Aimee Mullins, vulnerability, courage, and community design therapy

As I was perusing my suggested shows on Netflix I ran across a series of “fashion” related TedTalks. An avid fan of TED, having just watched this week’s Project Runway All Stars episode (I’m a huge fan of Anthony Ryan Auld, and not just because he’s a young adult cancer survivor), and ready for some short morsels of inspiration I decided to check out the talks.

But instead of a talk about fashion, I found myself completely enthralled by a talk about how becoming vulnerable about a perceived culture deficit instead opened up a world of creativity and collaboration leading to courage and becoming a place where dreams become reality.

The speaker, olympic paralympic sprinter Aimee Mullins, had given a talk ten years ago in which she discussed her challenges as a paraplegic and shared her carbon-fiber legs, at the time a proto-type, which helped her finish her olympic races. But in this talk, she brings on stage new sets of legs that have a completely different purpose.

She discusses that after her initial talk, she’s had a lot of discussions and involvement from people across many fields – not just science and health. And because of this, she has looked at her situation in different ways, from different angles.

(And here we get to the fashion categorization…)

In fact, she was even able to see her prosthetic legs not just function, but as art. Fashion designer Alexander McQueen took interest in her and her legs, and designed solid ash wood legs that look like boots for Aimee and had her walk in his runway show.

In addition, she has had some legs designed *JUST* for art sake, which are nearly impossible for actual walking.

I think this is such an interesting take on “art therapy” – or more so a “community design therapy”. Yes, most people have legs, and legs are meant for walking. But if you don’t have legs, and you have the chance to design them yourself, and you can design ANYTHING, what would you make? What would they look like? What would be their purpose? Do you want to jump, swim, skate? Are you focused primarily on presentation or function? What makes you FEEL good?  The options are infinite!

It also reminds me of the Italian brain cancer survivor Salvatore Iaconesi who made his medical records open source and because of that has had doctors, survivors, installation artists, musicians, and others contribute to his site and contribute to curing the WHOLE BODY and person – physical and emotional.

You can take a look at his site at:

These are big steps in opening a community dialog. I also believe they are huge steps at taking a risk of being vulnerable.

Could Aimee be torn apart by our culture for her disability instead of applauded and creatively encouraged?
Does it help her that she is physically beautiful, easily meeting our cultural standard and making it easy for her to fit in with models on a McQueen runway show?
Does our culture need beauty in order to bring awareness through mass media, women’s magazines, etc.?
YES. I think right now we’re in a big transitional period ushered in by the breast cancer awareness movement (and partially the humanization of mental illness) where we are  starting to recognize, be aware, and put a more real, human face on disabilities and illnesses affecting the young, general population.  But, as we’re still plagued by cultural issues of beauty, Photoshop, retouching of even the healthy among us, making entry into the mainstream may be more effective by those who already fit the mass media standard of beauty. At the very least, it can’t hurt.

But should this take away from Aimee’s courage and strength to be vulnerable?


Does that take away from her incredible perseverance to physically beat her obstacle and become a US Paraolympian?

Definitely Not.

These qualities only add to her beauty, making her a beautiful inside and out, head to every creative prosthetic toe shoe has. And the perfect person to open doors and minds for everyone else.

I wonder what other great finds are in the “fashion” section of Ted!


About Ashley Myers-Turner

Los Angeles based photographer & videographer, health care advocate, and chocolate dipped twizzler enthusiast.

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