Social media influencer and makeup artist who lost all four limbs inspires others to live fully

While my friends went out to parties or to go dancing, my insecurities kept me from leaving the house. I believed these fun activities were far beyond my reach as an amputee. Questions lingered in my mind. I wondered, “Why did I have to be born into this body?” I felt furious and full of shame. 

  • 11 months ago
  • June 25, 2023
7 min read
Growing up, Paloma felt passionate about makeup. It allowed her to create a world of her own and harness her feelings as an amputee. She has grown quite a following on Instagram. Growing up, Paloma felt passionate about makeup. It allowed her to create a world of her own and harness her feelings as an amputee. She has grown quite a following on Instagram. | Photo courtesy of Paloma Fabián Lopez
Paloma Fabián Lopez is 22 years old. She suffered a disease that led her to get amputated as a child. Today, she studies Social Work at the University of Luján. She has a passion for makeup and took a makeup course, among others, which she recently graduated. She also has a love for extreme sports. She also surfs, and plans to compete professionally in the coming years.
Meningococcemia is a severe and life-threatening bloodstream infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria Meningitidis. Typically residing in the upper respiratory tract without causing symptoms, the bacteria can spread through respiratory droplets, primarily affecting family members and close contacts. The infection is more prevalent during winter and early spring.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — At two and a half years old, doctors amputated both my arms and legs. While I have no memory of that time, my parents told me that after running a high fever, doctors diagnosed me with meningococcemia.

By seven years old, my health problems continued and doctors diagnosed with Catastrophic Antiphospholipid Syndrome. I faced another surgery. This time, I remembered my hospitalization. I felt so confused but never alone, as family came and went, bringing gifts.

I celebrated my birthday in the hospital among doctors and nurses. Despite being surrounded by my favorite foods, the sores in my mouth kept me from eating. When I finally got out, a boy who was my friend visited frequently. We spent hours playing together, riding around on his small quad bike.

I sat on the hood, and we laughed as he drove. We felt invincible. During those early days, I never felt different. I enjoyed my days in the sun like an ordinary girl. It was not until puberty hit that I experienced the weight of my condition.

While my friends went out to parties or to go dancing, my insecurities kept me from leaving the house. I believed these fun activities were far beyond my reach as an amputee. Questions lingered in my mind. I wondered, “Why did I have to be born into this body?” I felt furious and full of shame. 

Related: Woman in Spain loses limbs to amputation, becomes national surfing champion

Makeup became my salvation

Incredibly insecure about my body and appearance, I began thinking about makeup. Watching YouTube tutorials, I began applying mascara, and later took makeup classes and other courses. Eventually, I gained enough confidence to practice on other people.

I loved every moment of it. Doing makeup allowed me to express myself in a unique way. I remember sitting in my bedroom, staring at myself as I carefully applied the finishing touches. Makeup took on a vital role in my life.

Photo of Paloma as a child, with prosthetic legs. | Photo courtesy of Paloma Fabián Lopez

It made everything else disappear for a while, giving me a safe bubble to live in. I loved the process of applying makeup and playing dress-up. I saw makeup as my escape from the world. As I kid I felt wonder at the makeup boxes I received. It seemed so fun to apply the colors to my grandparents’ faces. However, it became much more significant during my adolescence.

On the streets, I got a lot of unwanted attention. People stared at me, and I interpreted their gaze as pity. It felt unbearable. When I wore makeup, I felt empowered – like I could create any persona I wanted. It made me feel as if nothing had ever happened to me. I directed people’s focus upon my face, rather than my missing arms and legs. 

Though everyone around me questioned it, my love for extreme sports only grew 

During that time, I also discovered a passion for surfing. I started swimming at the age of six, but never truly enjoyed it. In my everyday life, I had to excert constant strength just to move. However, extreme sports captivated me: the ones where you get messy, fall, and carry on.

During a vacation, I watched with wonder as people surfed at the beach. My dad noticed my interest and enrolled me in surfing activities. From the very beginning, I experienced a tremendous sense of freedom. Being in the water feels effortless. I love the absence of rules. It’s all about connecting with the waves. While I require assistance to enter the sea and approach the waves, once I’m out there, it’s all up to me.

Paloma developed a strong love for surfing and hopes to compete soon. | Photo courtesy of Paloma Fabián Lopez

Balancing on a massive board, propelling it on my own, and gliding and riding the waves feels incredible. Originally, I wanted to compete in 2020, but the pandemic disrupted those plans. Now, I feel determined to resume my training because people say I have potential. My goal is to constantly challenge myself and seek out daring activities.

I don’t want to do things like yoga – it feels to calm and peaceful. I grow weary of people always trying to protect me when I just want to be treated like a normal person. Even during rehabilitation, I asked the staff to give me the most intense exercises. When I saw the ladder attached to a wall in the arena-like structure, I immediately wanted to climb it. While my kinesiologist hesitated, I pushed and managed to climb all the way to the top.

Reading my story out loud for the first time changed the way I saw myself forever 

A big remaining challenge in my life is boys. The idea of it causes me distress. While my friends started dating and getting into relationships, I found it difficult to open up. My body makes me feel incredibly insecure. I question why someone would want to be with me. “Do they genuinely like me,” I ask myself, “or are they’re merely attracted out of curiosity.” Little by little, I continue to work towards overcoming this mistrust.

I use Instagram as a way to grow my confidence and it plays a significant role in discovering more about my own story. I started using it to post about makeup and follow influences, and my content went unnoticed for a long time. Then, one day, one of my videos reached influencer Lucía Numer. She liked my content and recommended my profile on her page. Suddenly, I started gaining a large number of followers and receiving interview requests. 

Paloma and her friend. | Photo courtesy of Paloma Fabián Lopez

While I continued to struggle at accepting being an amputee and remained in the dark about the details of it all, I knew in my first interview they would want to know about my story. So, I asked my mom to write it down for me. As a phone interview, I could discreetly read what my mom wrote without drawing too much attention. When the conversation concluded, I realized the gravity of what just happened. Reading these words out loud, I understood how fortunate I was to have survived and to share my experiences. That realization moved me deeply and I never saw myself the same way again.

Finally making my peace with who I am and speaking out on the lack of representation 

Through subsequent interviews, I gradually came to know and understand my life. I stopped feeling ashamed of who I was. A desire to live my life to the fullest permeated my being. It makes me happy to have a large audience on social media, because I want people in similar situations to know they can lead fulfilling lives. Many amputees don’t feel adequately represented, and the same goes for me. There exists a lack of individuals like us on television and in advertisements. I find it crucial to change that because visibility creates a strong and positive impact.

I’ll never forget the day at the rehabilitation center when a woman kept staring at me. It made me uncomfortable, but I smiled back. “Who is she and what does she want,” I wondered. It turns out, she brought her son that day. Initially, he refused to go into rehab. However, after seeing me in an interview, he changed his mind.

It feels incredibly powerful and deeply satisfying to know that my presence and courage helped someone else who is now doing better in life. I don’t feel happy all the time, and there are still days when I feel frustrated about what happened to me. However, I handle those emotions better than before.

I’ve come to understand that what’s done is done. If my past experiences hadn’t occurred, I wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be the person I am now.

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