Then it all changes. Someone. Somehow. Sometime. Something. We find ourselves thrust into the world of judgment, or painfully watch as our children face the same. Consumed by the unwelcome attention, we might struggle, sometimes for years.
As we turn the page to 2021, we once again choose to highlight those auspicious people that have demonstrated this past year that they have learned not to hide, but rather to flaunt whatever makes each of them unique and fabulous.
These phenomenal individuals have not only achieved unconditional self-acceptance, but appreciate its value so fully that just by being themselves they inspire others to do the same.
Selena Gomez. Selena Gomez first landed on our Best of the Flaunters List in 2017 for using her platform to share she regarded herself as a “Lupus Warrrior” having had a kidney transplant surgery due to complications caused by her having Lupus, an auto-immune disease. But in 2020 Gomez doubled-down on her Best of the Flaunter status by revealing that she had learned she was bipolar. During a speech after receiving the McClean Award back for her mental health advocacy, Gomez confessed that she felt “equal parts terrified and relieved. “I was terrified because the veil was lifted but relieved that I finally had the knowledge of why I had suffered with various depressions and anxieties for so many years. I never had full awareness or answers about this condition.” Once again using her experience to educate and support others, Gomez encouraged teens and young adults receiving the same diagnoses to get educated to help get through it: “You got to seem cool. And then I see anger built up in children and teenagers or whatever young adults because they are wanting that so badly. I just feel like when I finally decided to know everything about it, it took the fear away.”
Matt Stutzman. One of the top-ranked archers in the country is Matt Stutzman of Fairfield, Iowa. Oh, and he was born without arms. His competitors have learned to fear him – not only those at the Paralympic Games in London, where he won his silver medal, but also able-bodied archers that he’s bested time and time again. Clearly a natural flaunter, Matt knows he’s the center of attention, and believe it or not, he actually likes it that way; it’s a competitive advantage. “For me, I’m used to being looked at all the time,” he said. “Where most archers who are able-bodied have never had that experience, so when it’s time to make it count, then they get nervous, where I don’t get the nervousness like they do. ‘Cause I’ve been in the situation my whole life.”
Henry Winkler. You may know Henry Winkler as The Fonz from Happy Days or the Bluth family lawyer from Arrested Development. Or perhaps, for his Emmy-winning role as the eccentric acting coach Gene Cousineau on the HBO comedy series Barry. But what Winkler is most proud of is, he says, may be his least recognized body of work: his best-selling children’s book series Here’s Hank, which follows the adventures and struggles of a dyslexic kid named Hank Zipzer. Winkler, who has dyslexia himself, pulls from his own experiences. Winkler, now 73, says he didn’t know he had a learning disability until age 31, when he got his stepson tested and evaluated for dyslexia. “I went ‘Oh my goodness, that’s me,’ Winkler says. “And so at 31, I found out I wasn’t stupid, that I wasn’t lazy — that I had something with a name.” But those early hardships, Winkler says, would motivate him to not just succeed, but to appreciate his differences enough to write a book to help educate others. “It gave me fight,” he said. “It gave me understanding that it doesn’t matter. There is not one road to get where you want to go. There is your road.”
Ayanna Pressley. No matter your political preference, we praise Ayanna Pressley, who has served as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district since 2019. Pressley first became aware of her hair loss last fall while getting her hair retwisted. Very soon afterward, she was waking up every morning to total hair loss across the scalp. The discovery that she had developed Alopecia created additional challenges in an already-demanding Capitol Hill schedule, requiring Pressley to creatively conceal her growing baldness in the middle of getting votes, attending committee meetings, and giving press conference. After voting on the House floor one day wearing a wig, Pressley left and hid in a bathroom stall, feeling exposed, vulnerable, and embarrassed. It was at that point that she remembered those same little girls looking up to her—and decided that when she was ready, she’d go public with her condition. “I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it,” Pressley said. Afterwards, Pressley decided to use her experience to teach others to embrace being different, and even created a video so she could share her journey with other people experiencing the same condition.
Jessica Lauser. Jessica Lauser is the reigning three-time chess champion who happens to be blind. Lauser, now 40, was born 16 weeks prematurely. Like many infants born that early, she needed oxygen, which damaged her eyes, a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. One eye is completely blind; in the other she has 20/480 eyesight. Her visual field is limited, and the chess pieces appear blurred and distorted. To excel in the game, Jessica has learned to successfully adapt. “If I need to identify a piece during a game, I will lightly touch the top of it and say ‘identify,’ not grasping the piece, but just brushing it.” According to Lauser, who was recently profiled in the NY Times, “I play chess, because it helps me cope with all the things I cannot change, that especially.” She later added: “I don’t want pity, but rather opportunity. I just want to be equal.”
Chris Nikic. Special Olympics athlete Chris Nikic crossed the finish line on Saturday to become the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon. Then the Guiness Book of World Records recognized Nikic’s achievement after he finished a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-marathon run at the Ironman Florida competition in Panama City Beach. To stay motivated during training, Nikic and his father Nik developed the “1 percent better challenge.” The idea is to promote Down syndrome awareness while achieving 1% improvement each day, according to Nikic’s website. “To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” his father Nik Nikic said. “Ironman has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.”
Elliot Page. Elliot Page is the Oscar nominated star of Juno and Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy.” Recently, the acclaimed actor formerly known as Ellen Page posted on social media that he is Transgender and non-binary. Addressing his social followers, Page shared the news. “Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot. I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life. I feel overwhelming gratitude for the incredible people who have supported me along this journey. I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self. I’ve been endlessly inspired by so many in the trans community. Thank you for your courage, your generosity and ceaselessly working to make this world a more inclusive and compassionate place. I will offer whatever support I can and continue to strive for a more loving and equal society,” he wrote. Afterwards, Page’s wife praised him for speaking his truth publicly.
Noah Wall. Eight-year-old Noah Wall was born with spina bifida and just a small part of his brain and was not expected to live more than a few days. By the age of three his brain had grown to 80%. Wall, who lives in North West England, has now undergone neurophysics therapy in Australia and can move his foot and it is hoped he will one day be able to walk. With parents who deserve a trophy of support and encouragement believing that despite his condition, the skies are literally the limit, Noah took part in a daring skydive while on holiday in Australia this past year. While he wasn’t jumping out of a plane, Noah managed to tick off several other things from his bucket list, including horse riding and surfing.
Kiera Allen. Kiera Allen is an American actress and undergraduate student at Columbia University. In 2020, Allen had her film debut in the Hulu film “Run” with Sarah Paulson. Allen has used her new platform to describe how her physical disability, something that happened to her when she was in high school, while important to the plot in Run, has not defined the character’s entire personality. “It doesn’t define Chloe’s journey — it’s part of her history, it’s part of how she moves around, but she gets to be so many other things, which is how I feel about myself as well. I think if I had been younger and seen a film like this, that portrayed a wheelchair user like this, it would have made a big difference to me.” We are excited to see Allen’s career soar to match her fabulously flaunting attitude: “Growing up the message I got from the world was, you can do this. Then, you know, when I became disabled, I was like, well, I can still do this, like, that hasn’t changed.”
Michael J. Fox. Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in 1991. He says that if he doesn’t know if he can do something, he fakes it — a strategy that works 80 percent of the time. Since then he’s played characters with Parkinson’s or other similar conditions on such shows as “Rescue Me,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Good Wife.” He’s won five Emmys, four Golden Globes, one Grammy and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. He also founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has raised over $1 billion. In 2020, Fox continues to be unstoppable with a new memoir called “No Time Like The Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. In it, Fox shared his own personal mental health challenges after having a painful spinal surgery to remove a tumor that almost resulted in paralysis. According to Fox, “Optimism is rooted in gratitude, as optimism is achievable when you can be grateful, followed by acceptance. Acceptance allows you to move on and thrive in life.”