfits beginning on page 28.

Reinvention also figures into our feature article about medical science’s growing interest the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, and other psychedelic drugs. Researchers hypothesize that, with proper usage, these substances can help the brain overwrite pathways that cause depression, post-traumatic stress, phantom limb pain, and other conditions related to limb loss. While clinical evidence is only starting to pile up, it suggests that these medications may not only help alleviate symptoms but also help reshape self-image and identity. Turn to page 20 to read about the psychedelic possibilities.

Finally, be sure to check out our holiday gift ideas on pages 26 and 27, as we put a bow on 2022. We’ll see you in the new year. 

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