“I can handle trolls but my DMs are a weird place”

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‘One-handed girl’ India, from County Antrim, has been used to having sideways glances since she was little, after being born without her left hand.

So during confinement, the 22-year-old decided to take matters into her own hands – as she herself might joke on social networks – by showing how she perfects her hairstyle on a daily basis.

Better known as @indiasasha online, the April 2020 video has since been viewed 2.2 million times and gained nearly half a million subscribers – and this time the creator of content doesn’t care about looks.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” India says of the incredible reaction to the 38-second video. “It was just a video of me putting my hair in a ponytail. My work colleagues found it so fascinating that I had to record their reaction.

“When I uploaded the video of me doing my hair and the side-by-side reactions on TikTok, it just blew up. It wasn’t an expected reaction.

“I was sitting at work the next day and my colleagues were like, ‘Oh, this is 200,000, this is 250,000, this is 300,000,’ and I was sitting there thinking, ‘ Oh my God, what is that?’ continues the native of Belfast, who at the time worked in a call center.

“Then I was checking the comments and people were either fascinated by it, or there were people who looked like us and had different diagnoses that affected their hands, and combing their hair was something they struggled with – and they were happy to see online.

“Other people had more questions: ‘How do you do that? How do you do this? Then I realized maybe I could start making videos and stuff because I liked doing it. It wasn’t my first time doing a TikTok — it was something that had just exploded. »

The content creator has since uploaded dozens of other piss-takes on everything from how she gets a “natural five-finger cut” to getting her nails done to pranks during a game of rock, paper, scissors.

But the truth is, his daring sense of humor started out as a defense mechanism to deal with other people’s reactions to his disability, which is the result of symbrachydactyly, a rare congenital condition of the hand, reveals- she.

“I was always brought up to be a piss taker. Basically, my dad was always the one to help me crack jokes – so as to prepare me for the real world, so whenever people made jokes on me which were not pleasant, I had something to prepare myself, or a shield.

“So I had a sense of humor about everything and didn’t take life too seriously and that stuck with me.

“I think the first joke I remember my dad making was, ‘You’re like a clock – you’ve got a big hand and a little hand.’ So there’s all these things rooted in my head, and then I I kept putting them in my TikToks.

“And, of course, there are random situations that I can’t predict, and whenever those situations happen, I just press record and videos do the best, to be honest.

“Every time I go viral, I see my hand as not being a barrier to communication – it’s almost like something that can help break down the barriers between people who look alike and people who don’t. not who haven’t really seen anything like it, so I really appreciate it because it makes it easier to communicate with people.

Take, for example, the moment she was enjoying a cruise on the sunny Greek island of Corfu, when a throwaway challenge from the DJ for revelers not to drink with their right hand – which could have wrecked her holiday — resulted in not just hilarious TikTok fodder, but a free cocktail and becoming the most popular girl on the boat.

But India remembers a time when it was not like that.

“Elementary school was an absolute nightmare,” she says. “A lot of people think it would be secondary school, but primary school was the worst for me.

“I never really had a friendship group – I was just the person who was sometimes invited [to things]sometimes not, and I wasn’t really close to anyone.

“In P5, I felt frozen by my whole class. They never said it was because I had a hand, but there’s always something behind your head that tells you there was no other reason. There was nothing else that was different from me to anyone.

“High school is when I started to get out of myself a bit more.”

UK charity Reach, which provides support for children with limb differences and their families, has helped connect India and her mum and dad, Tracey and Darren, with other children and parents living the same.

That’s a big part of why she says she wants to pay it forward by making people with disabilities more visible on social media, on TV, in newspapers and magazines – even though it triggers some.

“I’m sick of my face because I’m not going to stop,” laughs the aspiring TV presenter. “I get comments under my videos like, ‘Why is this girl always doing content on her hand?’

“And it’s like: people do makeup content, people do sports content, people do twerk content – ​​what’s wrong if I do content on my hand, that I amuse myself and make people laugh? Like, it shouldn’t be weird to see it. People just criticize it because it’s not what they’re used to seeing, and that is the problem.

“When I was younger, I only had the opportunity to meet other people who looked like me through Reach,” India continues. “My mum wanted me to meet other children who had a similar disability but until then there hadn’t really been much.

“There hasn’t been a time when I’ve seen someone on TV or passed someone on the street where I thought, ‘Wow, there’s someone like me.’ Fortunately, that is starting to change.

“More and more people have the opportunity to be in the public eye and be proud of who they are, and not put their hand in their pocket so no one can see it. I’ve finally started to see this more and it’s absolutely amazing.

“It also reassures me whenever there’s a kid my age who hasn’t seen anything, that I now hope he sees things. Because you have no idea…” She recovers quickly “Well, you have an idea.

“You’re probably one of the few people who gets a sense of the importance of not feeling like a bloody science project or exhibit every time you walk down the street – that it’s just normal is your body, and that really helps.

Oscar-winning actor Troy Kotsur (who is deaf), Australian model Madeline Stuart (who has Down syndrome) and comedian Rosie Jones (who has cerebral palsy) are just a few of those helping to break the stereotypes about people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, global fashion brands such as American Eagle, Nike and Ugg have also answered the call for greater inclusion, with stylish adaptive clothing ranges.

But not all visibility is necessarily good, India agrees, citing controversy over 2020 kids’ movieThe witchesstarring Anne Hathaway as the frightening Grand High Witch, recognized as a witch by having hands with three fingers and feet without toes.

The actress later apologized for the upheaval the film’s portrayal of member difference caused the community and promised to “do better” in the future.

“I personally didn’t get offended because I’m not easily offended, but what broke my heart was that this is a children’s movie,” says India, who thinks that education and normalization are the two cornerstones of a more inclusive society.

“For us, we don’t think, ‘Oh my God, people are going to think we’re witches now’ because we’re adults. accessory to make someone meaner.

“Most of the time, the disability has not been represented as it should be. It was either “Look at me, I’m disabled, I can do this!” and it’s kind of like, ‘Of course we can do that – why are you stating the obvious?’

“Or it’s just used as a prop, which is awful. Why is it not presented in a beautiful or equal way sometimes? »

Like our fun Review+ photoshoot shows, the influencer has all the trappings of a model and has already been snapped up by numerous fashion, beauty and food brands online.

But she’s mindful that she’s also not being used as a “tick-box exercise” for companies looking to boost their inclusivity credentials.

“It was amazing,” she said, posing up a storm. “I really, really liked it – I don’t know if you could tell by doing dance moves every two seconds!

“Modeling is something I would definitely consider doing. I would love to do something really different,” adds India, who has two younger sisters, Tiana Mya (17) and Asha Dionne (18).

“I feel like when you’re in the creator space and doing a lot of stuff in the public eye, it’s kind of bittersweet. Like the bittersweetness of symbolism – it’s not great to be used, but great to be there and represent.

“Tokenism is something that I try to monitor closely. You can usually tell brands that are looking for this because they don’t really value your type of content. They might suggest you always get your hands on the content in a very roundabout way, i.e., “Sorry, no, I don’t want to work with you anymore.”

Apart from entertaining fans with her short videos, the lawyer from India is known for her outspoken way of dealing with trolls.

Diving into her inbox can be a bit like playing Russian roulette, she jokes: “My DMs are a weird place sometimes.

“It’s either a weird person making a really inappropriate comment or it’s a brand looking to work with me – but you can usually tell which ones you better not open so I just don’t. .

” The most common [comment] it’s “It looks like a foot”, and I don’t understand because if your foot looks like that, you should go to a podiatrist!

“Other than that, I get a lot of weird comments sexualizing my disability from men online. I find that most uncomfortable, especially knowing there are kids out there with similar things.

“The main reason I deal with all hateful comments is that I handle them well,” India says. “I’d rather people give me feedback, and I deal with it, rather than a kid ending up having to deal with it when they’re not ready.

“The number one priority for me, especially with little sisters, is to make sure the little ones are better prepared and have a better life in a better world than maybe we were.”

PHOTOGRAPHY: EVAN DOHERTY HAIR:SOPHIE SOROHAN, SENIOR STYLIST, QUEEN, DUBLIN 2 TO PUT ON MAKEUP: HAZEL LATHAM FOR CHARLOTTE TILBURY & MAC

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