- Model and fashion designer, Cherie Louise (29), from New Plymouth, New Zealand was diagnosed with bone cancer at six years old.
- As a result, she had to have one of her legs amputated and struggled with her self-esteem since then.
- However, seeing another model with an amputated limb and connecting with other people with disabilities on social media helped her gain confidence despite some trolling.
Cherie Louise (29) realised something was wrong with her when she kept getting a high recurrent fever and persistent pain in her left hip at an early age.
She had trouble running and keeping up with the other kids at school, and was taken to countless doctors' appointments to find the cause of her symptoms before finally being diagnosed with a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer where the tumours look like early forms of bone cells that normally help make new bone tissue.
Cherie’s parents were informed that she would need to have her entire left leg and half of her pelvis amputated to save her life. This type of amputation, called an external hemipelvectomy, is extremely rare and risky, it makes things like using a prosthetic quite difficult.
Cherie lost her leg at an early age. All images courtesy mediadrumworld/ cherie.louise/ Magazine Features
Cherie had a hard time acclimatising to having one leg, she was extremely self-conscious and hated standing out and being stared at all the time.
Additionally, exposure to social media brought an influx of trolls with heinous, insensitive things to say about her disability, with some even accusing her of photoshopping her leg off to gain attention.
"People on social media often accuse me of faking having one leg and claim that I photoshop my leg out of my photos for attention," says Cherie.
She says many can't grasp that images flip depending on whether you use the front or rear camera on your phone, or if a photo is taken in a mirror. People will also see a reflection of something on the floor and claim it is proof that she has photoshopped her leg out. "I know their comments are ridiculous and easily disproved, so some might think it's just funny when people say that," she says.
"For me, it's quite annoying, given everything I've gone through to survive and get to the point I am now where I'm confident in who I am and what I look like, all for people to put it down to just being fake and photoshopped."
Growing up, Cherie had never seen other amputees anywhere except for once a year when the Paralympics were on TV.
“When I was young, I didn't believe I would get a job, fall in love, have a family, or any of those things because I'd never known an amputee who had," Cherie says.
“There were countless nights spent crying over photos of myself pre-amputation, questioning why it happened to me, wishing I would wake up one day and have two legs again. I always stood out, and that made me eventually retreat from doing things that brought me more attention, like playing sports. I went through the rest of school wanting to blend in as much as possible.”
Cherie had a change of heart regarding her disability in her twenties, she realised people will always stare so why should she let unwanted attention stop her from doing what she wanted.
“Social media actually played a big part in gaining self-confidence for me because I found that the more I put myself out there on social media, the less I cared about how people reacted to me in person,” says Cherie.
“One thing that happened along the way, maybe five years ago now, was that I found a model with the same amputation as me on Instagram. Her name was Cacsmy/Mama Cax (@mamacax), she sadly passed away a couple of years ago"
Cherie remembers seeing that she had posted photos of herself in swimsuits and even had photos showing her scars. “While I had shared many photos of myself, I'd never been brave enough to share something such as a swimsuit photo. Seeing her look amazing in these photos, and be such an amazing model and disability advocate really pushed away some of the remaining fears that I had," Cherie says.
Connecting with the disabled community led Cherie to become more aware of the work society needs to do to be more inclusive. It also gave her the confidence to pursue her modelling career.
“As a teenager, I realised my dream was to work in fashion,” says Cherie.
“When I was about sixteen I went to a fashion school and from there I started styling shoots before moving to Melbourne when I was twenty to pursue styling further. “Back then I didn't really see modelling as something that I could pursue. It wasn't even just being an amputee that made me feel like I couldn't model, but also that I was too short and any amputees I did see modelling always had a prosthetic," she says.
"I felt like people would always choose an amputee with a prosthetic rather than one that uses crutches. I always kind of set these limits in my head of how far I believed the industry was willing to stretch when it came to diversity.”
Her first official modelling job was for a lingerie brand, Bluebella who put out an open casting for a secret project. Cherie applied and was selected to be a part of the World's Biggest Online Fashion Show, a fashion show where all the models filmed their own catwalk from their homes.
One of Cherie’s favourite bookings was for Modibodi, an extremely well-respected international brand in June 2021.
“What I loved about working with Modibodi is that it didn’t feel like they use diverse models for the ‘hype and likes’, it feels like they genuinely believe the importance behind it,” she says.
“That was why I wanted to get into modelling in the first place, in my heart what I really care about is advocating for disabled people. I know that the easiest way I can do that is by spreading my own image and pushing accurate representation of disabled people."
Cherie hopes to be seen by disabled children who aren't sure what the future has in store for them. "I want to break into the industries that have forever made up stories for us, instead of letting us tell them,” she says.
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CREDIT: mediadrumworld/ cherie.louise/ Magazine Features
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