June 2014

Out on a limb: As Purdy does

1Limb-JordanaJordana Bieze Foster, Editor

As a guest model on The Price is Right, Amy Purdy had little opportunity to showcase her intelligence, her athleticism, or her dancing skills. But—thanks to a very short, very tight red dress—she did have ample opportunity to show off her legs. And that’s just one more way the Paralympian and Dancing with the Stars runner-up is changing the way the world thinks about beauty.

Most of you know by now that Purdy has been a bilateral transti­bial amputee since contracting a form of bacterial meningitis 15 years ago, at the age of 19. That means when she wears a very short red dress, her prosthetic limbs are on display in their entirety—all the way up to the tops of the carbon fiber sockets.

You probably also know that Purdy is athletic. It’s no secret. An avid snowboarder before the amputations, she became one of the best adaptive snowboarders in the world, winning a gold medal in para snowboard cross at the 2011 New Zealand Winter Games and a bronze medal in snowboard cross at this year’s Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

Purdy’s athleticism was definitely on display during the most recent season of Dancing with the Stars (see “Market mechanics,” page 66). And though some fans of other competitors groused that Purdy’s routines featured too many lifts and stunts and not enough footwork, I have to say I thought her footwork was pretty darned good too.

The thing about competing on a dance-themed reality show, though, is it isn’t enough to just be athletic. And it isn’t enough to be able to execute all the dance moves. To have a shot at winning, you also have to look good doing it.

There’s no denying that Purdy has a gorgeous face and a toned, svelte body. But where other contestants had shapely calves, she had metal pylons. She couldn’t point or flex her toes. Yet, the judges and the viewers who voted for Purdy in one round after another showed they were open to a new definition of beauty. In the end, only breathtaking Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis scored higher (and probably not by much).

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Purdy’s next gig, as a guest model on The Price is Right, once again involved taking aim at society’s preconceptions about what is beautiful.

Quite simply, being a Price is Right model is about looking good. And Purdy, prosthetic limbs and all, is now part of that exclusive club.

Research has demonstrated time and again, and as clinicians you know, that having to wear a clunky orthotic or prosthetic device can shatter a patient’s self-image. If I have to wear this thing, they think, nobody will ever see me as beautiful.

Amy Purdy is proof—living, breathing, snowboarding, dancing, product-showcasing proof—that that’s just not true.

Purdy isn’t beautiful because of her prosthetic limbs. But she isn’t beautiful in spite of them either. Her beauty encompasses her entire self. Some people won’t understand that, but it’s clear that many now do. And making that kind of impact on public perception might turn out to be Purdy’s greatest achievement.

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