Personal Story

How persoal loss, deep sadness and my physical deformity fulled my lifes mission

Natalie James

My Journey to Self Love

I was born with something called right side isolated hemihyperplasia, a rare disorder in which one side of the body grows more rapidly than the other, causing asymmetry. My rare condition left me with a physical deformity and a lifelong struggle with body image and body dysmorphia.

Information on the pervasiveness of this condition is limited. The symptoms of hemihyperplasia are similar to other diseases and therefor the diagnoses can be confused with various conditions. In addition, the symptoms of the disorder can vary from mild to severe and often affect only some areas of the body. Nonetheless, it is rare and therefore not a lot is known about it. For some it can be seen from the face and throughout the body. In my case, it affected me from the neck down, everything from my fingers to my toes. 

Being born with this rare condition, losing my father at a very young age and undergoing a painful complicated surgery with a year-long recovery was my reality. There isn’t really any way to sugar coat my early years, they were tough. Although I struggled with anxiety and depression as a result of these setbacks, they also taught me valuable skills and built my character and strengthened my mindset and resilience.

Words have the power to inspire and the power to destroy. The impressionable words of a doctor at the age of 10 left me with a narrative that would set the trajectory for the years that followed - “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do, but try to look at the bright side at least you are a pretty girl and it didn’t affect your face.” Although, his intensions were good, his words echoed with me for year to come. I took them to mean, hide your body and only show your face.  

I found comfort by journaling my thoughts and began to find solace through the experimentation with hair and makeup. This simple beauty routine changed my perception of myself, I felt beautiful, I felt in those moment that the girl on the outside matched the girl I was deep down on the inside – confident, tenacious and determined.  

On Sunday November 5th, 1989, life took another turn when my father was in a tragic boating accident and was never found.

I have found memories as a little girl going to work with my Dad.  He was an architect and designer, which I thought was amazing! I was always fascinated seeing his projects evolve from drawings and renderings to actual businesses. I recall spending hours in his office tracing drawings and picking finishes all while pretending that they were my business plans and began dreaming someday I would have my own business. 

Following graduating from high school I began preparing to have major surgery to help correct the massive difference in length in my left leg and chronic pain in my back.  By this point doctors determined that I was finished growing and the surgery could be done safely. Due to the asymmetry throughout my body, I had begun to develop a curvature in my spin that was causing significant pain and putting stress on some of my organs.  No one could have prepared me for what would come next, it was sheer hell! My leg was intentionally fractured and I had a brace affixed around the lower part of my leg, metal rings with six metal rods resembling bicycle spokes entering my leg and inserted through my bones.  Homebound for the better part of a year I was at my lowest point.  Depressed was an understatement, I was completely lost. Excited about nothing and really unsure about my future.  

After the brace came off I spent months in extensive physiotherapy essentially learning how to walk again and slowly building back muscle strength. 

I spent years covering up and being ashamed of the body I was given. On the surface, I was seen as a popular, pretty blonde hair, blue-eyed teenager, and part of the in-crowd so to speak.  But on the inside, I was struggling, feeling trapped inside my body and uncomfortable in my own skin.  

But even at my lowest point, I still had the fire inside me the wherewithal to keep pushing through. Deep down I knew I was meant for more. My grit and determination prevailed and always got me through the toughest times. I went back to school, got a part-time job which later turned into a 20-year career. 

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. But I am a firm believer that there is a lesson in every experience we face in life.  It took me many years to come to terms with my condition, but I believe that I was given this as a gift. A gift to empower me to help others.

Over time, slowly my perspective began to change. I took that fire that I used to let hold me back to fuel me to build the life I knew I was meant to live. The feelings of not measuring up, not being worthy of success and happiness and not deserving of unconditional love were limiting beliefs that I told myself. This narrative was ingrained in me over my lifetime. A lifetime of seeing images of what society deemed as beautiful and illustrations of what a successful woman looked like.

Just the same way my challenges set me back, I feel that they have pushed me forward. My purpose has never been more crystal clear. I began to realize that through every situation we have a choice. We choose how we get through it, how we respond to it and whether we let it have power over us.

Today I am an entrepreneur, the Founder of Vent Blow Dry Bar, and although it would seem as though this is a business that provides a simple service, it is more than that. There is a deep personal purpose and mission behind it. It is a place designed for all women. A place to get some of that much needed time back to themselves, a place that empowers women to feel beautiful and confident no matter their circumstances.  

Building this business has changed my life, by creating a place that empowers women I have empowered myself. I have found my purpose and that is to live my truth and help other women live theirs.