What People Take for Granted
I am originally from Orlando and have been living in London for the past year. I had a baby and married. I am a thriving model and mom, but my story starts when I was in the womb.
My parents knew they were expecting twins. After an ultrasound, the doctors told them there was something wrong with twin A. They would only know more after birth. After all, this was over 24 years ago and technology wasn't what it is today.
I was twin A.
My name is Ashley Young, and I am Kintsugi.
I was born with congenital limb difference. In my case, this means I was born with my right arm missing right below the elbow. I do have five little, tiny fingers that move, and they are actually very cool. The doctors believe that I had a blood clot when I was forming and developing in the womb. My sister, on another hand, was born perfect.
Raised as Perfect
My mom was terrific. She raised me the same, no differently, than my sister. She did not enable me, but allowed me to figure out for myself how to manage to do the things I had to do. This was the best gift she could have given me. My entire life, I figured out how to manage.
My mom was heartbroken when the crawling days began. While my sister was crawling away, I couldn’t. I didn’t know how, and I was really struggling. I cried and she cried, right along with me. She didn’t let her emotions take over, and she would watch me until I found a way to get myself from point A to point B. I used to catch up to my sister sometimes weeks, sometimes months later. With enough practice, I would end up doing the same things she was able to do.
The Pledge of Allegiance
It was in elementary school that things changed, and my situation really started to bother me. I noticed that I was really different. There wasn’t another child like me. They asked me to be in the school news because I was different. They tried to do things “for me,” but I wondered if it was more for them. What really was the intention?
They asked me to do the pledge allegiance ceremony. I stood in front of the entire school. I realized that I couldn’t do it, because I could not put my right arm over my heart because I did not have one. I did not have a right arm. I did not know if I should just move my upper arm over to the left or if I should put my left arm over my heart. I didn’t know if the change would be disrespectful, and I just knew how I stood out as I stood in front of the entire school body.
I broke down into tears, and it was on TV. I felt that I could not say the pledge of allegiance. I really could not do everything. It was then, that it was very obvious to me that I was indeed different.
I find that it is society that makes it harder for people with disabilities. People with disabilities can figure out a way to do the things. It may be different; it may be slower, but we can figure things out. Society sets us up for failure, and they don’t believe in us or give us the time that we need to find the way.
Around us, people say that something is not possible. We are not telling that to ourselves, but if we hear it often enough, we can start believing it. This is the sad part. Kids make fun of us and are not sensitive of our reality. So many of them would run away from me like I had the plague. They called me a “one-arm-freak” when I was in school, and this hurt a lot.
Then, there were the boys.
Kids were starting to date, and those days were very difficult. My twin sister was blonde and beautiful; they all wanted to date her. On the other hand, I was the tall, skinny, awkward sister with one arm. I was the funny one but not the lovable one. I was led on by a boy for month until he told me that if I had my arm, he would have dated me. After that, he stopped talking to me. My world was crushed.
Then, there were the horses.
We grew up on a farm. We had horses, and my mother taught kids and adults how to ride. I connected with the horses, and they connected with me. I became a star rider. The horse is an animal waiting to be claimed as a friend, and they are the best of friends. They don’t talk back; they don’t judge. One arm, two arms, it makes no difference.
Then, there was dance.
I joined a dance team. At that point, there was no hiding my lack of an arm. Despite living in hot Orlando, I used to wear long sleeve hoodies, and I would tuck the extra sleeve in my pants so people would not notice right away that there was something going on. Once I joined the dance team, the hoodie had to go. The dance movements required the use of the arms I had. I stopped pretending I had two arms.
I was bullied in middle school, and high school was about to begin. One week before high school began, I joined the high school dance team and came in late halfway through the band performance. The conductor, who was the band director, introduced me on the loud speaker in front of everyone, around 300 students.
"This is Ashley Sherman," they announced, (my maiden name). At that moment, I spoke to myself. “They are all staring at me. I have to try and accept and love myself in this moment or these people won’t do the same. If they have an issue with me because I am different, then it shows more about their character than about mine. So, today I will stand tall. I will only have people who are accepting and loving around me. My life will be richer anyway, and I will be the lucky one.”
So, it was just as I said on that day before the band performance. My high school friends were amazing. Certainly, there were things that were done for me out of pity. I got on the homecoming court, and I think it was because it would be cool and nice to have a person with disability on the homecoming court.
Still, I went through high school and graduated. After graduation, I got a job at Universal as a performer. I was in the Walking Dead for five years. I used the fact that I didn’t have an arm and earned money entertaining.
While at Universal, I met amazing people. I kept my positive attitude, and I was confident in myself and in my abilities. I started working Mardi Gras as well.
My “Golden Arm”
When I was younger, I had a hook arm which was not very functional. It went over my shoulder, and it was hot. I sweat a lot when I wore it. One day, I threw it out and never used it again.
In 2016, my father was at Level Four Prosthetics, as he needed to get a brace for his injured ankle. The prosthetist shared with him about a new technology and what they were developing. The doctor said that he didn’t have any patients that he could help with that new knowledge. My dad answered, “Well, you do now!” Coming from his previous experience with my lack of desire to wear a prosthetic, he asked me how I would feel about it, instead of imposing it on me. I answered that I would consider it.
It was emotional for me to 'fess up that I couldn’t do everything without it and that maybe it would be helpful. It wasn’t only about technicalities; it was also about the emotional side of acceptance.
Just about then, the Lucky Fin Project, which is a non-profit organization for individuals with limb differences, had a meet-up in Troy, Michigan. I was waiting until the very last minute to decide if I wanted to attend. I was scared since I did not know anyone there. At the last minute, I asked the founder, Molly Stapleman, if there were rooms available and she said I could share a room with Angel Giuffria. I did not know who Angel was at the time. Later, I learned she was an actress with a bionic arm.
My heart was pounding as I approached the door of what would be my room for the next few days. Angel opened the door. She had make-up on her little arm; I do the same thing. My reaction was “Holy crap, it’s someone with one arm just like me.” We became best friends right away. On that weekend, I found a community of people who are like me and through Angel about a year later, I met my husband.
Life Changing Weekend
That precious weekend, we stayed up all night talking about our experiences. One evening, there was a concert and all the kids were dancing. No one was hiding their missing limbs. Everyone was so accepting and so loving. I never felt like I truly belong to a community as I did then. I was overwhelmed by emotions and ran to the bathroom to cry. They all came looking for me. We all hugged. I felt I was home.
Angel had a bionic hand. Model Rebecca Marine did, too. They convinced me that it's okay to have one. They showed me how it works, and it was during that weekend that I gained the needed courage to accept the prosthetic.
My New Hand
After the weekend, I was ready to start the process to get the prosthetic. There was a year long period of fighting insurance, because they didn’t think it was medically needed. I had to meet with the insurance personnel, and I told them this: "All of you in this room have two hands. I am the only one who has one, so I don’t understand why you think that you can have two, and I cannot have what you have.” There was silence in the room. Within two days, it was approved.
It took work as my arm end is very close to the elbow. With time, we managed to create a comfortable arm. It took tremendous time and effort to learn how to use it. New muscles had to get stronger to get the hang of it. In the beginning, I could only wear it for 30 minutes at a time. Today, I can wear it the entire day.
Modeling and Role Modeling
I was comfortable with whom I was now. I was confident, and I wanted so badly to be a role model to kids like me. I wanted to be a role model to all kids. I wanted to show that that if I could dance, swim with sharks, horseback ride so well, all with one arm, they could do it, too. They could do anything they wanted, with enough practice and devotion.
Until the Lucky Fin weekend, I did not know that there were others like me. I wanted to show the world that there were people like me and people with all kinds of differences and that it is okay to be different.
Years earlier I had asked my dad, crying one night, "Why me?" He told me, "You will figure it out, I just don’t know yet.” So, maybe now I do know. I know I don’t want other kids to feel alone in this world.
Angel introduced me to my now husband. He had an accident and lost an arm and a leg. We met and with time, we fell in love. We married, and we parent our adorable daughter. In London, they are a lot more open to models that have missing limbs or other disabilities. Unfortunately, the US is not quite there yet. I had signed up with agencies. The only two interviews were for acting as either an army vet that had lost an arm or for the Walking Dead.
One agency told me that they don’t have clients that would want, and I quote, “your kind” in their photos. I cannot explain how painful it was to me. In London, even while pregnant I had jobs. They are a lot more open minded. I have been published in some major magazines including Vogue Italia, ID Magazine and others. I walked for a lingerie brand, I was filmed for a show, and I had some amazing auditions. I could not be happier.
Now, I am doing the mom and wife thing and modeling and having the best time of my life!
My name is Ashley Young, and I am Kintsugi.
To follow Ashley go here: www.instagram.com/OrlandoCyborgAshley
To learn more about Lucky Fin go here: www.luckyfinproject.org
Photo by Amanda Van Meter Burch https://avyphoto.com/
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