Artist Kirstin Huber wouldn't call herself an athlete per se, but staying active — with hiking, biking, yoga, and more — was always very important to her. About two years ago, though, that love of movement was snatched from her.
"I started having a lot of hip pain, and I thought, Oh my god, am I biking too much? Am I doing something wrong?" she tells Refinery29. "It was really disturbing, because it happened very rapidly, this decline in the mobility of my hips — really intense pain."
Shortly after, she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, which is a when a person's hip socket is too shallow, meaning the socket doesn't fully cover the ball portion of the femur bone. This makes it much easier for the hip joints to get dislocated, which can ultimately lead to painful arthritis. Hip dysplasia is usually diagnosed in infancy, when it can be treated with a brace, but a later diagnosis — much later, in Huber’s case — often means undergoing surgery for treatment. Adult hip dysplasia is the most common cause of hip arthritis in young women, according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
Huber didn't have signs of arthritis yet, but her dysplasia was severe enough that her doctors recommended surgery, two periacetabular osteotomies on both of her hips over the span of 10 months, to be specific. “It's an open-surgery procedure in which several cuts are made to the pelvic bone to re-orient the socket," Huber explains. "Basically, the hip is broken in three places, rotated within the body to be in a more supportive position, and then held back together with long screws while the bones fuse back together.” She added one important detail: “It's brutal.”
Aside from the physical toll, there was also an emotional toll, Huber explains. "It took over my life. Going from one minute being totally fine to disabled to getting surgery to recovering from surgery — it’s just this whirlwind of madness that I never, ever expected would ever happen to me."
After getting through two back-to-back surgeries, though, Huber finally felt herself getting stronger for the first time since her diagnosis — and decided it was time to embrace her body. She says she asked herself, "What was the point of even fixing my hips if I’m just going to sit at a desk job all day?" And that's when she turned to dance — and Instagram.
Inspired by dancer and Instagram user Marlee Grace, Huber started recording herself dancing, alone in her home, and posting the videos to Instagram. Maintaining what she calls her "movement journal" has helped Huber understand her post-surgery body. "The surgeries put me into such a weird mindset about my body that I’d never had before — just how mechanical it was and how much effort it really takes to heal and to repair... After doing it for a couple of weeks, I could actually see improvement. I could see my balance was getting stronger. I was becoming more free."
Beyond that, Huber's movement journal shows how much Huber has come to love her body. She told R29 that her newfound self-love comes from how grateful she felt after the surgeries — that she could learn how to walk again, that she got a second chance to be a dancer. "Nobody should have to go through such an intense, traumatic violence to their body in order to realise that they’re grateful to have it," she says. Instead, "I think that everyone should just recognise that this is their body and it’s only theirs and it’s not for anyone else... Whatever it is that makes you feel good about your body, do it."
Huber hopes to continue dancing and has begun to share her story with others. Her first exhibition, which included photography, video, and live performance, took place last Friday in Brooklyn, NY. Click through to view a selection of Huber's movement journal. You can also follow her progress on her Instagram.