An Instagram sensation, whose legs are constantly swollen, is encouraging others to embrace their figures and celebrate their differences.
Carmen Smith, 30, from Pasadena, California, has endured cruel comments and stares from strangers throughout her life after developing lymphedema as a child, which causes her legs, ankles and feet to swell.
After attempting to hide her limbs for years, Ms Smith’s boyfriend Kahari Jumal, 43, has helped her accept her disorder, leading to her regularly posing in sexy lingerie for her 48,000 Instagram followers.
Ms Smith, who claims she regularly receives messages from women thanking her for showing off her ‘flaws’, is speaking out to encourage others to be confident in their own skin.
She told Barcroft TV: ‘Be what you wanna be, not stuck in this weird box society wants to keep us in.
‘Our differences make us beautiful.’
Lymphedema affects up to 10 million people in the US.
For her first photoshoot, which focused on her lymphedema, Ms Smith used signs to highlight the hashtags she has become known for, such as #lymphedemawarrior and #eatthecaketoo.
The images sparked a strong response from other lymphedema sufferers who struggle with their body image.
She said: ‘Positive reactions on Instagram make me know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
‘The women who are in my inbox saying, “Hey my legs look like yours. I’ve never seen anyone whose body looks like mine.
“Thank you for putting yourself out there. You’re making me feel comfortable”. That stuff is big!’
She added: ‘I love myself. I can say that 99 percent of the time. I’m only human, so of course I have my bad days.
‘Nobody’s perfect, but nine times out of 10 I can wake up saying, “You’re doing a good job, you’re taking care of your body, you like what you see in the mirror.”
‘I think, if we could all do that, honestly this world would be a whole lot more positive than it is now.’
Ms Smith inherited lymphedema, with its symptoms first becoming obvious when she was a young child.
She said: ‘My mum tells me I was about three when she noticed that something was going on. I was complaining a lot that my feet hurt.
‘She took me to the doctor and they diagnosed me with lymphedema, stating that most likely I was born without some of my lymph nodes.
‘Your lymph nodes and your lymphatic system are supposed to be moving fluids through your body, so in my case the blockage is in my legs. That’s why there’s swelling and discomfort.’
As a child, Ms Smith was forced to wear flip flops at all times due to them being the only shoes that comfortably fit her feet.
She also attempted to hide her right leg, which is the more swollen of the two, when posing for pictures.
Throughout her teens and early adulthood, Ms Smith’s symptoms progressed, making the swelling even more noticeable.
She said: ‘It would just make me horrified and so uncomfortable and embarrassed. To this day, I don’t like people looking at my feet.’
Despite her initial lack of confidence, Ms Smith’s mindset gradually began to change as she grew older.
She said: ‘The turning point was telling myself that I have to start being in a more positive mental space, y’know, saying that I’m not going to be defined by what someone else has to say about my body.’
While posing for photo shoots, Ms Smith often plays with suggested nudity and models her favourite lingerie, which does not bother her partner Mr Jumal, who she met through work.
Mr Jumal said: ‘She was walking by and the first thing I noticed as she walked by was her stature.
‘And I thought, “Oh wow! Wow!” All I could say was wow. It looked good. That was my first impression of Carmen the first time I saw her.’
Ms Smith credits Mr Jumal for boosting her self confidence, saying: ‘The way my boyfriend makes me feel about my body is something that I wish every woman could experience.
‘A partner who empowers you and encourages you to love your body, it will change the way that you see yourself.
‘For me, he was, and has been, a huge part of me being able to do what I do.’