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Woman born with one arm dresses up as Disney princesses to challenge beauty norms

"I wish we had representation in the wider media but I feel like I’m helping people with limb differences see that they are special.”

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Mandy (left) as Belle with friend Holly West and daughter Cayleigh. (Mandy Pursley via SWNS)

By Isolde Walters via SWNS

A woman born with one arm dresses up as Disney princesses to challenge beauty norms and inspire other amputees to embrace their bodies.

Mandy Pursley, 38, has cosplayed as Belle, Cinderella and Snow White in an attempt to improve the representation of people with limb differences.

“When I was a kid, it was definitely hard growing up and being physically different from everyone else.

“I didn’t see any women who looked like me anywhere in the media, especially any women who were portrayed as beautiful.

“I want kids who are missing a limb to see themselves as beautiful and special.

“I’ve always loved Disney princesses since I was a little girl.

“I loved Belle because she was really into books and smart, I loved Jasmine’s sense of adventure.”

Mandy, who was born without her right forearm and hand, was bullied because of her physical differences as a child and struggled to accept her body.

“There were some people who were scared of my arm,” she said.

“People didn’t want to hold hands with me during games in the playground.

Mandy as Belle with daughter Cayleigh.(Mandy Pursley via SWNS)

“I always saw my limb difference as a negative thing and that was the feedback I got from other people.”

Mandy first discovered cosplay - the popular practice of portraying a fictional character by wearing complex and authentic costumes - seven years ago when her daughter Cayleigh, now 10, dressed up as Belle from Beauty And The Beast for Halloween.

She added: “My daughter wanted to be Belle so I made her a little dress and I thought: I want to make this for myself.

“I made myself a Belle gold ballgown and we walked around the neighborhood.

“It made me want to keep dressing up - it was just so much fun.”

Mandy began pouring hours and dollars into making elaborate costumes and wearing them to conventions.

“The difference between Halloween and cosplay is that people put a lot of work into making their cosplay costumes as realistic and movie-quality as possible.

“I have spent 60 plus hours and hundreds of dollars on costumes.

“I get the best quality fabrics. I make real corsets. I don’t want it to look like a cheap costume.

“I spent $400 on the fabric for my Cinderella gown but it needed to feel like it was magical and that a fairy godmother actually made this gown.”

At first, Mandy wore a cosmetic prosthetic when cosplaying but as she grew in confidence, she wanted to show that an amputee could still be a Disney princess.

“Back then, I wore a prosthetic because I wanted to be as close to a Disney princess as I could be.

“I always worried that if people figured out my prosthetic hand was fake, it would ruin the magic.

“I didn’t feel I could look like Belle or Elsa without having a second hand.”

However she decided to embrace her lack of a limb when she dressed up as Cinderella in 2019 - with her husband Ryan, 38, a marine, dressing up as Prince Charming - and instead of choosing a lifelike prosthetic, she wore a prosthetic made of glass.

“Cinderella was the first one I cosplayed where I didn’t try to hide the fact that I didn’t have a limb.

“Then later I did Snow White without any prosthetic.

“I wanted to show that I didn’t need the gimmick of a fake arm to be a princess.”

Since then, Mandy has also cosplayed as two amputee characters: Furiosa, the lead character in Mad Max whose amputation is never explained in the film, and Tenel Ka, a Jedi Knight in the Star Wars universe who lost her arm in a lightsaber accident.

“Tenel Ka really inspired me a lot growing up.

“She’s a Jedi warrior princess and she’s still the toughest fighter on their team even without her arm.

“I dressed up as her for Comic-Con and even though she’s not a well-known character so no one knew who I was, it was really empowering for me.”

Mandy hopes that her cosplaying gives other people without limbs a sense of representation.

“I have gotten quite a few messages from adults and the parents of kids with a limb difference expressing thanks that someone is out there giving them a sense of representation.

“I wish we had representation in the wider media but I feel like I’m helping people with limb differences see that they are special.”

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