A teenager whose leg grew to twice its normal size is inspiring body positivity by posing in a bikini.
Isa-Bella Leclair, 19, was born with a genetic condition called Parkes Weber Syndrome, which caused her right leg to swell.
The college student’s leg grew to around 40lb – leaving her unable to play most sports or wear tight-fitting jeans.
However, the inspirational teen is now out to challenge modern beauty standards by showing her confidence in her body.
Last month she won a title in a beauty pageant in her hometown of Campbellton, New Brunswick, which she hopes will raise further awareness about her condition.
‘My condition doesn’t define me and there’s no way I would let it stop me from wearing a cute swimsuit or a cute dress,’ says Isa-Bella.
‘For me confidence is the most important part because when people see someone confident in their body – even with a disability – they don’t have pity but instead admiration.’
Isa-Bella was born with the rare mutation of the RASA-1 gene, causing the lymph nodes in her leg to malfunction.
‘The lymphatic fluid in my body goes into my leg and because the system doesn’t work properly it doesn’t go back, so it stays there and swells my leg,’ she explains.
Despite receiving stares and attention when her leg is on display, Isa-Bella says it’s important to be confident in yourself.
‘I think it’s important for people who have health issues to not only work on getting healthy but to work on loving yourself and accepting who you are.
‘For me, beauty isn’t just on the outside. When I say someone is beautiful I see someone who makes you feel good when you’re around them.’
Isa-Bella’s mother, Joanne Leclair, 45, noticed a difference in her daughter’s appearance the moment she was born.
At birth Isa-Bella, a twin whose sister Danyka doesn’t have the condition, was misdiagnosed with Clippel Trenaunay Syndrome, for which little information was available.
‘I literally realised something was wrong with her body the moment she was born,’ recalls Joanne.
‘In the coming days the doctor did research, because it was very rare, and he came back with a primary diagnosis which changed over time.
‘One thing her doctors told us was that they didn’t know if she would walk normally or whether she would be affected by the condition.’
Despite the family’s concerns, Isa-Bella became well informed of her condition as a child and had no problem explaining it to curious people.
‘Growing up I felt different depending on the surroundings I was in,’ she says. ‘When I was in public at the mall or beach, people would stare at me. I had to grow up faster than other kids and had to realise what I had and that it was normal for people to be curious.
‘I would explain to people my own age, saying just simply, “I was born this way.”
‘Children were just curious but once they knew I was OK they just played with me. Adults were different because even when my mum explained to them, they still looked concerned.’
Her condition also causes excess blood due to a greater number of capillaries and arteries – meaning Isa-Bella’s heart works harder than an average person’s.
But growing up it never stopped her from group activities.
Joanne explains: ‘As a mum, I would expect her to come back home from school crying because she couldn’t do something, but that day never came – not once. Whatever she wanted to do she did it, whether it was riding a bike or snowboarding.’
And for Isa-Bella, there is hope for the management of her condition.
A three-week course of lymph draining massages with physical therapist, Manon Tardif, has yielded promising results.
‘I have been wearing a compression bandage to push the lymph fluid back up into my body where the lymph nodes work normally,’ says Isa-Bella. ‘The plan is to continue the compression garments to further reduce the swelling.
‘In the last three weeks I lost 6cm from around my leg and 8lb in weight, from around 146lb to 139lb.’
And her positive attitude keeps her looking towards the future where she hopes to inspire others with her confidence.
‘Seeing children with disabilities and seeing them living life, I said to myself, “Why would I limit myself to not being as happy as them?”
‘I just stick to living life simply, and not overcomplicating things.’