When the brace turns you strong

Cecilia is 18, and she has been wearing a brace for the past six years. Since she has learned a lot about herself over that time, she has decided to share, in words and pictures, her experience of growing up in a brace. And so here she is, captured with the “friend she loves to hate” in a series of delicate, almost magical, pictures taken by a young photographer.
Let’s hear what Cecilia has to say. 

There was a time when I would never, ever have considered being photographed with my “worst enemy”, but then I met Tatiana Minelli, and changed my mind.

My story begins when I turned 12. It was so hard to accept the prospect of being “locked” in a plastic case for years! I can still remember all the crying, screaming and arguing over it, the sheer desperation I felt at the idea that, once I was wearing my shell, people wouldn’t love me so much, I wouldn’t be accepted, and I would stop receiving all the attention, love and hugs I was used to. 

I had to force myself to take courage and think that, without the brace, my back would eventually give way completely: I had to be prepared to put up with some discomfort now, so that the future me need not suffer. 

I had to re-invent myself, or rather discover a new me. Ever since I was a little girl, I had always loved clothes – drawing them, choosing and matching them –, but now I found myself deciding that I needed to find a way of hiding the brace beneath my clothes. That was my priority, because there was no way I was going to let anyone see it!

My solution was to wear baggy, loose-fitting clothes, far bigger than my true size. It was hard, because when you are that age, you naturally start wanting to show off your figure. The sacrifices and tears that come with having to “befriend” a brace are something that few others can really understand. 

I am so grateful to my parents, my sister and everyone who has always been there for me, no matter what. And that goes for my friends, too. Whatever the occasion, a sleepover, party or trip somewhere, they always knew that I came with a “hidden extra”, and perhaps wouldn’t be able to do all the things they did because it was painful or uncomfortable for me, but they just accepted me, and never made a big deal of it. 

At first, I had to wear the brace all the time, 24 hours a day. Then, as time went, by I was able to reduce, gradually, the number hours I needed to keep it on.

Which brings me to today, and my decision, after eight long years, to finally let people see me in my brace, without any sense of fear or embarrassment and without filters. I have come to realise that I perhaps ought to have let my brace be seen from the start. To paraphrase one of my favourite writers, I should have risen above the “problem” that used to make me feel so awkward, and accepted it with a lighter heart.  

Today, eight years on, I realise that our true value lies in the things that make us different, and that it is my brace that has made me the stronger person that I am today. But wearing a brace has been just the start of my long journey. I am soon to embark on the next phase, and those who know me know that I am again going to have to draw on my reserves of strength and determination. But let’s take things one step at a time!

Thank you, Tatiana Minelli, for the pictures of me and the friend I loved to hate!

P.S. Choosing not to show pain doesn’t mean you don’t feel it. 

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