By Hannah Stevens @hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Aakash Bakshi
Producer: Joe Roberts, James Thorne
Editor: Sonia Estal
Cara Cruz, 36, from New Brighton, Pennsylvania, developed lipoedema and lymphedema as a teenager and the growing problem had a devastating impact on her confidence.
But after starting an Instagram on a dare from her boyfriend, Cara burst out of her shell and into the body positive community and now she is determined to flaunt her curves.
Through her 25,000 Instagram following and meet ups with Yinz’s Bopo group, the curvaceous beauty hopes to inspire more people to start their own journey to self love.
She said: “I think a lymphedema warrior is someone who fully embraces it and shows to the world out there that is part of me, this is a condition I can’t control.
“What I would tell my younger self is, it’s gonna be okay no matter what hang ups or issues are in your head, or the voices from other people knocking you down, it’s more their issue than your actual own issue.
“Just because I have these conditions that make me more pear-shaped and bottom heavy, doesn’t mean that I can’t put on a nice dress, still wear my compression socks, go out and look great.”
Lipoedema is a chronic condition that causes a build up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and arms and lymphedema is a condition of localised fluid retention and tissue swelling, which is caused by a damaged lymphatic system.
Cara said: “The fat cells hold in the lymph fluid and they can’t be lost through diet or exercise, they’re kind of damaged.
“Lymphedema, I have it my lower legs, it’s where the lymph system is damaged so the lymph fluid flows down properly, but it doesn’t flow back up, it’s blocked.”
Although she was always a little bigger as a preteen, Cara never noticed until middle school when her peers began to slim down.
“I had some weight issues as a child, I was always the chubbier child throughout my classes. I don’t think it was really noticeable, noticeable until middle school, when everyone else started to slim out.
“I got the curves, but it was definitely disproportioned, or definitely pear shaped,” she said.
But it wasn’t until later in high school that she developed the chronic conditions.
Cara added: “I realised I had lymphedema when I was junior/senior year of high school, I had fallen and I thought I had actually broken my leg, or my ankle, because I heard such a loud crack.
“When I hit my leg on the step, I damaged tissue. I started to get a quarter size knot that would balloon up on the front of my leg, it would go down if I massaged away.
“Then life happens and you forget about it, next thing I know I have one the size of a football on the front of my left leg.
“I was affected a lot with it, I was teased for it.”
To help push the fluid back up her legs and flow effectively, Cara wears compression stockings and socks every day.
While the conditions can be managed, there is no cure for either and it is not possible to ‘lose’ the damaged fat cells naturally.
Cara explained: “To actually lose the wight and the damaged fat cells, the only real way to go about that is a special type of liposuction, which of course the US insurance doesn’t cover because it’s cosmetic in their eyes.”
Cara's whole life used to be dictated by her discomfort with her body and her wardrobe matched her inner turmoil by hiding her body and her luscious curves.
Nowadays she makes a point of wearing form fitting clothes that ‘hit the curves in all the right spots’ and she has also used a love of tattoos to embrace her body.
She said: “I started the sleeve to kind of hide the upper arm lymphedema issues. I figured they’re staring at me anyway, I’ll give them something to look at.”
When she’s not advocating for self love online, Cara is hanging out with other body confident women at Yinz’s BoPo group, which brings women together to develop body positivity as a collective.
She said: “The Yinz’s BoPo group they’re the most amazing group of women I have ever met, hands down. I instantly felt welcomed.
“When you can get together with a group of likeminded women that remind you to be like, yeah so what if you wear compression garments, rock who you are.”