Athlete Aimee Mullins: Beauty in Sports Can Be 'Liberating'

08/28/2012 at 09:00 AM ET

Aimee Mullins
Courtesy L’Oréal Paris

Her accomplishments are quite impressive: softball star, record-setting runner, Alexander McQueen muse, L’Oréal Paris spokeswoman. Add the fact that she had her legs amputated below the knees at just 1 year old, and you can easily say Aimee Mullins is an inspiration.

The model/athlete, named one of PEOPLE’s Most Beautiful in 1999, is one of two retired athletes leading the United States into the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremonies in London on Wednesday, serving as a Chef de Mission for the country.

“I’m very nervous,” she tells PEOPLE. “It’s a huge honor, and I’m flattered, but it’s going to be strange to be on the other side of the experience.”

Aimee Mullins Legs
Courtesy Aimee Mullins

To mark the occasion, Mullins is wearing a special pair of prosthetic legs (left) — nicknamed “Winged Glory” because of the gold wings painted along the shins — for the big event.

“They’re pretty awesome,” Mullins says. “The motto [of the Olympics] is ‘Higher, Faster, Stronger,’ so the wings kind of felt like very much a representation of that.”

Though Mullins is all about athletics — and inspiring others, too — she believes beauty does play a role in sports nowadays. “I look at when Sanya [Richards-Ross] won gold and Dee Dee [Trotter] won bronze,” she recalls of the recent track events at the London Olympics. “Dee Dee had appliqué crystals on her face, Sanya had this awesome hair whipping down. I think about Flo-Jo; as a little girl, she was just the most captivating, mesmerizing thing to watch. There’s something about a personal expression of beauty that’s really related to being powerful.”

Mullins had such a moment when running a recent “Spartan Race,” something akin to a “Tough Mudder.” “I had a great [L'Oréal Paris] Colour Caresse in bright pink, because I knew that once the mud got on me, the only thing visible on me were pink lips,” she shares. “But there was something awesome, looking in the mirror in my black woven carbon fiber shock legs — like something out of Terminator — and putting on a bright pink lip balm. There was something empowering about that moment.”

In fact, fans seem interested, too. “I can’t tell you how many emails, Tweets I get asking what my manicure is going to be [when I race],” she shares. “A decade ago, if you were a girly-girl athlete, you weren’t taken as seriously. But I think now, it’s liberating for all of us to realize that we can define for ourselves what beauty means — and what powerful looks and feels like.”

Catch the Paralympic games on usparalympics.org and on various NBC stations in the weeks ahead.

–Kate Hogan

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Showing 6 comments

glojean on

She is stunning! Congratutions to her for all of her achievements!

J on

it is so sad and disappointing that the Paralympics will be relegated to a measly hour long weekly ” special” on nbc sports. These are serious athletes who deserve the same amount of support as the supposedly ” regular” Olympians.

Dee on

The Paralympics should be televised and hyped as much as the Olympics. These athletes worked their behinds off just like everyone else to get where they are and that should be celebrated and viewed.

I’m always annoyed with the lack of coverage. As for NBC, I boycotted watching anything related to the Olympics/Paralympics years ago. They really are pathetic!!!!

Aimee is gorgeous!!! I wish all the athletes good luck…..but I’m biased towards Canada and Jamaica :)

duh on

Actually, when you have a prosthetic, e.g., legs plus feet, and are a runner, compared to a person that has their birth legs and feet, running, or any event that takes using your legs or feet, including ankles, you will have actual impact on your joints, feeling pain, or the adurance wearing them. Whereas, prosthetic have no felling, so the impact is much less, if at all, really no impact whatsoever. There’s no comparison between an athlete with prothetics and one without.

RAK on

@duh- your name is apt as you seem to genuinely have no clue. I assume you’re NOT an amputee based on your (hopefully well-intentioned) ignorant comment about amputees experiencing “no impact whatsoever” upon running. Where exactly do you think the ground-strike energy goes? It travels up the body & is absorbed by the remainder of the leg(s), hip, back, etc. In addition to not having the flexion of biological ankles, feet, & muscles, this makes ambulatoon far more difficult than for those who have completely sound legs (ie non-prosthetic). In fact, it takes an amputee up to 80% MORE energy to just *walk* in comparison to someone who has both of their natural legs. I’ll make you a deal- go strap on a pair of stilts & run a block in them, then report back & let us know how “no impact whatsoever” feels. :/

Sabe on

I was at Georgetown the same time as Aimee – she is more stunning in person than she is in photos and I’m excited to see her success. One correction, though – GU didn’t have a softball team when we were there; Aimee was a star on the track & field team (a nationally-ranked one, at that).

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