Just four years ago, Stacy Paris lost both of her legs to a flesh-eating bug – but she’s not letting it hold her back.
With a newfound sense of confidence, the double-amputee decided to go into modeling.
“I’ve always loved fashion and the creativity, beauty, and color of [modeling], but before I wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard and I wouldn’t have had a huge sense of self-belief like I do now,” Paris, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I was always strong and ambitious but I don’t think I would have would have been brave enough to put myself out there like I am now.”
It all started in 2009, when Paris returned from a vacation in the South of France, and had to rush to the hospital with a toe infection in her left foot. They amputated just the toe at first, but after 16 surgeries doctors determined that they needed to remove her entire leg below the knee. Soon after, the bug had spread into her right leg, and doctors amputated it as well.
“The main thing that helped me is that I never looked back,” she says. “I didn’t dwell on what had happened to me and I found that every time it happened I took it as a new challenge and got more and more determined to beat it.”
Rather than feeling down on herself for losing her legs, Paris says it actually boosted her self-esteem.
“Losing my legs has given me a whole new sense of self-confidence and I have never been as happy within myself as I am now,” she says. “I think seeing that I could come through the worst as I did with a huge amount of strength, really made me believe in myself.”
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“I was very nervous – it’s a very difficult job to do and I have so much respect for models,” she says. “I was putting myself out there and doing it whilst exposing a disability as well, and I realized that there could be a lot of negativity coming from that.”
But thankfully, the response has only been positive.
“I have been very lucky and people from across the world have left messages of support and lovely comments, and my fears very quickly melted away,” Paris says. “I absolutely love doing it now – every little girl loves to dress up and grown girls are no different! I love being creative and being able to push myself to new heights.”
Now the Stirling, Scotland native is campaigning for Models of Diversity, a non-profit in the United Kingdom aimed at calling on the “fashion, beauty and marketing industries to recognize the beauty in people of all races, ages, shapes, sizes and abilities.”
“Every person should feel that fashion is accessible to them and every person should have someone that they can relate to,” she says. “What’s important is that we are treated as equals and not just as disabled models, that the opportunities are there for diverse models to be as successful as any other model.”
“We aren’t saying put us above other models, we only want a fair chance to be represented so that we can make our own way,” she adds, “and develop our skills within the industry.”