An up-and-coming singer-songwriter named Marsha Elle is in the midst of blowing up online for another of her talents: an ability to inspire legions of Instagram fans through becoming an accidental role model in the body-positivity movement.
In the past week alone, her number of followers has jumped from 12,000 to nearly 18,000, largely because so many people are noticing and sharing one particularly empowering photo: Marsha standing on the beach in a one-piece swimsuit, her full-length prosthetic leg proudly visible for all to see. A big boost came directly from actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who took notice and reposted the image and captioned it, simply, “Beauty.”
One Instagram fan noted, “Absolutely beautiful, nothing makes me happier than seeing people live their truth, I just started living mine and it feels pretty damn good. Thank you for the inspiration gorgeous.” Another added, “You are beautiful and brave, your strength gives me strength.”
Marsha Elle, 25, is a congenital amputee. She was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD) a rare, nonhereditary condition that affects the pelvis, particularly the hip bone, and the proximal femur bone, causing the leg to underdevelop while in utero. But the vocalist’s disability has become empowering — not only to her, but to the many who are inspired by her.
Still, it wasn’t always that way, confesses the Miami native. Growing up, she says, it was not easy to embrace herself completely. “I dealt with rejection a lot, I was outcasted because I was ‘different,’” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
To prevent strangers from staring at her when she was a child, her mom would dress her to cover her prosthetic leg. When she was old enough to dress herself, Marsha Elle hid herself under baggy clothes and shirts, particularly during high school, when she was bullied.
“My mom always told me I was beautiful and taught me to ignore the negativity,” she says. “People would say hurtful things. I would cry, then I would pray. But I never pitied myself. I told myself I would be great one day.”
Seeing her favorite artists performing onstage, she often wondered if she could one day be like them. “I believed I could be that — but how, with my leg? I thought it was impossible … but that’s a dreamer’s paradise,” she says.
Despite studying to become a nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins University, Marsha Elle decided pursue her childhood dream of being a singer-songwriter. And that career about-face, she says, is what empowered her to fully embrace who she is.
“I had to really reflect,” she confesses. “How can I expect my fans to love me when I don’t even love myself?”
And so, for the release of her first studio album, Champion, in 2014, she decided it was time to expose her disability to the world, and used her cover art as the stepping stone to body pride and self-love. This meant showcasing her prosthetic — something she said was a difficult thing to do.
“At first, it was hard to find a prosthetic company that would give me a brown foot. My first prosthetic foot was a tan-and-white hue,” she explains. “My mom refused to take it and asked that I could receive a brown one, and after persisting, my prosthetist found one for me.”
At that point, she recalls, “I was ecstatic. From there, I’ve always tried to request that my legs be modified to my shape and hue because it’s a quality-of-life thing. I want to feel comfortable and proud of my prosthetic. My cover is custom-made, and it’s definitely a confidence booster. It’s part of my life — and I fell in love with this design.”
When shooting the cover art for her album, she confesses, “I was so terrified when I took the photos, but I’m glad I did,” she says. “It made me brave.”
Since then, Marsha Elle has reached thousands of people with her inspiring lyrics and equally inspiring story, and has released another studio album named, appropriately, “Brave,” in 2016.
She has since released several music videos and was even featured in the popular MTV show My Dream Day in January 2017.
So what’s next for Marsha Elle? She plans to graduate as a nurse practitioner while also following her musical passion.
Her advice for others struggling to love themselves, she says, is this: “ Embrace the ‘you’ in you. You are unique and special. Once you embrace that quirky oddity, you discover a way to make the world better with it. That’s when you begin to tap into your purpose.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- This pregnant amputee wants her maternity shoot to change how disabled moms are represented
- Amputee athlete who thought she’d never play lacrosse again scores goal in first game back
- Model’s birth defects, she says, ‘gave me a purpose’