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Lauren Wasser
Courtesy of Lauren Wasser

After two amputations, model Lauren Wasser is redefining beauty for herself

Three years after losing her second leg to tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome, the model and the former athlete is on fighting form

Growing up, Lauren Wasser always felt beautiful. The daughter of two models, good looks ran in the family. But she also felt strong; when she wasn’t doing modelling of her own, she was throwing down hoops on the basketball court, riding her bike, and generally keeping fit. Then in 2012, everything changed. After going to bed with flu-like symptoms, Lauren woke up in an LA hospital with no recollection of what had happened. By the time she was admitted, Lauren was 10 minutes from death, her organs failing due to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria that has been largely associated with tampon usage since the 70s. 

At the time, Lauren was on her period and was wearing a tampon like she usually did. After her infection turned to gangrene, Lauren lost the toes on the left leg, while her right leg had to be amputated below the knee. It took Lauren a while to feel beautiful again, just like it took her a while to feel strong, let alone comfortable in her body. She sued the tampon manufacturer and has since dedicated her life to spreading awareness about TSS prevention. At the same time, she also wants to use her platform to redefine what we think of as beauty. 

In 2019, she had her second leg amputated and today wears her gold prosthetics with pride, not just to sit front row for at Balenciaga, Missoni, Margiela and Off-White, but to walk the runway as well, which most recently included closing the show for Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 collection. This autumn, she also plans to run the New York City Marathon. Dazed Beauty sat down with the model and activist to talk about her journey to self-acceptance.

Growing up, what did beauty look like to you? 

Lauren Wasser: Because my mum was a model, I was always surrounded by her and her supermodel friends – growing up everyone always seemed to be glamorous and perfect. So I essentially grew up with that one side of beauty. I didn’t know anything different.

What was your relationship with your own looks? 

Lauren Wasser: I was always a tomboy; I still am. My first love was basketball, so I played as much as I could. I modelled with my mum when I was younger, but it wasn’t really my main focus. When I did end up modelling and realised the restrictions and measurements that you needed to maintain, it obviously made me look at myself differently as a young woman. The industry was cutthroat.

You’ve spoken openly about your journey, why was it so important to share what happened to you publicly? 

Lauren Wasser: Toxic Shock Syndrome has been killing and injuring women for decades. I’m so grateful that I can be a voice for all those women the world will never hear about. These products that we put inside of us are extremely toxic (they contain rayon, dioxin, bleach, and chlorine). Even if it says it’s 100 per cent cotton, it [could] still be sprayed with chemicals and pesticides. I want women and men to get angry and ask the questions… Why are [tampon] corporations not transparent about how dangerous these products are and the long-term effects they will have on our bodies? We need safe products and proper transparency. We deserve to be protected.

What was your relationship with your body like before everything happened? How did it change your relationship with your body after?

Lauren Wasser: I was an athlete my entire life, my legs were my life. Having to lose parts of me, especially my mobility, was a nightmare. I couldn’t just walk to the bathroom or take a shower. I was in a wheelchair for eight months after my first amputation. I was waiting to try and salvage my left leg and foot. My whole world changed within minutes. Damage was done to my body that was irreversible. I hated the wheelchair, so I needed to somehow accept my prosthetics. I made them gold, made them my own, and learned to love them.

How has it affected your relationship with beauty in the broader sense?

Lauren Wasser: When you first think about beauty, you probably think about it in the physical sense, but that’s the least important. In my journey, I’ve had to see what life is really about and it’s about your heart. I was suicidal and would think of ways to end my life daily. I was in such a dark place, but I knew that my 13-year-old brother would be the first to arrive home from school. Had I made that decision, my little brother and mother would have to live with that burden. So instead I chose to show him and everyone that no matter what happens in life you have to get up and fight. 

What does being able to model mean to you today?

Lauren Wasser: I love my job because I give the industry and this world something it’s been missing. A different side of beauty; a new kind of beauty. I’m beautiful from the inside out. It allows me to showcase my golden legs and be celebrated. 

How do you hope to use your platform?

Lauren Wasser: I hope I can be a positive influence on the world by showing you can be authentically yourself. That you are enough – beautiful and strong just the way you are. Not allowing whatever has happened to you to define you or your future. In a world that is constantly telling everyone that they aren’t pretty enough, fit enough, or cool enough, it must be tough to navigate being a young person or anyone.  I hope people will see one day that they don’t need to change anything to be accepted.

So much has happened with regards to diverse representation in fashion and beauty, but perhaps not as much when it comes to differently-abled bodies. What can we do to change that?

Lauren Wasser: I do think it’s moving in the right direction. It might be slower than we want but I think it’s happening. I mean I have created a lane within the fashion world that never existed. And I’ve had to prove I belong. I’m just like any of these girls, it’s just that I got a different set of legs. 

We hear a lot about self-love and self-acceptance, how do you identify with these?

Lauren Wasser: For me personally, it’s been about digging deep and rebuilding myself from the ground up, and doing the work inside and out. The one thing I hope people take away from me and my story is that if I can do it, so can you.