This Model Lost Her Foot and Fingers to a Rare Condition, and It Taught Her to Love Her Body Even More

Lyric Heard doesn't want to be treated differently from other models because of her disability.

Lyric Heard
Photo: Courtesy of Lyric Heard

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I first discovered Lyric Mariah Heard, 23, while shopping at Love, Vera. I noticed she stood out from the other models—not just in natural beauty and grace, but because she was holding her own prosthetic leg as if it were simply an accessory. Heard, who goes by @phenixsoul on Instagram, had quite the story behind how she got into modeling, and why she doesn't let what others think about her disability change how she feels about herself.

Before she was born, Heard had amniotic band syndrome, which causes the amniotic bands that usually protect the fetus to wrap around limbs and organs. This can cut off blood flow and affect growth, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. "It ended up affecting my hand and my leg, so I wear a prosthetic, and I only have three fully developed fingers on my left hand," Heard tells Health.

Heard didn't know she had the condition until she was in high school. "I was researching it, and I don't think I realized how blessed I was because these bands can wrap around your heart, neck, or eyes," she says. "I'm missing a foot and some fingers, but there are so many babies that missed out on life because of it."

After years of bullying and struggling with low self-esteem, Heard decided she no longer wanted to be anyone's punching bag. So one day at church at age 15, she left all of the self-hate at the altar. "I remember going to the altar and getting on my knees telling God, 'I don't want to hate myself anymore; I don't want to look in the mirror and feel trapped anymore,'" she says. "I left the altar feeling lighter and didn't feel like that anymore. I felt like I was going to be okay in the long run."

Heard's prosthetic as a child.

After that, Heard did something she never believed she could. She swapped her go-to jeans and hoodie for the smallest crop top and the shortest shorts she owned and decided to say, "Here I am."

"I made the decision that one of two things would happen: I could go back to hiding my hands in my pockets and wearing jeans all summer long so people don't see my prosthetic and stare and point," says Heard. "Or I could let them stare and point and I could smile and walk through it, and stop paying attention to what other people do and start paying attention to how I live my life."

She did the latter, which helped her develop more confidence in college—and soon, led to her modeling career.

Lyric Heard
Courtesy of Lyric Heard

A photographer (who later became her boyfriend) reached out to her on Instagram—they were both attending the same school but didn't know it—and said he had a breast cancer awareness project he wanted her to model for. "It took me a couple hours before I responded because I was just breaking the confidence barrier, but I always wanted to be in that field so I went for it," she recalls.

Heard fell in love with the images (and the photographer), and her career blossomed, leading her to model for brands like Dolls Kill and Savage x Fenty.

"[Dolls Kill] was the first big brand to book me, and they didn't care about my disability. I had shots with my leg off, and they were excited to have me there," she says.

Heard, who did years cheerleading and gymnastics prior to modeling, hates to be treated differently because of her disability, citing the example her mother set for her. "My mom since day one has always treated me like a regular person," she says. "She's never tried to baby me or treat me like I'm fragile."

Her can-do attitude helped her create her alter ego, @phenixsoul, after breaking up with the photographer who gave her her start as a model. "It was awful and I felt like he took my dreams with him, and I didn't know where to go," she recalls. "But one day I just got up." Like a phoenix, Heard rose from the metaphorical ashes and took her life and career into her own hands, rebranding herself on Instagram.

Heard brings @phenixsoul with her to every situation. "If I fail at something, I'm gonna rise in another area," she says. For example, when she's turned down at model castings, she tells the directors, "I'll be back." Still, confidence can be a touchy subject. "I'm not out here living confidently every day. Every day I work at it," she says. You've got to put yourself out there, you can't hide and then expect to be in the spotlight."

Building confidence takes time, though. Her advice for herself on the days that she wants to gain more of it? "Stop explaining yourself! Blonde girls don't walk around explaining why they're blonde. You don't have to explain why you have small fingers, and if you want to, do that, and write your story the way you want to write it. It's your life, it's your body."

Inspired by Naomi Campbell and Halle Berry, Heard says she feels her best doing lingerie shoots, like the shoots she did for Love, Vera. "Lingerie is beautiful when it fits you right and hugs your body. It makes you look at yourself and be like 'wow, that is all me,'" she says. "It makes me feel a new level of confidence and show my body in full everything—stretch marks, cellulite, surgery scars, here it is. I love all of it and I try to put that forth in my lingerie photos. I'm not selling sex, I'm selling confidence."

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