uOttawa student inspires body-positive attitudes

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Leclair stands on a beach in a bikini, which shows that her right leg is much larger than her left.
The photo that started it all. Leclair submitted this photo to accompany her personal essay on Lymphie Life, which led to coverage in several publications and her participation in an upcoming medical documentary. 

By Brandon Gillet

Last summer, uOttawa student Isa-Bella Leclair lit up the social media world when her inspiring essay on staying body-positive despite her congenital condition was posted on a blog called The Lymphie Life. Since then, Leclair has been featured in People Magazine, Seventeen, and on Good Morning America.

Leclair was born with Parkes Weber Syndrome (PWS), which is the presence of multiple abnormal blood vessels, specifically in her right leg. A side effect of her syndrome is lymphedema, a condition in which lymphatic fluid does not circulate properly and collects in her leg instead, resulting in significant swelling. Leclair uses special compression garments to alleviate some of the swelling, but as the day wears on, gravity causes her leg to continue to swell.

“When I wake up it’s smaller, when I go to bed it’s bigger,” said Leclair.

After she shared her story on Facebook, she was contacted by Barcroft Media to be featured in a special video on positive body image that was broadcast last summer. The video, in turn, attracted the attention of an international broadcaster, which has recently sent a media team to film Leclair as part of a documentary focusing on genetic conditions.

“I was really surprised, as I had not intended (my blog) to go viral,” said Leclair.

Initially, Leclair was just searching for information from The Lymphie Life blogger Alexa Ercolano because she was about to undergo treatment. Ercolano asked for a photo and Leclair sent one of her enjoying a summer vacation with her family. She didn’t expect her story to gain so much attention, or for it to be seen as inspiring a body-positive message.

“For me it’s more about awareness [of PWS]. As for body image, it is awesome to see the change it can create in people’s minds,” she said. “Just the fact that it’s out there and more people now know what PWS is, it’s all worth it.”

Leclair hopes that the upcoming documentary will encourage people to shed their nervousness around her and others with disabilities, and encourage them to satisfy their curiosity in a respectful manner.

“I hope people will be able to ask questions of people with disabilities rather than just stare,” said Leclair. “And for people with disabilities: don’t be ashamed, because it’s who you are. Turn it into a positive. Love yourself, that’s really the message I want to relay.”

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