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Beauty influencer Keith Paris hopes to shine a light on amputee lives

"There have been so many people in my life who have said, 'You can't be anything'... but I am constantly proving them wrong."

2020-09-15

As told to: Thomas Stichbury

Photography: Wesley De Jesus Bruno

The moment I realised I was ‘different’ was when I was in elementary school. I didn’t really have any friends and people used to make up hurtful rumours and not treat me like an equal. One memory that sticks out was from when I was in the third grade. There was a new girl in the class, and I said to myself, “This is my chance to make a friend.” So, I was honest and told her I was an amputee. She literally told everyone that I had cancer and made it into a whole situation.

Whilst I was in school, I wrote a book called Amputee Story. I was dealing with an eating disorder and also had a self-harming problem, and that got out and I was just ashamed of myself. I went home and decided to upload all my journal entries onto [self-publishing website] Wattpad. When I woke up the next day, my friend texted me and said my book had gone to number one – I couldn’t believe it.

A few years later, I posted a video on YouTube titled, ‘I am an amputee.’ I’d always wanted to be more open, publicly, about being an amputee because that is part of me and I’m very proud of the person I am. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and the responses I received were so positive. I was shook.

My relationship with my mother wasn’t great at the time I shot the video, and YouTube was the one thing that made me smile. When I film and create content, I am my own boss, I call the shots. I knew that in sharing that video I wanted to start these conversations, bring amputee lives into the light and give my amputee brothers and sisters representation and visibility.

Photography: Wesley De Jesus Bruno

I was born without a tibula in my left leg and being an amputee has made me work harder for everything that I wanted. From a young age, people always told me that I would never be successful, but press the fast forward button and look at me, I’m in a really good place. Of course, dealing with prejudice can be frustrating, but all the crazy stuff people say to you in person and on social media, you have to ignore them and let your work speak for you – the best response is no response, you gotta let haters talk shit to themselves!

It has been a difficult journey to reach this point. My eating disorder, for example, started because I didn’t have a good relationship with my body. I hated how I looked, I wasn’t confident, and I used to do a lot of mean and hurtful things to myself. However, I overcome the eating disorder and my issues with self-harming and I’m seven years clean. I am happy with my body and curves now and that is a big accomplishment. If I had to pick a favourite part of my body, I would have to say my thighs and butt – who doesn’t like a good butt and it’s very on brand for me!

The message I am trying to spread with this photo shoot is: people need to know that they can be themselves and be anything they want to be. There have been so many people in my life who have said, “You can’t be anything, disabled people can’t be anything.” But I am constantly proving them wrong. There was so much a negativity around me and people that weren’t genuine, and then I finally got rid of them. I feel reborn.

Photography: Wesley De Jesus Bruno

I discovered makeup when I was a freshman going into sophomore year. I watched Nikita Dragun makeup tutorials all the time, like 24/7, she heavily inspired me, and one thing led to another. I bought my first eyebrow pencil, then it was foundation and the rest is history – I love looking like a limited-edition Egyptian Ken doll!

In terms of my sexuality, I came out when I was around 15/16 years old. Not all of my family knows that I’m gay, though, because they are from Trinidad and Grenada, in the West Indies [where homosexuality still isn’t widely accepted]. My cousins, who I’m close to and trust, they support me and so does my dad, that was such an amazing moment.    

My biggest ambition is to destroy homophobia in the West Indian culture. That is something I am so passionate about. I went through it with my mother and I still go through it with her. I know that feeling when your parents say hurtful things about your sexuality and who you really are, like, ‘You’re confused,’ and ‘It’s a phase,’ but you know it’s not.

For the longest time, I wasn’t in a good place in my life and it was just killing me on the inside. When you start doing you and the things that make you happy, it’s the best feeling ever.

@keithteboy

This article was first published in the Attitude October issue, out now to download and to order globally.

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