From hitting rock bottom to finding total body acceptance

Nancy Harris, 54, is a mental health worker and model on a mission to normalise disability.

When a trampolining accident left her facing life as an above-the-knee amputee, Nancy was forced to adjust to her new normal overnight. But her journey to feeling confident in her own skin was an uphill battle.

As part of our Project Body Love series, in association with Philips, we hear how she battled self-doubt, negative thought spirals and depression to emerge more confident, powerful and self-assured than ever. Here, Nancy shares the lessons she learnt along the way.

Life can change in an instant

I was working as a PE teacher when I lost my leg. Growing up, I was very active and loved sport. I took part in England netball trials, played county hockey and taught dance. I was trampolining when I landed awkwardly and broke my leg. After 18 months in hospital, and various complications, my leg became infected and was amputated. I was 30 years old. It had a huge impact on my body confidence.

Your inner critic can be deafening
Not long after my accident, I got pregnant with my first child. While I loved becoming a mum, I sank into a deep depression. I’d lived with a very critical internal voice for most of my life. One that told me, ‘You’re not thin enough. You’re not pretty enough.’ After losing my leg, that voice became even louder. I saw my body as broken. I wouldn’t look in the mirror. I hid in baggy clothes. My body image was the lowest it’s ever been.

…but it can be silenced

Over time, I chose to have counselling where I was forced to confront my thoughts. This helped me unlock a part of my brain that said, ‘There’s another voice in here. That compassionate voice you use when you’re looking after your children. It’s time to turn this on yourself.’ I started to speak to myself with more kindness. Rather than focusing on what I didn’t like, I focused on what made me unique; what my body could do, rather than what it couldn’t.

Confidence is leaving your comfort zone

When you become disabled, you have so many labels thrown at you. Losing my leg compelled me to drop my inhibitions and reframe who I was, and who I wanted to be. I entered a ‘yes’ phase where I rediscovered my sense of adventure – I tried indoor skydiving, zipwiring, climbing… I began to accept that my life would be different, but I could still experience joy.

“I started to speak to myself with more kindness”

People will stare, and that’s okay

After years of hiding, I decided enough was enough. I started to dress to show off my prosthetic leg. Seeing someone who looks ‘different’ can be scary for people. I imagine they’re thinking, ‘How on earth would I cope if I was like her?’ I’ve had hurtful comments, but they’re usually made out of ignorance. My advice? Don’t be afraid of people with visible disabilities. We might look different, but we’re still human. Be curious. Most amputees I know are happy to chat.

Exercise is a healer

Keeping fit was always key to me feeling confident so I discovered new ways to move my body. Life is slower with a prosthetic – I can’t run, or walk very fast – so I feel a huge sense of freedom when I can take it off to swim, or to practice yoga. I took up weight training, and found I could adapt most moves quite easily. In lockdown I was training at home with my kids three times a week. What they do standing up, I do sitting down in my wheelchair.

A little self-care goes a long way

For me, treating myself to a new outfit and putting on makeup is an instant confidence boost. After becoming an amputee, grooming became more important than ever. Keeping on top of my bikini line all year round is vital with my prosthetic as the liner can rub against my skin and cause irritation and ingrown hairs. I like feeling smooth and tend to remove my leg hair to feel more confident. Saying that, people are unlikely to notice a few stray hairs if I don’t – my ‘robot leg’ is a great distraction! My daughter is 20 and is far less bothered about hair removal. She grew her armpit hair out for months and would proudly show it off. Attitudes are definitely changing.

Self-acceptance is a journey

My confidence has ebbed and flowed over the years. As a teenager, I worried about my weight – I thought my bum was too big. In my twenties I was more sure of myself, and then I had my accident. It wasn’t until my 50s that I finally achieved self-acceptance. I stopped dying my hair, I joined a gym and I signed up to a modelling agency – I’ve even done naked photo shoots! Now, I can stand in the mirror and truly love what I see. My secret? Daily gratitudes and positive self-talk. If you can confront how you speak to yourself and replace negative talk with positive affirmations, you will surprise yourself.