The Undiscovered Truth about Fashion
By Elizabeth, age 20, Pennsylvania
Ask any 20 year old young woman who her favorite music artist is, and you're bound to get a resounding "Lady Gaga". Ask that same young woman what's the hottest trend in fashion, and she'll likely tell you "skinny jeans". But if you ask 20 year old Elizabeth T., of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the answer will probably surprise, even amaze you.
It's not because Elizabeth doesn't spend endless hours at the mall shopping for designer jeans and t-shirts, or, like her peers, updating her MySpace and Facebook page every hour on the hour. No, it's more than that. Elizabeth, like the average 20 year old, wants to look her best in a pair of deep blue denim skinny jeans, designer handbag, and metallic riveted Uggs. The problem is she can't. Not because she doesn't have the money (most 20-somethings don't). It's because the fashion industry doesn't design clothing or shoes to fit over, above, or around her prosthetic leg. Elizabeth is a 20 year old amputee.
At the age of 12, Elizabeth wasn't prepared to make a decision that would change her way of life for the rest of her life. It was the Fall of 2002 when Elizabeth started to feel a cramp underneath her left knee. At first, she didn't think much of it. The pain would come and go. Then it became more aggressive.
To ease it, she would apply everything from ice to Ben Gay, but nothing seemed to work. An entire month went by with no relief. Not only did the pain not cease, it became progressively worse. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth began to walk with a limp. At one point, the pain became so debilitating it kept her awake at night, every night. Elizabeth described it as if "someone was poking her with needles, and twisting the knee apart".
Unable to bear it another day, Elizabeth finally told her mother. The next day the two of them went straight to the family doctor who ordered an MRI. When the results came back, it was as if a fog transcended upon her to the point she could barely breathe. Those three little words we all hope to never hear: You have cancer. Osteosarcoma to be exact. Elizabeth was immediately admitted to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and within two weeks surgery was performed to remove the tumor.
For the next 6 months, Elizabeth spent her young precious life in the hospital recovering. First, with high doses of chemotherapy, followed by extensive physical therapy to rehabilitate the knee.
After 6 long years, and what should have been the end of one period in a young girl's life, was actually the beginning of another major transition. Elizabeth's cancer was completely gone, but the cancer and subsequent surgery left her knee a conglomerate of twisted scar tissue which caused the pain to be even more unbearable than when she had the cancer.
Elizabeth knew something had to be done if she was to live as close to a normal life as any teenager could. So, on January 22, 2008, she made the most difficult decision of her life. She had her leg amputated. Elizabeth became the new face of the disabled in this country. But her story doesn't end there.
Elizabeth knew her way of life would change dramatically. She would now become part of another "exclusive" club - the disabled. This, of course, brought a whole new set of challenges, but there is one in particular Elizabeth never would have imagined to have the most effect: finding functional, fashionable clothing and shoes to wear each day. She calls this "The "Undiscovered Truth about Fashion".
Millions of disabled women face the daunting task of finding clothing and shoes to fit the prosthetic or some other medical device. Fashion designers have all but forgotten about this under-served segment of the population which spends thousands of dollars each year "retrofitting" clothing and shoes. In this economic downturn, it is increasingly becoming more of a problem.
Elizabeth's faith has never wavered, although it has been tested a time or two. Although God has brought her through the storm, she had no idea He was about to send an angel her way. One day, while doing what most 20 year olds do, Elizabeth was on Facebook when she received an email from a good friend and former Air force pilot and CEO of Amputee Coalition of America, Al Pike. Al, an amputee himself, had received a posting on his website and thought it might be of interest to Elizabeth .
The posting was about a campaign designed to raise awareness of the number of female amputees in the world who struggle each day with finding functional, fashionable clothing and shoes. Dress the Legs 2010 was just what the doctor ordered. Not only was the Dress the Legs 2010 campaign launched to raise awareness to the number of women around the globe missing one or both legs as a result of disease, injury, or war, but to encourage the fashion industry to take a more inclusive approach when it comes to the disabled when designing products. Its goal is to have 2,010,000 register on the site in 2010.
Eager to share her own personal story and get involved, Elizabeth contacted the founder, Lisa Goshon. Now, 3 months later, Elizabeth sits on the board of "Fashion on a Limb". FOAL is a nonprofit organization comprised of both amputee and non-amputee professional women from around the country whose primary goal is simple: to bridge the gap between the fashion industry (and the products they design) and the disabled. "Clothing and Shoes Designed with Disabled Women in Mind" is their slogan.
The need is great, overwhelming, and long overdue. Just ask any disabled woman. Something as simple as a tweak here or tuck there to a pair of pants or shoes can make all the difference in the world, Goshon believes. When it comes to fashion, the real question is: Do amputees have a voice?
Like it or not, fashion plays a major role in American culture. Elizabeth is like any other young, middle aged, or older woman: to look good when she walks out the door each day with her head held high and shoulders thrust back. Even more so, amputee women share the same sentiment as non-amputees: to be trendy, look beautiful, and even sexy in their clothing and shoes.
No doubt we've come a long way in accommodating the disabled. While looking good may not be a prerequisite to fair and equal treatment under the law, as a socially conscientious society, we owe it to our fellow citizens to do everything we can to improve the quality of life for the disabled.