5 Women With Physical Differences Share Their Stories Of Strength

Photographed by Sophie Klafter.
Sophie Klafter is a New-York-based photographer and the creator of "corpoReality," a photo series featuring people with physical differences, among other works.

I chose to photograph extraordinary young women of substance whom I admire for their confidence, upbeat personalities, and abundant selflessness. These women live fast-paced lives in New York City despite physical differences that many people would allow to limit their productivity and achievements. As Tiffany confided in me after auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance?, "I'm tired of people telling me that I'm such an inspiration. I'm just living my life like everyone else." Tiffany is inspirational because of her hard work and commitment — not because of her disability.

These women also feel genuinely beautiful and sexy in their own skin. All too often, there is a misconception that romantic relationships are unattainable for those who are physically different. I hope these photographs empower other young women, able-bodied or otherwise, to feel strong and satisfied with the bodies they have.

Criticism of bodies has become an epidemic for young people in America. Andrea said, "Being part of this project is exposing a beauty that is usually not seen and often is not spoken of. With every click of the shutter, Sophie has exposed the confident woman I am."

This article was originally published on July 28, 2015.

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Photographed by Sophie Klafter.
Estela, 35
Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

"Body image has been something I’ve battled with since childhood. I was part of a culture that idolized a flawless female body, and [I] felt left out because leg braces were never 'in style.' Having children [showed me] a new perspective; I look at them and am so overwhelmed with gratitude for their strength and health. They are an extension and reflection of me, so watching them do what I was never able to is an incredible gift and my greatest joy in life. Yoga brings me peace with my disease and quiets the anxiety. It has been my greatest weapon against progression. I want my kids to see me fighting... I need them to know that I did my best to stay strong."
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Photographed by Sophie Klafter.
Andrea, 28
Transverse Myelitis

"Being a part of this project exposes a beauty that is usually not seen and often is not spoken of. With every click of the shutter, Sophie has exposed the confident woman I am. I feel beautiful in my own skin. For me, confidence took time to grow. Through every stage of adolescence, as well as early adulthood, I learned how to live my life in a wheelchair. I’ve always succeeded in the classroom, which gave me the confidence to excel in my social and leadership skills. Ultimately, I won the title of Ms. Wheelchair New York 2016.

"I’m still asked if I'm okay with showing my scars or the curve of my back. To be honest, I love my scars. They are my reminder that I have lived and conquered what tried to kill me. The curve in my back is a metaphor for how others have supported me as much as I’ve supported them. (Think of the Greek god Atlas supporting the world, just on a smaller scale — and I'm also sitting down.)

"I’ve taken my voice to Capitol Hill, where I’ve spoken to Congress about four bills that need to be signed and pushed through the House and Senate. They drastically affect the living conditions of people with disabilities — including transportation, sidewalk accessibility, and the housing crisis, which forces disabled people to live in nursing homes rather than offering affordable, accessible housing."
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Photographed by Sophie Klafter.
Tiffany, 30
Spondylocostal Dysplasia

"My body does not hinder me from doing anything I’ve ever wanted to do. I'm able to dance semi-professionally. In some ways, I think my body is what pushes me to succeed and accomplish so many things people think I could never do.

"In 2009, I auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance. I did it because I wanted to show people that there are great dancers out there who do not have the 'dancer’s body' that is expected. I proudly made it to the second round.

"I was once married. Dating isn’t easy for anyone; however, in my case, if men aren’t accepting, [I say] 'See ya.'

"I am a professional stage manager and dance teacher, and I dance with the world-renowned Heidi Latsky Dance Company."
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Photographed by Sophie Klafter.
Ivelisse, 25

"I’m a college student majoring in social work. I also work as a kindergarten teacher at an after-school program in Harlem. [During] my downtime, I go to Central Park and fill up my 'Crazy Ideas' journal. I write whatever comes to mind...funny moments, project ideas, quotes, to-do lists, or just dreams and goals.

"Living with albinism has been a bittersweet journey for me. My family is Guatemalan, though I was born and raised in Harlem. Many of my family members in Guatemala were the only Albinos in the region. While growing up, strangers would often make comments about how light my skin was, or asked me why my eyes would shake so fast (nystagmus is a symptom of Albinism). Often, they would try to mimic me. Now, I’m asked to be part of projects highlighting albinism, and I love it! I help educate and inform people about my differences.

"I have learned to embrace my physical uniqueness. Albinism is a part of who I am, and I’m very proud of it."
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Photographed by Sophie Klafter.
Leopoldine, 24
Osteogenesis Imperfecta

"My disease prevented me from growing normally. I love my body and life and wouldn't trade my smaller legs for those of a Victoria's Secret model.

"I am blessed that I was born in the best open-minded, international family, and I grew up in France. They always made sure that I was treated like anyone else. [I] grew up like any other kid. I live a very independent life in New York City. Living life on wheels actually helps sometimes, [like] skipping some lines and being carried by hot men!

"I started acting onstage at an early age. When I was 18, my first film was born, Atlantic Avenue. I just shot my first feature film as part of the leading cast. I cannot wait for others to see how the director succeeded in normalizing my disability.

"I've worked for this cause through Dis]abled InsideOut, a large-scale photography project intended to change how people perceive those with disabilities. It's an incredible adventure and a life-changing project. This year, I also created a non-profit corporation, Disabled Visionaries, with the goal to empower people with disabilities through film, the arts, and sports.

"When I was a teenager, I wanted to go to law school and fight for disability rights, and I hoped to eventually work with the United Nations. I then got super lucky; [now, I] work on making that dream happen through my passions, filmmaking and acting."