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How Do You Do Your Hair When You Only Have One Arm?

Not to mention makeup and shaving, plus dealing with inquisitive spa personnel.

Photo: Image Source/Getty Images

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“Would you mind helping me spread my butt cheeks?”

Luckily, this question didn’t really come as a shock to my waxer.

“You know... one-handed problems,” I joked. She spread an ass cheek with one hand and waxed with the other, while I dutifully spread my other cheek with my right hand.

Since I was born missing my left hand, I’ve had to figure out alternative ways to do a lot of stuff, like tying my shoes, cutting food, and driving. I’m used to having to get creative, particularly when it comes to my beauty routine. I take great comfort in knowing exactly how to groom myself to feel more attractive and knowing I can do those things differently but effectively.

I present to you the beauty challenges I have faced, modified, and perfected:


Hair

Back in the ’90s, there was an infomercial with a contraption that held the dryer for you. When I got it for Christmas, I was thrilled. It worked, but I didn’t want to rely on bringing it with me everywhere I went. Because I do have range of motion at my elbow, I’ve mastered the art of holding a regular hairdryer with my stump. Thanks to my amputee friends, I’ve learned how to put my hair in a ponytail. The secret is a ring that is big enough to catch the elastic from sliding down your wrist. I use this badass snake cocktail ring. It takes patience and dexterity, but it’s doable. I’ve managed to perfect a tight, high ponytail and a messy bun, though it often takes a few tries.

Makeup

Achieving a perfect cat-eye can feel like an impossibility even if you have three hands, but using one finger to stretch and the others to apply has worked for me. I hold lipsticks and foundation bottles with my stump while I apply with my right hand. I can’t contour to save my life, but that has nothing to do with my lack of a left hand.

Shaving

Back in high school, body hair was seen a mark of undesirability. Now I regularly forget to shave for weeks, but at 13, I thought being hairless was one of the most important things a girl could be. Shaving my legs presented no problems, but upon inspection of the thick black hair on my arms (I’m Sicilian), I decided that needed to go as well. I quickly and easily shaved off all the hair on my left half-arm. When I moved to my right, it hit me that I had no hand to hold the razor. I stood in the shower, lathered up, debating whether I should call for my mom to help me. The thought of asking for help frustrated me. I thought for a moment, then stuck the razor between my teeth. And before I knew it, my right arm was hairless, too. I don’t shave my arms as regularly anymore, but when I do, my teeth have never failed me.

Spa Treatments

On the rare occasion I get a spa treatment, my stump is either ignored or accidentally touched (followed by an apology). Once I got a facial and the technician rubbed my feet and right hand and covered them in warm gloves and socks. When she pulled down the blanket to reveal my stump, she audibly gasped and covered it back up. “It’s okay,” I said. “You can touch it.” I wanted my stump to be just as pampered as the rest of me, and I was proud of myself for asking. Also: The best part of being an amputee is half-price manicures.

Clothes

Shopping seems easy enough, but when you grab as much as you possibly can from the racks, like me, it can get tough to carry everything. I sling a lot of dresses and pants over my shoulder when my right hand is full. Zippers have given me trouble, but with some finagling I can usually get them. I was only truly defeated by a zipper once while shoe shopping. I tried on gladiator sandals that made my calves look like baked hams, then I realized I couldn’t escape from them. I eventually asked a kind stranger to hold the top steady while I pulled the zipper.


There are many other instances in my beauty routine and my everyday life where I have to modify an action to suit me; most times it’s so natural I don’t even realize I’m doing it. (Except the ass cheeks thing: I am hyper-aware of prepping myself to ask that question every time I get waxed.) I recently started wearing a state-of-the-art jet-black bionic arm. It feels right on my body and makes holding certain things easier. But I’ve been practicing my beauty routine for over a decade without it, so I tend to leave it off when I get ready, then top off my outfits with it at the end.

Just like I’ve learned that perfectly blended eyeshadow and winged eyeliner take practice, I’ve also learned that disabled people always find a way, whether it be through a modification, tenacity, or asking for help. Beautifying myself makes me feel more confident; my beauty routine makes me feel happier. And being able to do those things by myself (and asking for help unabashedly when I need it) makes me feel like I can conquer anything, singlehandedly.