Girl Born Without Legs Reigns Her Kingdom In This 'Warrior Queen' Photo Shoot

"We are stronger than we think and we can overcome all obstacles."

When Angela Neal learned that her daughter would be born without legs at only 16 weeks into her pregnancy, she was reasonably shocked. "I was scared to find out she wouldn't have legs because I had no idea what to expect," she told A Plus. "I had never heard of her condition before."

According to the doctors, Neal's child had caudal regression syndrome, a rare condition occurring in one to 2.5 per 100,000 newborns, which impairs the development of the lower (caudal) half of the body. According to the Genetics and Rare Diseases Information Center, the disorder may affect the lower back (including the spinal cord), limbs, genitourinary tract, and the gastrointestinal tract, thereby causing the bones of the lower spine and legs to be malformed or missing upon birth.

But, despite the obvious physical setbacks, and numerous health scares, La'Mareea Waddell of Junction City, Ohio has evolved into an effervescent 8-year-old whose story continues to inspire the masses.

Recently, Neal came across photographer Leslie Dye's model call on Facebook. There, the owner of the Lancaster, Ohio–based Elegant Ele Fine Art Photography & Design was looking for children, both male and female, for her "In the Wild" shoot, as inspired by some costumes she'd recently purchased on clearance at the local Dresscode Consignment Shop. 

While her subjects were required to be enthusiastic (sans parent pressure) and follow simple instructions, Dye's main concern was to ensure her models had fun. "I, too am a parent of two beautiful daughters and wanted to capture their personalities within their sessions," she said.

However, Neal was nervous that La'Mareea's condition might hinder her chances, so she reached out to Dye prior to submitting her daughter's picture and clothing sizes, as requested.

"La'Mareea's mother, Angela, contacted me and asked if her daughter would be considered due to her not having legs In my mind, I was thinking of course she would, why wouldn't she?" Dye explained. "I then privately messaged Angela and explained her not having legs would not hinder her from this model call. In fact, I do not have any hair — Alopecia Totalis, since the age of 28 — and felt this has not hindered my ability to do what I love, which is photography."

Of course, Dye ultimately chose La'Mareea to be one of her models, and her images have since become an empowering — albeit, unintentional — viral sensation.

"Working with La'Mareea was wonderful," Dye told A Plus. "She was a natural. When La'Mareea first arrived at the session, I knew this was going to be fun! She arrived with a unicorn headband on and I stated: "Wow, I didn't know you were bringing a unicorn, I love it." So, of course, I would have to take a few shoots with her unicorn headband on."

"During the session, La'Mareea was very confident and unstoppable," Dye added. "At one point, she insisted on getting herself and her wheelchair up a quite steep hill, to one of the locations, without assistance. Her personality didn't stop there, though. She was extremely funny, with a lot of heart and love for herself and others." 

According to Dye, the only aid La'Mareea needed was help with hand placement. Also, Dye emphasized that she wanted her to imagine "she was Queen of the forest we were shooting in. It was her kingdom!" And, judging by the final product, there's no doubt that La'Mareea had earned her royal title.

Yet, while La'Mareea has received much praise since Dye's photos gained attention, Neal notes that her daughter has received her fair share of stares — especially from adults — in years past. Children, however, as she's found, are simply curious as to how La'Mareea ended up this way, taking questions without judgement or bias. "I tell them that is how she was born and that's how God made her. That's usually enough to end the curiosity, they just go on playing with her."

In today's world of increasing body positivity, our society needs to learn that, if we are to love everybody, we must also love every body. Neal believes that, to promote the acceptance of different body types, adults must lead the way. "I think the younger generation can only learn if the older generation stops being so ignorant and judgmental on what they do not understand. Children learn by example."

Luckily, when things do get rough, La'Mareea's big brother Nathan never hesitates to come to her defense, as he's always been her biggest protector and cheerleader. "Being a single parent with two children is very scary, but one with a disability makes it even more scary," Neal said. "Nathan stepped up immediately. When he was four and I found out I was having a baby with no legs, he looked at me as serious as he could be and said, "let's go find her some." He loved her as soon as he saw her and never stopped loving, protecting, and supporting her."

Neal, who originally shared La'Mareea's story of trials and triumphs on Love What Matters, hopes that, as these images begin to spread, people will start to accept that love means more than achieving societal perfection. "Everyone deserves to be loved, you don't have to fit a particular mold or standard. God's creativity shines in everything He creates, and La'Mareea is no exception."

Dye shares the sentiment as she hopes that, when people see her photos, they come to realize "that it is okay to be different, love yourself, this is your one life to live it now! We are stronger than we think and we can and overcome all obstacles."

After all, as La'Mareea's photo shoot proves, you don't need legs in order to stand tall. Beauty comes from within and when we allow this beauty to shine through, we can inspire the people of the world to love themselves -- and each other -- more every day.

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