30-year-old woman with swollen legs defies bullies to become an Instagram sensation
While we have graduated beyond having our heads shoved into lockers and getting our lunch money stolen, it's apparent that this new age of internet bullies work around the clock. But regardless of whether Twitter is your medium of choice, or if you prefer posting memes on Instagram, one thing is for sure: trolls will come flooding in as soon as you garner a following.
This is something that body positivity activist Carmen Smith knows too well. The Instagram sensation has endured cruel remarks and comments from strangers after developing lymphedema as a child - a condition which causes her legs, ankles and feet to swell.
But after years of attempting to hide her limbs, Smith has come to grips with her condition, and regularly poses in lingerie to encourage women to show of their "flaws" and be confident in their own skin.
Despite previously struggling with body confidence, 30-year-old Carmen Smith has learnt to embrace her disorder and is now sharing her journey with her 48,000 Instagram followers.
Speaking to Barcroft TV, the Pasadena, California native asserted "Be what you wanna be, [don't be] stuck in this weird box society wants to keep us in."
"Our differences make us beautiful. I always tell my followers on Instagram to embrace their bodies at every step of our journey," she continued.
Carmen was just three when her mother noticed that her extremities were uncharacteristically swollen. "My mum tells me I was about three when she noticed that something was going on. I was complaining a lot that my feet hurt," the 30-year-old revealed. "She took me to the doctor and they diagnosed me with lymphedema, stating that most likely I was born without some of my lymph nodes."
Lymphedema affects up to 10 million people in the United States and as Carmen explains, "Your lymph nodes and your lymphatic system are supposed to be moving fluids through your body". In her case, however, there was a blockage in her legs which explains the chronic "swelling and discomfort" that she started to experience.
Carmen's symptoms have progressed throughout her teenage years and into adulthood. "As I’ve gotten older my lymphedema has progressed. I do remember [people] would look at my feet or say something about them," she stated. "It would just make me horrified and so uncomfortable and embarrassed."
As a young girl, Carmen would attempt to hide her lower body. She would do this by trying to hide the most swollen leg, the right, when posing for pictures, and to this day she is still not wholly comfortable with people looking at her feet.
While enduring scathing remarks from people around her knocked Carmen's confidence for a long time, her mindset gradually began to change. "The turning point was telling myself that I have to start being in a more positive mental space saying that I’m not going to be defined by what someone else has to say about my body."
She also stresses that it's important to have a supportive partner, who cherishes your body. "The way my boyfriend makes me feel about my body is something that I wish every woman could experience," she asserted.
"A partner who empowers you and encourages you to love your body the way they say it, it will change the way that you see yourself. For me, he was, and has been, a huge part of me being able to do what I do."
Well, Carmen's story is certainly inspiring, and it just goes to show that we really do have the agency to start the long (and often arduous) process of learning to love our bodies.