A word with the incredible Aimee Mullins

A word with the incredible Aimee Mullins

Cartier Social Lab

Text: Celine Yap

She’s a double amputee but that doesn’t stop the athlete, model and actress from doing anything

Her life story is as amazing as it is incredible. Aimee Mullins is a ground-breaking Paralympian and the world's first athlete to run on the Flex-Foot Cheetah carbon fibre sprinting legs. A role model we could all get behind, she's a sports pioneer and one-time president of the Women's Sports Foundation, and a TED talks All-Star. Mullins also modelled for Alexander McQueen – she opened his London show on a pair of hand-carved wooden prosthetic legs – and continued to work with the designer until his death in 2010. Named one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine, Mullins is also an advocator for women and has also gone into acting. She was most recently seen in Stranger Things and has gone on to work on movies of her own.


Born without fibular bones in her legs, Mullins had to have both her legs amputated as an infant. Yet rather than be defeated by her condition, she found the courage to overcome it and not only that, she even managed to surpass the accomplishments of many or most able-bodied people. Her TED conference talks are among the most-viewed ones of all time and have been translated into 42 different languages. At the Cartier Social Lab in San Francisco this April to speak on Mind Over Body, Mullins contemplated the notion of fear and its importance as a great motivator in life. Here are 10 things the inspirational American beauty wants you to know.

#1 Fear is good
Getting to do a panel with Laird [Hamilton] and Bob [Roth] is very exciting because Bob brings a very studied, brain chemistry, science-backed knowledge to the discussion, on the role of fear, and how we can transcend fear. Obviously Laird and I have a history as ground-breaking athletes, and we just know being completely fearless is not attainable. If you think you've attained fearlessness, you should be worried, because it means you've shut down an essential informant in your brain and something that could be a great motivator in your life.

#2 Everybody experiences fear
We meet extraordinary people, they know fear and feel it often, but they move forward with it. They move forward with it not controlling them. They move forward knowing that it is a tool that can inform and motivate. Sometimes it's something very basic like survival. Many more times in our daily life it's far more nuanced. We have a fear of being accepted, or of failing... these kinds of things, that's all natural. To say that we don't feel it deprives us of an opportunity to have compassion for our fellow human beings because everyone feels it. I think it makes you a better more well-rounded human to acknowledge you have it.


#3 But don't be consumed by fear
I think more people do that, being paralysed by their fear, and they don't stop to consider what that fear is. Fear of failing? Who hasn't failed? I think that's why there are so many books and films out there that we crave as humans, to hear the stories of fellow human beings all over the world who are also dealing with the same thing we are, which is wanting to be loved, wanting to feel beautiful, wanting to be lauded, celebrated... these are very basic human things. Yet because we don't want to feel the pain of those things not happening, we will avoid even entering the race in the first place. That doesn't get anyone anywhere. That's not living, that's just existing.

#4 Fear can be controlled
It is a training. The first thing is to know that fear exists and it's ok. We talked about lots of different visuals. With Laird, we talked about it being a tool. I think of it as being my shadow. Sometimes you see a lot of it, sometimes you don't see much of it but it's always there, and that's ok. The biggest thing is to not be freaked out by the aspect of it being there and to see it as an everyday thing. That is a training. That is practice.


#5 Serendipity versus fear
I thought about how important it is to have the serendipity of surprise. I've been listening to playlists... yeah playlists, and I realised that it's an echo chamber too. If you listened to this song you might like these... The serendipity of surprise, remember what happened when a song would come on the radio, you need to hear it again, but it doesn't happen if you're not listening to the radio anymore, or if you're not putting yourself in those situations where you will be surprised by the unexpected? And I think it's good to listen to something you don't like. It's like exercise. You keep that muscle working so that you are aware of things you don't like but still can listen to it anyway. So much of our technology has made our lives easier in so many ways, we've lost pulling over and asking someone for directions. Surprise interactions. Things that aren't planned. I'm consciously aware of it.

#6 We all need to e-tox
I was in a boat in Antarctica for two weeks and the extreme joy of the trip was not only did my phone not work, but so did everybody else's. It was extraordinary how necessary it was. To help limit the information intake was really good. That was like what meditation teaches you: If you can go inward and find a place of quiet it becomes far more necessary. We've got everything we want but the highest rates of depression and anxiety of any society. We can't ignore that. On that boat, conversations regularly ended in "I don't know." That was great! It wasn't like hold on, I'll get a phone and find out. It was wonderful that you could say, no I think it's that actor, no I think it's that one. The conversation wasn't shut down in 30 seconds with someone whipping a phone out and googling the answer.


#7 Get help
You do need to reach out to the people who are wonderful in your life and let them know when you need a hand on the lower back... don't need judgement, may not even need advice, just need someone to tell you why they love you, why they're friends with you... just to help you remember that you're a good person, you're special, you've made a difference in someone else's life.

#8 Failure is an opportunity to learn
Process the emotional aspect of failure. Just feel it. Give yourself a day, not much more than that, and then ask for support, you'll have to actively – this sounds ridiculous but it totally works – force yourself to smile. On people at the street, force yourself to be way nicer than you feel like being. Just smile and be really nice, like that's your job. And it's crazy what happens. It has an effect, it really does. People engage with you and it takes you out of your myopia, then you get to a place where your buoyancy level is up a bit, and you can decipher what you've learned. Decipher also if what of it was of use to you and what of the experience of the failing was actually a success. Because either it galvanised you further on your path or it helped you go around the obstacle to find a new path.


#9 Have a support group
Ultimately it's a fallacy to think you can bounce back on your own all the time. It's important to remember you need help. Sometimes family is not the place to look, only because they're well-meaning but they so do not want to see you in pain they'll talk you out of continuing on the path that you're trying to go on. Families have a way of doing that. They don't know they're doing that. Because they just don't want to see us go through painful things, our parents rob us of the fact that we have to go through painful things, to get to the other side of a task or a quest. So sometimes it's from friends that I get support.

#10 Believe in yourself
Showbiz is a tough business for anyone, especially tough for women, even tougher for smart women, until you realise you just have to add a new chapter to the game. A cynical point of view is that there's a lot of window dressing right now with this #metoo movement that people think it's just on paper and whitewashing a lot of bad behaviour in the past. I don't think it's temporary, I don't think it's a fad, I need to have hope and belief these changes are real. I think success of movies like Black Panther and Wonder Woman is absolutely indicative of the fact that audiences do want to have more diversity on their screens. It doesn't mean we need to see people who look just like us, but we do need to see diversity. Everybody understands what it's like to be "other"; we've all felt that. Even in a sea of people who look exactly like you, you know that you have something that makes you feel like you're the odd one out. That's what diversity can do for us. It allows people to connect individually and find the personal in the universal.

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