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Growing up, Toni Furmanski never saw women with disabilities in the media. Now, the 29-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, is the media; she's created a blog and a popular Instagram account that offer insight into her life as an amputee and advocates for body positivity through fashion.
Furmanski was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD), which causes a malformation in the femur and leaves one leg shorter than the other. Her parents decided to amputate her shorter leg when she was 13 months old to make it easier for her to live an independent life by using a prosthesis.
“Honestly, I think that’s the best choice they could have ever made” Furmanski tells Health, explaining that she's been walking with the help of a prosthesis almost since the amputation.
Furmanski says her childhood was pretty normal, and she attended a private school with the same small group of kids who made her feel comfortable with her disability. Away from school, however, things were different.
“Outside of school and in public—especially during my teen years—I would notice a lot of people staring at my leg,” she recalls. “At the time, it was my normal to have a prosthesis, but it wasn’t normal for somebody else. So I just kind of didn’t get why people were looking at me and that’s when I started to feel self-conscious.”
Furmanski says that during high school, she would do whatever she could to hide her prosthetic leg, say by wearing jeans, long dresses, or prosthetic covers. By her senior year, though, her outlook began to change. She stopped trying to hide her leg and began opting for whatever wardrobe choice felt the most comfortable.
“I remember one of the first times I wore shorts in high school, a friend of mine said something like ‘I’m just really proud of you for being comfortable in your own skin feeling like you don’t have to hide yourself.’ And that really helped change the way I felt about myself.”
Since then, Furmanski has become increasingly comfortable with her body, and she had a better sense of why strangers would stare at her leg.
“I started understanding that people weren’t staring to be mean or to be snotty, but they were staring because they were curious. It wasn’t their norm, they never see it,” she explains. “You don’t see people with prostheses in the movies, TV, or magazines. And if you do, that was their story. The story line was about them being an amputee, not a character who had a storyline and happened to also be an amputee. I want to help change that.”
So in 2017 she launched her blog, Anne and Kathleen, named after her two grandmothers. It started as a plus-size fashion site where Furmanski could share her favorite outfit combinations. But it's evolved into a blog focused on messages of fat acceptance and body liberation, as well as cute clothes. On Instagram, her brand has over 10,000 followers, and she hopes to use it to educate people about normalizing body differences.
"My biggest message I want to send with my blog is kindness,” she says. “Be kind to others, because you don’t know what someone else is going through. I also want to normalize disabilities and normalize differences. I want people to know that having a disability doesn’t mean they can’t do things, they just do them a bit differently. That kind of understanding and knowledge will benefit everyone.”
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