Mirror Image

Two women who have battled with their physical appearance show us that it’s possible to learn to love yourself despite what you see reflected in a mirror

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

"Rosalina wears earrings from The Stage Walk; and dress from Johanna Ortiz x H&M."

"Life is too short to worry about our imperfections"

Rosalina Oktavia, 28, amputee model

Rosalina looks like any 28-year-old model – lithe, fresh-faced and all smiles. Greeting me on the morning of our shoot wearing a slogan tee and blue jeans, nothing would give away that underneath her denim ensemble, Rosalina’s left leg was not made up of sinew, bone and muscle but a 79-cm-long metal prosthesis instead.

Years earlier, a doctor’s negligence changed her life. While it could have led to a handicap, it spurred Rosalina to shift the conversation surrounding how and what a woman, and specifically a fashion model, should look like.

“It all began in 2009 when I had a motorbike accident and injured my kneecap. It was a minor knock that didn’t give me much trouble, I could still walk normally, climb up the stairs and even run without pain,” she recalls.

“It wasn’t until six years later in 2015 that I had some soreness in the area and decided to get it checked. The doctor immediately recommended that I undergo surgery to repair a torn tendon in my left knee, which I agreed to.”

What Rosalina thought would be a routine surgical procedure would ultimately lead to a drastic outcome: The loss of her limb. Nothing was amiss following the operation. In fact, she felt alert and strong despite the side-effects of the anaesthesia. However, when she still could not feel her toes a few days later, she raised the alarm. 

“I was scared because I should have fully recovered from the surgery by then, but my left leg was numb, [there was] no feeling in it whatsoever. My doctor suggested that I transfer to another hospital for further treatment as he said there was nothing [else] he could do,” recalls Rosalina.

“It was only then that my new doctors found out that my left leg’s major vein had been cut, and I was suffering from gangrene (a type of tissue death caused by a lack of blood supply). Imagine my fury, I trusted my previous doctor to take care of me. And instead of admitting his error and finding a solution, he stayed silent and pretended that nothing had happened.

“I had to have an additional six extremely painful operations to remove dead muscle and tissue from my leg, but it was all in vain. Doctors eventually told me that unless they amputate, I would die as the gangrene [infection] spreads throughout my body. That was how, at 24 years old, I became an amputee.”

Like many who are faced with an unexpected life event, depression quickly set in for the then-aspiring model. “Before I became a Singapore Permanent Resident, I grew up in Indonesia, where there is little empathy for people with disabilities. Life was hard for me there, I was viewed as an inconvenience, and that’s eventually how I came to feel about myself. I thought about ending my life,” confesses the the now 28-year-old.

“But I had a thought that I still live by today, and it was that I had to adapt to my circumstances, or die. I made the conscious decision to stop thinking about what I couldn’t do and start thinking of what I could do. I decided that I deserved a happy life as much as the next person, ablebodied or not.”

Already a part-time model before her harrowing ordeal, she rebranded herself as an amputee model following her recovery. She also started reaching out to other people with disabilities in a bid to motivate others to love the skin they’re in.

“Whether you are disabled, fat, thin, tall or short, it is crucial to understand that you are all beautiful and you should be proud to even exist. Keep smiling and stay positive,” says Rosalina. “Life is too short to worry about our [physical] imperfections.”
My Reading Room

"Priscilla wears dress from Warehouse; belt from Salvatore Ferragamo; and shoes from Melissa."

"I want to make a difference in society’s perception of beauty"

Priscilla Boh, 38, plus-size beauty queen

Growing up, Priscilla was endlessly mocked for her weight. She said that she stuck out like a sore thumb, whether in school, in shopping centres or simply walking down the street.

“Even as a young girl, I have always felt that the world was critical of my body. People would tease me in the hopes that I’d be encouraged to lose weight. Relatives, friends and my parents would endlessly guilttrip me about my food choices,” shares Priscilla.

“It was stressful, and I struggled to find my place in society because I didn’t have any sense of self-worth. I just felt that society, at large, disapproved of me.”

At 21, Priscilla had had enough of wallowing in her own misery over her weight. She made a list of goals she wanted to achieve to build her confidence, and one of them was to be a model.

“In the beginning, people in the modelling industry were sceptical,” says Priscilla, who is a UK size 18. “Plussize models were virtually unheard of 10 years ago. I had to explain to bookers and agencies that by joining the industry, I wasn’t trying to advocate an unhealthy lifestyle. I just wanted to make a difference in society’s perception of beauty.”

As one of the pioneering plus-size models in the industry, Priscilla had to learn skills that skinnier models would be guided on all by herself.  “I had no mentor, and agencies refused to invest in plus-size models. [They didn’t want to] hire coaches for us. I had to pay for my own catwalk coach to teach me how to properly walk down the runway,” she reveals.

But the experience strengthened her resolve, and she worked harder than ever to prove her naysayers wrong. Her determination paid off, and in 2017, she was encouraged to enter a beauty pageant for plussize women. Priscilla was eventually crowned the first runner-up at the Miss Top of the World finals.

“It took time. But over the years, my body confidence has soared, and I have learnt to accept and cherish my body,” explains Priscilla.

“I’ve actually moved away from full-time modelling and refocused my efforts on my career as a professional makeup artist. However, my end goal remains the same, I still want to help women to love themselves no matter what they look like.”