We all start out so unabashedly unashamed. Whatever makes us unique, different, special we regard without concern; we flaunt without a care.
Then, we (or our child) change. Someone. Somehow. Sometime. Something. We find ourselves thrust into the world of judgment, or painfully watch as our children face the same. Does it happen to us or do we allow it to happen? No matter. It was always present, but now we care. Consumed by the opinion of others, we might struggle, sometimes for years.
As we turn the page to 2019, we choose to highlight those auspicious people that have demonstrated to their family, friends, neighbors and the public that they have learned unconditionally accept and celebrate whatever makes each of them unique.
These phenomenal people appreciate the value of what it means to be a flaunter and just by being themselves, they inspire others to do the same.
Shaquem Griffin is a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks who was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome causing his fingers on his left hand to not fully develop. Despite the amputation of his left hand at age four, Griffin continued to play baseball and football alongside his twin brother Shaquill. Using his platform, when not on the field Shaquem has devoted himself to helping kids believe in themselves despite all odds and in 2018 served as the Co-Grand Marshall at the Special Olympics USA. According to Shaquem, “I don’t define myself by my successes. I define myself by adversity, and how I’ve persevered.”
In 2018, superstar singer Mariah Carey became public about her being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. Terrified she’d lose everything if her diagnosis became public, she hid the fact that she’s been treated for the disorder since 2001. Despite suffering in silence as Carey described it, once she decided to come forward she’s glad she lifted the heavy burden of keeping her invisible difference a secret for so long. According to Carey, “I feel so inspired by the stories of others [living with Bipolar]. Let’s continue to encourage each other on our journeys.”
Brian King Joseph
Nicknamed “The King of Electric Violin,” Brian King Joseph is a musical prodigy. Despite being diagnosed with a severe nerve disease that causes him to lose feeling in both hands and feet while enduring constant pain, Joseph has used his physical challenges to fuel his fire in making music to inspire. In 2018, in addition to being a finalist on America’s Got Talent, Joseph is the inaugural winner of MTV’s “Cover of the Month” competition and has performed with successful artists like Fetty Wap and Mike Posner. When asked in a recent interview how he draws strength given the pain he experienced, Joseph replied, “You can’t be negative going through life. Despite things being hard, my challenges have given me the fire and the positivity to go on. I won’t give in and I am not going to give up.”
Jada Pinkett Smith
In 2018 actress Jada Pinkett Smith revealed publically that she has been living with alopecia. Although Smith is still not sure what caused her to start losing her hair, she shared openly it has been a struggle since her long, thick strands had in many ways become her identity. Lately, Smith has been putting the experience into perspective, feeling grateful for what she has rather than focused on what she’s lost. Seizing the moment and embracing her hair loss by wearing colorful turbans and head scarves, Smith is finding confidence in her new look. According to Smith, “When my head is wrapped, I feel like a queen.”
If you take only a few minutes to watch him, you’ll quickly realize that already at age seven, Tommy Morrissey is a better golfer with one hand, than most people with two. Playing the sport since age three, Morrissey competes at the highest levels of the U.S. Kids World Golf Championships. According to those close to Morrissey, he doesn’t think of himself as disabled. He looks past life’s obstacles and focuses on being his best self.
In 2018, twenty-five year old Tarik El-Abour learned that he had just been signed to the Kansas City Royals. El-Abour was diagnosed with Autism when he was three, and didn’t speak until he was six. Despite his invisible difference, his love of playing baseball caused him to persuade his mother to support his dream and to focus on his abilities, not his disability. According to Reggie Sanders, his mentor, “Tarik just focuses on baseball. The beautiful thing is beyond being happy he doesn’t realize in living his dream he’s also helping the larger community.”
Famous singer Nick Jonas continued his very public mission about living with type 1Diabetes. In 2018 Jonas shared a side-by-side shot on Instagram of himself just a few weeks after being diagnosed juxtaposed with him looking happy and healthy as an adult. His purpose? To make sure his fans learn from his own experience that living a successful life with diabetes is possible. According to Jonas, “Never let anything hold you back from living your best life.”
Chelsea Werner won the Special Olympics U.S. National Championships in gymnastics four times and is also a two-time defending world champion who is on a mission to prove we are all beautiful in our own way. Werner, who has Down’s Syndrome, recently signed with a fashion agency called We Speak that promotes body positivity and inclusion. Although initially turned down when Werner embarked on her new modeling career, she insisted to her parents she shouldn’t give up. According to Werner, “There is a market and I’m shoring them! I don’t think people with Down’s Syndrome are represented enough. The more we are represented, the more people will see how capable we are.”
An extremely successful stand-up comedian and a past finalist on America’s Got Talent (AGT), Lynch developed a stutter due to a softball injury at the age of twenty that initially rendered him completely unable to communicate. Determined to not let his stutter stop his career and literally adjust the timing of his delivery to accommodate his stuttering, Lynch works hard to remain in the public eye to show others that one can turn something negative into a positive. According to AGT judge Howie Mandel after he saw Lynch’s act for the first time, “I know you’re here to make people laugh, but what you are doing is to look for the light at the end of the darkness, inspiring all of us.”
An extremely successful Japanese female comedian and entertainer who was named among Time Magazine’s 2018 ‘Most Influential People on the Internet,’ Watanabe continues to be a role-model for plus-sized women. “When I was young, I used to be hurt when I was told I’m fat but now, I just think about how fulfilling my life is and so it doesn’t matter.” Fully comfortable in her own skin and inspiring others to be the same, Watanabe adds, “I want people to see me as a person, not for my physique…life is so much more fun when you have pride in yourself.”