Most people faced with the challenges Aimee Mullins has faced would have crumpled up in a dark hole somewhere and felt sorry for themselves. Mullins had both her legs amputated on her first birthday due to a developmental disorder. Rather than worry about the other kids that teased her, she held her head high and became a successful model, actress, former intelligence analyst for the Pentagon and champion athlete. I had the opportunity to talk this absolutely amazing woman to hear her tips for those going through their own challenges and all about her new documentary by Tom Brokaw entitled, Bridging the Divide.
What is your documentary about and where can we see it?
Bridging the Divide, a Tom Brokaw documentary of which I was a part, aired on dec 10 on USA. I believe there will be other airings in the future, check your local listings! The doc was reflecting on our American lives 50 years after the Civil Rights movement; how far we've come and how far we still need to go, keeping alive this conversation that we need to have surrounding discrimination, intolerance, and what "inclusion" means today. The only way to make substantive changes in our society is to have that dialogue, and to share the stories of those who are making a difference --I was privileged to meet some of the compelling people who were featured in the piece, and i am honored to be in their company.
Your documentary explores the real definition of beauty. What is beauty to you?
True beauty is when someone radiates that they like themselves. That's why all little children are beautiful...they haven't yet been sabotaged by self-doubt. Kids are marvelous! It has very little to do with the external triggers that get all the attention. I've said this before, but I believe more than ever that confidence is sexier than any body part. Beauty also has to do with the act of transformation; if we look at "beauty" as the act of someone empowering themselves to become the person they envision (even on a superficial level of changing our appearance) rather than the result of that transformation, we can allow people to claim for themselves what their idea of beauty actually is.
What advantages do you think your physical differences afforded you?
Well, besides being as tall as I want to be and not getting cold feet on the ski slopes...? Look, we live in an incredibly diverse world ... no two people are exactly the same, and instead of relishing that, we often go through a phase (or decades) wishing we actually were like everyone else. I think that everyone has something about themselves that they feel is their weakness... their "disability." And I'm certain we all have one, because I think of a disability as being anything which undermines our belief and confidence in our own abilities. People presume my disability has to do with being an amputee, but that's not the case; our insecurities are our disabilities, and I struggle with those as does everyone. The good news is that as we grow and change, so do our disabilities, and the thing that once seemed to be our weakness can actually be where we find huge strength and opportunity. I have found great power in taking my "difference" out for a spin in a very public way. And usually, the worst, most personally-embarrassing thing you imagine in your mind is often not anywhere near as bad in real life.
Was there any moment in your life when you felt sorry for yourself? How did you keep going and choose a path of positivity when others have swirled into despair? Of course! my teenage years were especially difficult...I'm sure there are a few people out there who know what I'm talking about. Not to plagiarize my grandmother's crocheted pillow, but the saying "this too shall pass..." is something that is so true. Your question had the phrase "choose a path..." in it, and that's also so important. I believe that it is a choice, how you handle challenge and how quickly you adapt to circumstances out of your control. Henry Ford said it so well: "whether you think you can or you think you can't, either way, you're right" .
If there is someone reading this interview right now who feels like they want to give up, what would be your message to them?
Really, after all the stuff above you still want to give up? Giving up is conceding that things will never get better, and that is just not true. Ups and downs are a constant in life, and I've been belted into that roller coaster a thousand times. Things always seem to get better, or else it could be that I just learn to adapt to the 'downs' in a way that they don't affect me as intensely as they once did. Your life changes, and -- hallelujah! -- so do you. there is ALWAYS adversity present in our lives; its just to varying degrees of difference throughout. Talk to family and friends, share your stories, because I guarantee there are people around you that have have experienced similar emotions and can help. One of the greatest discoveries I made was simply learning to ask for help.
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