This story originally appeared at LittleThings.
Going through puberty is difficult enough; imagine having to do so with an upsetting medical condition. As Meagan Barnard grew into adolescence, she developed lymphedema, a condition that causes fluid retention and tissue swelling.
Because she has up to five pints of excessive fluid in her right leg, Barnard was constantly bullied in school and was given horrible nicknames, like “Michelin Man.” The embarrassed teen grew up refusing to wear clothing that revealed her leg. She lived in constant fear of ridicule.
By the age of 24, her right leg swelled to more than twice its normal size. She even hid her right leg from her boyfriend! After dating for a while, he still had no idea that anything was wrong, thanks to “lots of closed doors, lots of lights off.”
At one point, Barnard went so far as to write a suicide note to her father because she couldn’t take it anymore.
But in 2016, something changed. Barnard made the decision to go public with her lymphedema. For the first time ever, she bravely bared her leg and stepped in front of the camera during a professional photo shoot. It was only then that her boyfriend saw her right leg and realized the shame she’d felt for the majority of her life.
With a new outlook on life, Barnard is on a mission—and pursuing modeling—to encourage other young girls not to suffer in silence, and to accept themselves for the way they are.