I Have a Story to Tell


by Tatiana Lee
Los Angeles

I would look at women in magazines, on TV, at red carpet events and Victoria’s Secret Fashion shows, and I would always say I wanted to do that, but I saw something really wrong with the fact that no one looked like me.

I have a birth defect called spina bifida, which means I was born with a hole in my spine. I’ve had over 20 surgeries in my life (to correct my feet and back, and even brain surgery twice). The doctors told my mom that I wouldn’t live to see my teenage years, but she didn’t accept that. My mom always instilled in me that I could make the impossible possible.

Society doesn’t expect people with disabilities to want much because they see us as people who don’t add much to society. We just exist. I felt that was wrong, because I knew that I had joy and a fighting spirit to share with others. And I knew that I had a mission to make an impact. I’m a black woman with a disability in Hollywood, and I’m the complete opposite of what they see as “beautiful,” and I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb.

I had joy and a fighting spirit to share with others. And I knew that I had a mission to make an impact.

Seeing how much Daisaku Ikeda fought despite whatever illness he was going through, with tuberculosis, coughing up blood and going through so much, and still wanting to use his life to encourage someone else, I thought: I want to be like that. If my mentor can do it, I can do it. I wanted to use my life as a way to inspire someone else.

I just went for it. And it didn’t matter what others thought, as long as it was something that made me happy. I got a lot braver to go out and network. I said, “If no one is going to learn how to market me, I’m going to learn how to market myself.” More people started following my blog and wondering more about who I was. It brought so many more opportunities for me. I never thought I would be able to sit here and tell you that I’m an international model or that I’ve met Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, or that I’ve had the chance to be on TV, or have my work appear in a film festival. I never thought I would be able to say any of those things. I have a story to tell—there’s more to life than just existing.

I want to see more people with disabilities in TV and film. I will continue to fight for it because I feel unstoppable. I feel so victorious like a lion. I’m doing it gracefully, but I’m pouncing on it!