A large tree stops Gina Ruhl in her tracks on a cold sunny day in western Germany. “I wound up wrapped round a tree just like that.”A motorcycle accident changed her life in 2019. With her pelvis broken in two places, her lower right leg completely shattered and the loss of her left arm, Ruhl will never forget that day.
But she is not going to let a prosthetic arm stop her from running for the Miss Germany title.
Two decades ago, that would not have been possible, but beauty contests have come a long way since then.
Nowadays, contenders for Miss Germany don’t have to line up in front of a committee of mostly men who judge them by their appearance. The focus has switched to authenticity and personality amid a renegotiation of what beauty is about.
Ruhl has already made it into the last 22 in the running for this year’s Miss Germany contest. The final is set for Feb 19.
Ruhl decided to apply when she read that contestants were also asked to convey a message.
“I do have a message,” she says. “You can have a good life even after disaster strikes.”
It is a message she has been sharing through her Instagram profile for some time.
Ruhl posts pictures of herself as “The One-Armed Princess” that do not shy away from showing her scarred arm.
She spends plenty of time thinking about her 50,000 followers and made time for a quick post before speaking to dpa.
What drives her is the feeling that she can help and motivate other people this way.
“The accident was not in vain if I can give something to others and serve as a role model,” Ruhl says.
And it helps her too.
After the accident, she quickly found a new kind of composure, something which she is still trying to understand today.
“I was always sort of a softie,” she says. “Really snivelling” and worrying the world was coming to an end when she knocked into something.
Now, with only one arm, Ruhl is more confident than she was before, having realised there is more to life than looking perfect in a picture.
She attributes her progress to determination and hard work, sharing videos as she worked her way through rehab.
“Do you know how grateful I am to be where I am today? I have fought my way out of the hardest time, am now studying and modelling on the side,” Ruhl says, looking back to when she thought her life was over.
“I am all the more grateful to still be able to experience everything. I am already looking forward to my future and all the things I will experience.”
Living is already a gift, she says. The 22-year-old now wants visibility.
In Germany, you don’t see adverts where someone’s prosthesis is visible. There have been some changes recently but Ruhl is not impressed, calling this “diversity washing”.
Sure, some companies may show different body shapes and sizes now, but their main focus is on the campaign, rather than truly recognising and celebrating difference, she says.
Ruhl is more confident about the “Miss Germany” contest though.
“They want me. They don’t care about the prosthesis,” she says.
Whether she wins or not, people want to hear her story and she gives one interview after the next.
She also encourages her followers to ask her questions and shares videos answering them, whether it is about if she has any regrets, how she styles her nails, or the material her prosthesis is made from.
Asked whether inequality and unfairness make her unhappy, she tells them her life is better thanks to her family, friends and community.
Ruhl’s stream of encouragement is ongoing. “Choose happy,” she tells her followers.