I am so pleased that Dan agreed to write a blog post for me and my readers, he is a massive advocate for body positivity and body confidence including being a presenter on Channel Four’s NAKED BEACH, and I admire him greatly, thank you Dan.
Find Dan @theonearmedwonder on most social media channels.
“Coming to Terms with Body Altering Surgery”
Up until about 3 years ago, if you’d have asked me what ‘Body Confidence’ is I’d have probably looked at you and said something like “what on earth do you mean?” It was only through a friend who was making waves in addressing body confidence and lack thereof that I got my first introduction to it, but through my own naiveté and the fact that my friend was a woman I also assumed it’s something that only effects women!? Obviously I found out that this wasn’t the case.
I lost my arm and shoulder whilst in the military in a road traffic collision, I was 23 years old and my career was going relatively well. I’d not long finished a tour of Afghanistan and just completed a five-week trek through Nepal and The Himalayas, with aspirations to train and qualify as a farrier. These ambitions (and eventually my career) were taken away from me almost in the blink of an eye.
I had accepted my situation, life as an amputee, pretty much straight away. In hospital I somehow managed to crack a joke and get a few laughs and I suppose, looking back, it enabled me the mental capacity and freedom to begin the learning process of adapting to and overcoming this new situation and environment I found myself in. The rest of my life as a left handed man, having spent my life right hand dominant. The first goal I ever set was to win back my independence, I had no idea just how much of an impact goal setting will have on my life in the years to come.
I returned to my regiment after 6 months of rehab for 3 more years before being told I was to be medically retired, during that time I’d relearned to ride a horse, gained back my fitness and learned to rock climb, ultimately though, I had to accept that my aspirations of becoming a farrier were just not meant to be.
I returned home to my parents after 10 years with the military on 28th September 2012 and so began my spiral down to what became my rock bottom. I guess the absence of any self-worth and my entire identity coupled with the fact and realisation that I couldn’t get a job anywhere or even an interview, I felt more like a drain on society. I tried and ultimately failed to ‘find a way out’. The realisation that this wasn’t normal and that I needed help.
Over the next few years I set about getting myself back to London doing various jobs including working as a chauffeur and project management deciding to grab any opportunity that came my way.
I’d always felt like there was something missing, I’d spent all the proceeding years accepting my situation and how “different” I looked from everybody else. I spent a number of years laughing about the various descriptive ‘tongue in cheek’ self-reference jokes. I figured that if I could make people laugh and see that I could laugh at myself (which I still can), then it’d put others at ease.
I used to wear a prosthetic arm with a pretty cool robotic hand, the fact that it actually served no functional purpose to me other than giving other people something cool to look at, the prosthetic arm became my shield like some kind of robotic safety blanket!!!! I’d wear clothing too big just to hide the outline of anything out of the ordinary underneath my clothing. I guess I compartmentalised everything in a kind’ve validation seeking exercise! It just meant that I hated summer because wearing less clothing wasn’t an option I was willing to explore, this image of self-confidence I portrayed was a put on show for everybody else, I wouldn’t even take my shirt off, go to a swimming pool or even the beach just to avoid any judgement. I literally felt like a duck floating gracefully on the surface of a lake but kicking hard underneath to stay afloat; it was a pretty vicious cycle!
So what changed? I had decided to take up cycling early in 2016 and in doing so got myself an Instagram account as a means to track my progress. I had set a goal of competing in the 2018 Invictus Games, I had caught the attention of an agency who offered me a modelling contract, this coupled with some test shoots the cycling and my first modelling, I started to notice various changes including the fact that I wasn’t wearing my prosthetic arm anymore, in fact it had stayed under my bed for the best part of a year, my cycling was getting better and I developed a whole new appreciation for what I was actually capable of!
I was asked by my agency to take part in a test shoot project for an art photography student – a test shoot is an unpaid shoot where a photographer books a model to build each other’s portfolios. The catch with this was that it was a risqué shoot; completely out of my comfort zone!! About half way through the shoot I just decided to embrace the unknown and I guess in essence I took a long running jump so far out of my comfort zone that (speaking metaphorically) the only way back was to get used to it and stroll back, I guess you can liken it to jumping into a pool for the first time to embrace the cold. It’s the single most liberating feeling I’ve ever had. What unfolded from that point was a complete feeling of self-acceptance and self-worth that had been missing all those years.
Even though I had accepted my body altering surgery from a hospital bed way back in 2009 which I absolutely had, I guess I hadn’t accepted that acceptance runs so much deeper than what other people think. I began to put in place a number of prerequisites, some rules if you like, for myself.
For one thing I spent a number of years constantly comparing myself to other people’s aesthetic, especially where other guys were concerned. I’d look at guys with big shoulders and chests and instantly feel utterly shit about myself because, well, I’d never be able to look like that – a quarter of my upper body is missing including my right shoulder and it’s never coming back, So I decided that if I couldn’t be “that image” then I’ll just be my own and compare myself to the guy I see in the mirror. More over from that another big marker for me to contend with was what (I thought) other people thought of me and people’s opinions, then I discovered one day at the beach (of all places) that nobody is actually really bothered about me being there, they’re more interested in doing their own thing and those opinions… to be quite honest somebody’s opinion of me is literally none of my business and completely out of my control and what’s out of my control isn’t my problem, it’s there’s so, let them deal with it.
I never really intended to become a body positive advocate, I guess that all change in 2018 when I was asked to cast for and then subsequently accepted as a member of the Body Confidence Host Cast for a Channel 4 series called Naked Beach.
Naked Beach was a 5-episode social experiment reality TV Series which looked at and dived into the various hang ups people had about themselves when compared to the ‘media norms’ of an idealistic and beauty standard or the “perfect image”. Dr Keon West; a social psychologist conducted research that found people with low opinion of themselves; Body Confidence, Life Satisfaction and Self Esteem, that being around an array “normal bodies” allowed them the lower their barriers and be able to begin to address their issues, and together with Natasha Devon, Naked Beach was born. I guess that’s what gave me a platform and a voice for advocating body confidence.
Coming to terms with body altering surgery is something that has taken me, all in all, almost 8 years from 2009 to 2017! Could it have taken less time? Yes, probably, who knows? I never really had anyone like myself to look up to on social media or anywhere else for that matter so I’ve spent a lot of time figuring it all out for myself, I’m grateful that I’m in a position to be able to help and share my experience with others. This came a lot closer to home recently, towards the end of 2019 when my brother was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis which resulted in the removal of his colon. I guess he knows I’m at the end of a phone should he need help or advice but he’s my little brother; he’ll get the advice whether he wants it or not!! We often joke to my mum about us both being amputees we both agree though, that above anything else we’re pretty lucky.
What else can I ask for?