For many months after becoming an amputee, I struggled with body confidence. I couldn’t look at my stump, let alone touch it. I avoided mirrors. I hid my prosthetic leg with baggy, shapeless trousers. I walked with my head down in public places.
In the past five years, I have reached a place of self-acceptance. I’ve revamped my wardrobe and, with it, my attitude. I have learnt to feel proud of every milestone I achieve. It has taken time, introspection and a real shift in mindset.
For all of us, body positivity is a work in progress. But we deserve to love who we are, inside and out.
Lianne Forrest was born with spina bifida, which left her with very little sensation in her right leg. She became a below knee amputee as a child after contracting a bone infection. However, at the age of 18, the loss of sensation in her stump created complications that meant she needed an above knee amputation.
For many years, Lianne hid the fact that she was an amputee, only deciding to ‘come out’ openly and display her prosthetic leg two years ago.
Now, Lianne works as Manchester Hub Coordinator for national charity, The Limbless Association. She speaks openly about her experiences, and recently told her story on the charity’s podcast, AmpLAfy. She is more body positive than ever before.
What are your memories of body confidence growing up?
I was always very conscious of how I walked when I was younger, because of my spina bifida. Before amputation, my right leg wasn’t straight, so from my knee down, my foot twisted outwards. This was an instant thing for children to pick up on, and I found myself an easy target. Some days, I remember feeling sick and anxious about going to school.
Aged nine, I had my right leg amputated below the knee. I’d never met another amputee, and in my teenage years, I just wanted to be like the other girls.
I did have a lovely group of friends in high school. However, when it came to boys, I often thought, ‘Who would ever want to go out with a girl with one leg?’
As it turns out, I was wrong – and I would love my bullies to see me now. Bullying does lasting damage, but I am stronger now for it. Stronger than they will ever be.
Tell us about the day you decided to “come out” as an amputee…
It was one of the most nerve-wracking days. I had spent years hiding my leg from the world, asking for a prosthetic leg that was skin coloured and never wearing shorts.
Then two years ago, I got given a new type of leg called a C-leg, which has a microprocessor knee that you charge up overnight, and it works by sensing movement and bending accordingly. This new leg was difficult to cover with the flesh coloured silicon I was used to.
And yet, there was something liberating about having no choice. That day, I was due to go out for lunch with my family. I put on my first pair of denim shorts, took a picture and gave myself a talking to. “I am going out, showing my leg and I’m going to let people stare, because this is me, this is who I am. I need to be proud.”
Whilst having lunch, I decided that if I put the picture on my Instagram page, people would see my new leg on their feed and be less shocked when they saw me in person.
During the meal, I was hesitating, so one of my sons pressed the ‘post’ button. By the time I got home, the messages of encouragement, love and support were overwhelming. I have never looked back.
When do you feel your most body confident?
When I am wearing something good, when my leg feels good, when I know I’m walking well. I have days when I just could not care less, I will walk my dogs through the village I live in with a smile on my face and I just could not care less if people look at me.
When you obsess over your appearance, really the only person you’re harming is yourself. It’s about embracing what you have and being proud of it.
Do you still have times when you struggle with how your body looks?
A lot of the time when I’m having a day when my leg needs me to rest, I do struggle. Often I feel like I’m catching up on lost time, so to have to have a day of rest feels like a setback, because it takes me back to the days I was so ill and couldn’t go out.
I haven’t always been the most body confident without my leg on and in the bedroom, so to speak. To feel ‘sexy’ with one leg isn’t the easiest if you’re not happy with your body anyway.
But as I am approaching 40, I told myself I would be body confident in every way. I have taken this last lockdown as my mission to become fitter and healthier, and I am slowly becoming happy with my naked body, one leg or two!
What would your advice be for people who are struggling to love themselves?
You really need to see that your body is unique, your body is yours. It’s not for anyone else to approve of, or for anyone else to judge. Learning to love your body and embracing what you have sets you free.
What needs to change most in society when it comes to disability and body confidence?
I think it’s slowly getting there, but we need to see more. People with visible disabilities may look different but they can still be confident, funny, happy people who can model, act and compete in sport just the same way as anyone else.
I believe that the more we speak openly, the easier it becomes for others. I love supporting people who are in similar situations to me through the Limbless Association. I love to let them see that there is so much more to life than hiding away and feeling ashamed of yourself. Love yourself, and the rest will come!