Model's birth defects, she says, 'gave me a purpose'

Lyric Mariah Heard is a fierce model who uses her disability to encourage others to love themselves. (Photo: Instagram/phenixsoul)

At a first glance, Lyric Mariah Heard can be categorized as just another pretty face working in the fashion industry. But there is much more to her than meets the eye: Besides her obviously gorgeous looks, the model also has only one foot, and two disfigured hands.

Heard is a fierce advocate for people with disabilities. The 21-year-old was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome,  a random, non-genetic birth defect that’s caused in-utero, and she sees it as a blessing to inspire others to live a fuller life.

“Aside from what most people may think I am still fully functional without my leg,” she tells Yahoo Style. “I aspire to be a voice — to be a go-to when people need a reminder on self-love.”

“My appearance gave me a purpose and my modeling gave me a platform,” she says. “Society has a way of making people feel lost and invisible, and unfortunately many people never shake that because it’s hard and it takes faith.”

Growing up, Heard was bullied, and today she recalls the mental damage hurtful words caused her.

“I was judged and humiliated all the time for something that I had absolutely no control over,” she says. “I didn’t understand that, because it’s not like they were the ones who had to walk around with a four-pound leg and their hands hidden in their pockets — that was me.”

When she reached high school, she knew it was time to focus on loving herself fully.

“Own what makes you different — no one can be you like you,” she says she realized. “And if you can’t work with what you have, then you will get lost.”

Having overcome her feelings of inadequacy today, the Illinois native wants to help others see their unique beauty.

“Self-love is the most important kind of love — all of your passions, all of your dreams, all of your aspirations will flourish when you truly love yourself, because then and only then can you succeed,” she says.

Offering advice to other people who might feel different, she says, “Keep positive groups around you. Your surroundings are really important, because it’s hard to stay strong on your own all the time.”

Heard says she also has been inspired by others who have reached their goals — a reminder that representation of people with disabilities can be crucial when it comes to helping others accept themselves.

Fashion giant Nordstrom has featured models with disabilities since 1991. And most recently they featured model Shaholly Ayers, who has a prosthetic right forearm, in their latest summer catalog.

On why representation is important, Heard says, “I think about my goals, and I think about the people that have already reached the goals that I have on my list, and I think: They didn’t get there by second guessing themselves.”

Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyle and @YahooBeauty.