Model Behavior

Paralympian Model Is The First Amputee To Be Featured In 'Sports Illustrated Swimsuit'

“You should feel sexy in your skin. It’s YOUR skin.”

Model Behavior is a series highlighting fashion models promoting body positivity, and working to create inclusivity and diversity within the industry by expanding our definition of conventional beauty.

Paralympian Brenna Huckaby, 22, doesn't let anything get in her way. After losing her leg to bone cancer back in 2010, the former gymnast picked up snowboarding and soon became an Olympic champion of the sport. Not only is she set to compete in the Paralympics next month in PyeongChang, but she's making history as the first ever amputee model to be featured in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, and she is helping to broaden society's narrow perception of sexy.

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"This shoot wasn't easy (not just physically) but mentally," Huckaby wrote on her Instagram post debuting her Swim Issue shoot. "It's so so so rare to see women with disabilities in the public view of sexy."  

When Huckaby first learned that Sports Illustrated wanted to do a shoot with her for the Swim Issue, she could hardly contain her excitement. "When I got the call I was chosen I jumped up and down and paced my room for an hour because I was so excited," Huckaby said in her interview with the magazine. "Then reality set in and I realized the magnitude of what was about to happen." 

The snowboarder admits she had never seen herself sexy and that it wasn't until the birth of her 17-month-old daughter Lilah that she felt comfortable wearing a swimsuit without shorts.  " "I haven't always been comfortable with my body," she said. "When I was a teenager I would wear shorts with my swimsuit every time. I would rarely take my prosthetic off in front of other people. I was afraid of what people would think of me because I didn't think very highly of myself. It wasn't until I had my daughter that I realized my body was more than an object. That was the moment I knew my body was a tool, a strong and forceful tool that takes me from experience to experience. Once I realized this I finally loved my body."

Huckaby was 14 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — a common type of cancer that develops in the bone, typically during adolescent growth — and soon began chemotherapy, however the treatment was no match for the tumor. "My tumor ate the chemotherapy like food, and the mass grew from a golf ball to a softball," Huckaby told NBC. "I was told there was no other choice but amputation if I wanted to live. I cut my leg off and began more chemo, different drugs, and my body again didn't respond. I am now at risk for leukemia. We stopped chemo way before my treatment was over, so every day is a worry that it will come back." 

Nevertheless, the world champion continues to push forward as a professional athlete and an inspiration for many. 

Huckaby's appearance in the swimsuit magazine is more than just awesome photos, they represent a bold statement on body image and self-love. "I knew this day would come but I didn't think that I would be the one to make it happen," Huckaby said in a behind-the-scenes video of her shoot. ""I hope women feel empowered by it. Everyone should feel sexy. It doesn't matter what your body looks like, when you feel good in your skin it shows. Let me tell you, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn't feel good in your own skin!"

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