Aimee Copeland didn't realize how concerned she was with her appearance until it suddenly and drastically changed.
"We're fed these images that we have to be starving and flawless and perfect to be considered beautiful," she said. "It took me a little longer to realize that none of that even really matters."
The blonde, charismatic young woman fell off a homemade zip line she and her friends discovered at a local river in Georgia in May 2012, amd cut her leg on the rocks. At first, it was just a bad cut; nothing 20-some staples in her leg couldn't fix.
But a rare flesh-eating bacteria —necrotizing fasciitis — was brewing in Copeland's blood. In only a matter of days, doctors had amputated both her hands, her left leg and her right foot.
"(I started) to understand myself as this spiritual being rather than a physical human," she said, learning that "Aimee" was "so much more than this body."
"This body doesn't change who I am," she said, adding that beauty is ephemeral, and "true beauty" is how you make other people feel and the legacy you leave behind – not how you look. She said that it caused her to "cultivate parts of myself that are much deeper."
Copeland's experience has revealed a wonderful support system. She has met many people who also struggle with disabilities — or as she calls them, "differences."
"For the most part, it's not about their abilities that (make) their lives difficult; it's about not having people there," she said. "There's always further down. Suffering is relative."
Nowadays, Copeland doesn't sweat the small stuff.
"We spend our whole lives comparing ourselves to other people," she said, pointing out that we should all be "more content with what you have."
Copeland just started wearing a bikini again – and said she's not worrying what people think about her scars.
"I'm going to have fun," she said. "I think that I'm beautiful."
Though things were difficult in the beginning, Copeland says it has been "neat being really creative" in her process to relearn to do everyday things.
"It … rewires your brain," she said.
Copeland believes the saying is true: Where there is a will, there is a way. She has found new ways to drive, send emails and cook for herself – even if it means finding unique, creative ways to do so; she's learned to be patient.
"What's really important to you is the things that you will make happen," she said.
Her advice for others is a quote borrowed from the song "Pig" by Dave Matthews: "Don't burn the day away."
"Embrace it fully," Copeland said. "The most important thing is not to take life for granted. This is a very short gift we have been given."
"Duck Dynasty" and "Dancing with the Stars" favorite Sadie Robertson is launching an event tour this fall to encourage people to stay true to themselves and their values, especially when faced with difficulties. For many reasons, Copeland's story stood out to her.
"Aimee Copeland lives original like no other," Robertson said. "It's hard to even tell her story and do it justice. I can't even imagine. One day … ziplining for fun. The next thing you know, your whole life has changed."
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