A childhood cancer survivor who had to have her left leg amputated to save her life has shared the abuse she received from online trolls after posing in lingerie.
Model and fashion stylist Cherie, now 29, from New Plymouth, New Zealand, lost her leg after being diangosed with bone cancer at the age of six.
In her teens, she struggled with being different and always being stared at, but in her early 20s, she started to realise that her disability would always attract attention, and decided to harness that in a more positive way.
She decided to pursue a career as a model and has since shot campaigns for big brands such as Bluebella and Modibodi, as well as sharing her photos on social media.
However, it’s led to critcisim from trolls who accuse Cherie of faking her disability for likes.
‘People on social media often accuse me of faking having one leg and claim that I Photoshop my leg out of my photos for attention,’ she said.
Cherie first realised something was wrong aged six, when she kept getting a high recurrent fever and persistent pain in her left hip, and had trouble running and keeping up with the other kids at school.
She was taken to countless doctors appointments to find the cause of her symptoms before finally being diagnosed with a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
Osteosarcoma is a form of bone cancer where the tumours look like early forms of bone cells that normally help make new bone tissue.
Cherie’s parents were informed that she would need to have her entire left leg and half of her pelvis amputated in order to save her life.
This type of amputation, called an external hemipelvectomy, is extremely rare and risky, it makes things like using a prosthetic quite difficult.
Cherie had a hard time acclimatising to having one leg, she was extremely self-conscious and hated standing out and being stared at all the time.
Additionally, exposure on social media brought an influx of trolls with insensitive things to say about Cherie’s disability, with some even accusing her of photoshopping her leg off to gain attention.
‘They can’t grasp that images flip depending on whether you use the front or rear camera on your phone, or if a photo is taken in a mirror,’ she said.
‘People will also see a reflection of something on the floor and claim it is proof that I have photoshopped my leg out.’
‘I know their comments are ridiculous and easily disproved, so some might think it’s just funny when people say that.
‘For me, it’s quite annoying, given everything I’ve gone through to survive and get to a point I am now where I’m confident in who I am and what I look like, all for people to put it down to just being fake and photoshopped.’
Growing up, Cherie had never seen other amputees anywhere except for once a year when the Paralympics were on TV.
‘When I was young, I didn’t believe I would get a job, fall in love, have a family or any of those things because I’d never known an amputee who had,’ Cherie says.
‘There were countless nights spent crying over photos of myself pre-amputation, questioning why it happened to me, wishing I would wake up one day and have two legs again.’
‘I always stood out, and that made me eventually retreat from doing things that brought me more attention, like playing sports.
‘I went through the rest of school wanting to blend in as much as possible.’
Cherie had a change of heart regarding her disability in her twenties, she realised people will always stare so why should she let unwanted attention stop her from doing what she wanted.
‘Social media actually played a big part in gaining self-confidence for me because I found the more I put myself out there on social media, the less I cared about how people reacted to me in person,’ said Cherie.
‘One thing that happened along the way, maybe five years ago now, was that I found a model with the same amputation as me on Instagram.’
‘Her name was Cacsmy/Mama Cax (@mamacax), she sadly passed away a couple of years ago.’
‘I remember seeing that she had posted photos of herself in swimsuits and even had photos showing her scars.’
‘While I had shared many photos of myself, I’d never been brave enough to share something such as a swimsuit photo.’
‘Seeing her look amazing in these photos, and be such an amazing model and disability advocate really pushed away some of the remaining fears that I had.’
Connecting with the disabled community led Cherie to become more aware of the work society needs to do to be more inclusive. It also gave her the confidence to pursue her modelling career.
‘As a teenager, I realised my dream was to work in fashion,’ says Cherie.
‘When I was about sixteen I went to a fashion school and from there I started styling shoots before moving to Melbourne when I was twenty to pursue styling further.’
‘Back then I didn’t really see modelling as something that I could pursue.
‘It wasn’t even just being an amputee that made me feel like I couldn’t model, but also that I was too short and any amputees I did see modelling always had a prosthetic.’
‘I felt like people would always choose an amputee with a prosthetic rather than one that uses crutches.’
‘I always kind of set these limits in my head of how far I believed the industry was willing to stretch when it came to diversity.’
Her first official modelling job was for a lingerie brand, Bluebella who put out an open casting for a secret project.
Cherie applied and was selected to be a part of the World’s Biggest Online Fashion Show, a fashion show where all the models filmed their own catwalk from their homes.
One of Cherie’s favourite bookings was for Modibodi, the period pants brand.
‘What I loved about working with Modibodi is that it didn’t feel like they use diverse models for the ‘hype and likes’, it feels like they genuinely believe the importance behind it,’ she says.
‘That was why I wanted to get into modelling in the first place, in my heart what I really care about is advocating for disabled people.’
‘I know that the easiest way I can do that is by spreading my own image and pushing accurate representation of disabled people.’
‘I hope to be seen by disabled children who aren’t sure what the future has in store for them. I want to break into the industries that have forever made up stories for us, instead of letting us tell them.’
New Zealand amputee model Cherie Louise joins the ListenAble podcast with Dylan Alcott and Angus O’Loughlin to discuss online trolls.
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