Translator: Rhonda Jacobs Reviewer: Peter van de Ven
So I'm standing here tonight to invite you to stare at me.
It's not like I am an exhibitionist or something,
and I'm in the habit of inviting strangers to stare at me,
but stare at everything.
Stare at my hands, my small hands, my short arms, and the way I move.
I used to associate staring as a negative
and would do everything I could to avoid and hide
because of my obvious disability.
I bet you're wondering what I have, and I'll get to that in a moment.
Preparing for TED got me thinking about being on a stage
and having stages in my life,
and I realized I've been on some form of stage for most of my life,
but unwanted stages.
The first stage I went on was a lot of doctors' offices.
It all began when I was three,
and I had some crazy symptoms that would not go away.
I had a high fever, a rash, and a swollen knee.
So I was taken to a lot of doctors.
I was told my body was in pain, had to be fixed,
and had a lot of issues.
Oh yeah, I better tell you what I had.
When I was three, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Yes, kids get arthritis too; it's not just an old people's disease.
The next unwanted stage that I went on was hospitals and operating rooms.
Unfortunately, I got the most aggressive kind of arthritis
that went into every joint in my body.
Hospitals became my home away from home,
and physicians talked about me as if I wasn't there.
At 14, I wasn't walking, I was in a wheelchair,
so I had to have hip replacement surgery at 14.
I became the bionic teen at 14.
The worst stage that I went on
was the unwanted stares and whispers of classmates and strangers.
My disease was becoming visible,
and all I wanted to do was disappear.
And I never looked into a full-length mirror
until my early 30s.
Arthritis, like any chronic illness, is a roller coaster ride.
And fortunately, I had a good team, and have a good team,
that helped me get through the ride.
My amazing parents, who are in the audience tonight,
and my sister and brother,
and my adorable new fiancé, Robert, is here as well.
And I also had a good therapist who had a disability,
who helped me get through that ride.
The next stage I'd like to share with you is when I put myself on a stage
where I was in control of how I would be displayed.
I created a photography show called "Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty,"
which you'll see some of the photographs behind me.
We photographed amazing women,
20 women with all different types of disabilities,
to showcase their beauty, sensuality, and empowerment.
Most people don't associate beauty and disability with women
or people in general,
so we wanted to break up those stereotypes
and really break up boundaries.
We did this in Miami a few years ago when I was in my early 40s.
And we created such a stir,
and the audience that came to see the show,
the models that were portrayed in the show were empowered, inspired,
and it helped - we had large, billboard-sized photographs -
empowered the women to create their definitions
of how they defined themselves as beautiful.
For me, I was one of the three out of the 20
that posed semi-nude.
And if you had asked me ten years prior to this experience,
I would have said, hell, no.
I would have never, ever considered posing nude.
But I was standing in a new place of self-acceptance
at that point in my life,
and I said, why not?
People stare at me anyway; I've noticed.
And why not have them stare at a beautiful photograph?
So it was transformative for all the women that participated,
for the photography students
that helped create this amazing experience.
They were used to photographing
the Cindy Crawfords and the Tyra Banks of the day,
not women in wheelchairs,
with a visual impairment, hearing impairment,
people with arthritis, MS,
and they were transformed -
literally, their lens was shifted as to how they viewed body as beautiful.
I stepped into a new place of acceptance with my body after this experience.
I realized I was not an object to be fixed;
I was not an object to be pitied;
I was the vehicle for my photographer's inspiration.
I'm standing here tonight to redefine beauty,
the beauty of disability.
Beauty is all around us, isn't it?
It's in the flaws.
It's in out perfectly imperfect unique selves.
But we miss it.
It's a global issue, isn't it?
So I'd like you to take a moment -
we'd like to expand what we created in Miami
and take it to the next level.
We want to break up stereotypes
and bring in women and people with disabilities
into the mainstream media.
It's happening, but it's not happening fast enough for me.
I would love you guys, tonight, after you leave the show,
to connect with somebody that you don't know,
and look into their eyes and see their inner beauty,
and see their inner essence,
and connect to them on that level.
And now I'd like you to stare at me again,
and this time, stare at me from a place of beauty.
And this time, stare at me from a place of art.
I'm stepping out, and I have come out of the shadows,
and I've come out of hiding.
And I am stepping onto new stages
on my terms.