An American beauty queen has opened up about living with a rare genetic disorder – and explained why she refuses to hide the 25-inch scar it has given her.
Victoria Graham, from Maryland, was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that weakens the joints, skin and blood vessels, over 10 years ago.
Since 2014 she has undergone no less than 10 operations, having her skull re-positioned on her spine and her spine fused, leaving her with a 25-inch scar down her back.
But rather than cover the scar, the 23-year-old embraces it as a part of who she is, and she wants to encourage others to do the same. For this reason, she proudly displayed her scar on stage at the Miss Frostburg 2017 beauty pageant.
“If I stand on stage in a bikini and people can see a 25-inch scar, maybe someone else will be a little bit braver, or have the courage to show their own scars,” she told The Washington Post.
Graham incorporated her experience of living with EDS into the pageant, where she used the catchphrase “but you don’t look sick” to make the point that not all illnesses have visible symptoms.
Then, for the talent segment of the contest, she hit the stage wearing a hospital gown (below), and spoke openly about the challenge of overcoming obstacles in life.
“While other girls are singing beautiful songs and they’re in sparkly gowns and elaborate costumes, I’m in a hospital gown with an IV pole,” she said.
When asked why, her response was simply, “because that’s who I am”.
Graham won the pageant, and is now hoping to enter more across the country to continue spreading her message.
On her 22nd birthday last year, the beauty queen launched a support group for EDS sufferers called The Zebra Network, and she has spent the last year visiting children in local hospitals.
She turned 23 yesterday, and celebrated the first birthday in three years when she wasn’t in hospital by appearing on ABC News to talk about the importance of raising awareness of invisible illnesses, and the power that the pageant had on her confidence.
"When I'm on stage, I'm not the handicapped girl. I'm not the disabled girl. I'm not the sick girl," she said.
"It's almost like I'm free."