Marsha Elle Is the Runway Model I Wish I Had Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy

Marsha Elle on representing the disabled community.

It's no secret that kids can be mean. They find a flaw in you and pick at it — again and again. For me, it was my walk. In grade school, I had issues balancing, would walk on my toes, and often fall down or trip over my own feet. Walking in a straight line proved abnormally difficult. I would later learn this was due to my having mild cerebral palsy that would require braces on my legs for years, in addition to Botox injections in my legs and physical therapy during my class schedule. Unfortunately, that also meant I was a bit of an outcast. I grew to hate an audience when it came to walking — whether that was up to the front of the class to turn in a test or to the back of the line in kickball. Now, in no way am I suggesting a pity party. My childhood was also full of love from family and friends as "different" as me. But when it came to role models, there weren't many with a visible walking disability gracing the covers of magazines or runways. If only Marsha Elle had been around then.

The bionic model, singer-songwriter, and disability advocate just headlined Cupshe's "Naturally You" runway show during Paraiso Miami Swim Week. She was by far one of the most striking models on the runway, not because of her disability but because of the way she took up space — serving face, pose, mood, and smize, with each step that she took. And in getting to watch her do it, I couldn't help but think about how powerful and healing a walk like hers would have been to a girl like me growing up. Hell, it was healing for me as an adult.

Elle was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, a birth defect of the femur (or thigh bone) where the upper part of the bone is "either malformed or missing, causing one leg to be shorter than the other," according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. As a result, Elle's lower leg was amputated.

During a conversation with the disability advocate briefly before she hit the runway, Elle revealed the words that keep her imposter syndrome at bay: "Everything happens with purpose," she tells PS. "I always remind myself, 'Marsha, this is the moment.'" And when those runway lights turn on, she gives herself the ultimate pep talk: "Be that person little Marsha needed years ago," Elle says.

What I hope Elle realizes is that in walking a runway like this one, where you bare it all and your walk is judged by the row — not only is she being the person little Marsha needed, but so many others with disabilities, too — myself included.

In leaving the show that day, I walked out a little taller, holding up a mental middle finger to all the kids who dared to make fun of my walk. And while I didn't have a runway of my own to strut down, South Beach's Ocean Drive did just fine.

Alexis Jones is the senior health and fitness editor at PS. Her passions and areas of expertise include women's health and fitness, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining PS, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women's Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.