Style

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

Two years ago, artist Leah Nixon Fitzgerald was paralyzed from the armpits down in a construction accident. “I’m so grateful I have my hands,” she told me. Now, along with her sister, Leah designs beautiful stationery in South Dakota. Here, she shares her favorite eyebrow product, a special way her dog helps her and what she wishes people knew about disability…

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

First, let’s talk beauty. What would we find in your bathroom?
I love my Quip toothbrush. I always appreciate good packaging and solutions. Speaking of design, I also swear by my Ember mug, which keeps coffee warm. I have a desire to invest in well-designed things.

How about beauty products?
For 12 years, I struggled with flaky eyebrows and I tried everything — moisturizing, essential oils. Finally, I came across Dermoscribe, and two days later I no longer had the issue! With healthy eyebrows, I feel much more confident.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

You live in South Dakota with your husband, two dogs, three cats, two goats and two horses.
And 28 chickens! My dog, Lucy, is probably the closest thing to an accessory handbag that I carry around. One of the services she provides is drawing in people who might be off put by me with one leg in a wheelchair. A dog is a conversation starter.

I love that.
There’s an Elayne Boosler quote that resonates with me: ‘My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty.’ That is my life!

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

Can you tell us about your accident?
I worked as a construction laborer for Habitat for Humanity. I hauled gravel, finished sidewalks, did drywalling — basically anything you imagine doing while building a house. I loved it. We were building a house in 2018, and it was a wet, muddy summer. We were putting up rafters on a house, and it was pouring but we decided to keep going. There’s a huge 22,000 pound machine called the telehandler, and I was on the ground holding the rope — the ground was so slippery, and the telehandler started to tip. The last thing I remember is struggling with the rope. So, I broke my spinal cord, and now under my armpits it goes numb.

How did you adjust your daily life?
In the beginning, there were so many issues to solve, starting with what to wear. Honestly, my uniform is super simple: Target T-shirt dresses because they’re very comfortable and pants are hard when you’re in a wheelchair. Being in a wheelchair, you have to eliminate unnecessary steps.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

What are you working on now?
Grace and I had started Tiny and Snail in 2017. Before the accident, I would work on it at night and on weekends. After my accident, it became a very important part of my life, making me feel productive. We have Facebook portals so even though I’m in South Dakota and she’s in Milwaukee, we see each other for five hours a day. It’s so amazing what you can do with technology. We do a dance party at 9 a.m. every morning — we play pop music and invite everyone in our work community. Grace and I started it as a way of connecting with people but honestly it’s just been really good for us.

What kind of cards do you make?
All kinds, but we’re pretty big on sympathy cards because of my accident and how my dad had two types of cancer. The cards are easy to apply to different situations, whether they’re physical or mental hardships. A lot of the cards are just like, ‘We can’t do anything to change the situation, but we’re here for you.’ A portion of sales goes to spinal cord research.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

When do you feel most beautiful?
When I’m in nature. We have a little garden, and after work I’ll go see how my seedlings are doing. And I remember once I was running on a trail in the middle of winter; it was snowing and my eyelashes got all frosty and I was like, ‘Ahhhh!’ I felt intensely beautiful.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

How did you meet your husband?
Nine years ago, my sister was going bowling with some friends and I joined them. Kelsey picked us up at our door; our conversation naturally flowed, and he was super cute. We’ve been friends ever since. When I was in the ICU, he immediately flew home to be there for me, and I realized that he was the perfect person for me in this new life. He’s strong and adventurous and isn’t going to limit me or let me limit myself. I proposed to him the ICU, and he said, ‘Of course!’

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

Tell us about your wedding look.
I didn’t wear a dress; I wore things that worked with my body, including a gorgeous 1920’s embroidered silk robe that Kelsey had bought for me when I was in the ICU. I made a crown made of flowers from my dad’s garden. My photographer, a longtime friend and mentor, actually stepped up to do my hair! She understands curly hair and did a knock-out job. Having her and another best friend lovingly spritz and curl my hair made me feel so loved.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

Where did you get married?
At the dog park, of all places. Rapid City has a gorgeous dog park next to a creek. Surrounded by dogs, laughter and family, marrying the hottest guy I have ever met, I felt so beautiful.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

That’s wonderful.
The only catch was that we forgot to use waterproof mascara.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

What did the women in your family teach you about beauty?
My mom would often say to my sister and me, ‘You’d look beautiful even in a paper bag.” And that attitude of ‘you’re perfect just the way you are’ cuts out a lot of bullshit. Women sometimes feel like they’re not valued for much more than their exterior because that’s what’s praised and promoted in the media, and I’m ready to get past that.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

What do you wish people knew about disability?
One thing that shocked me is the amount of nerve pain that I have. Most people don’t think that a person can feel any part of their body that’s paralyzed. But I have very intense pain in all my paralyzed body every waking moment. My legs have been stinging all morning and it feels like there’s a tight band around my line of injury and I have fireworks in my feet. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been sitting in an icy cold creek for eight hours.

That sounds really hard.
At the beginning, I was also afraid to identify with being disabled. At the hospital, my body was covered up with blankets and honestly, I identified more with a rotisserie chicken than a human being. Inside, I felt like I was the exact same person as before my accident. But a few months afterward, I started to want to meet more people in wheelchairs. And have interesting conversations about what your body is doing or solutions you’ve found or just how much this sucks! Now I feel really positive about being part of this community, and I just joined the ADA committee that advises the mayor.

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

How would you describe yourself now?
Amputee, spinal cord injury survivor, designer, artist, (former) female construction worker. Lover of the earth and beauty and poetry. An avid seeker of truth. And a dog mom!

My Beauty Uniform: Leah Nixon Fitzgerald

Thank you so much, Leah!

P.S. More beauty uniforms, including hilarious writer Samantha Irby and chef Samin Nosrat.

(Photos courtesy of Leah Nixon Fitzgerald. Wedding photos taken by Jacques, Annie and Philip Daniel.)

  1. GL says...

    Leah, your story, strength, and confidence in spite of many challenges is so beautiful and inspiring to me. Thank you also for being an advocate for the ADA community.

  2. Lovely post. Keep the good work flowing dear.

  3. Karen Atkins says...

    Leah, you may remember me from your Wash U days; I am Rachel Atkins’ mother and I met you once when you were painting a mural in a Church in St. Louis. In any event, I have followed your exploits and am so happy that you are still painting and have found so much love and joy in life, especially after your accident. You are an amazing person and I am proud to have met you!! Take care, enjoy your wonderful husband and animals, and keep up your work for those with disabilities. You can do anything you put your mind to. Now, I’m going to check out your website for those cards you make!! Love and luck, Karen Atkins

    • Emma says...

      Karen, you don’t know me, but I appreciate you sharing this comment. It brightens my day anytime I see a comment on Cup of Jo about St. Louis. I didn’t know she lived here! Thank you for sharing the goodwill.

  4. Jean says...

    Love this so, so much.

  5. LK says...

    Candid, and eye opening! Thank you for telling us about your journey – and your outfits!

  6. Becca says...

    Lovely post as always! Brought a smile to my face today. xx

  7. Alison says...

    OK whoa. I have had flaky eyebrows for-ev-er and I just sort of accepted that it will always be like this. Buying NOW and thank you for that weird but incredibly relevant piece of advice :)

    • Leah says...

      YAY!!! Seriously, I hope it helps you like it did for me! I was hoping that someone would benefit from me being open about that! Makes it worth it. Let me know how if goes!

  8. Jess says...

    What a beautiful story. Leah, I admire your bravery – proposing to your husband! Being a female construction worker! You are a badass, never forget it.

  9. Allie Ladio @minimallie says...

    Leah! So happy to see you here!

    I’ve been in touch with Leah since our Tinyhouse days. Watching her journey has been inspiring at every turn. And Tiny & Snail cards are absolute perfection, I hope everyone goes to check them out! And these comments are giving me the warm and fuzzies I needed so badly tonight :-D

    • Leah says...

      Awww, yay! So fun to “see” familiar faces in these comments! :)

  10. Robin says...

    Leah – I’m sure you or your doctor have considered this, but just in case. I have Multiple Sclerosis and tons of nerve pain. The pain is particularly bad around my ribcage. I started Cymbalta and Gabapentin and in combination, they have worked wonders for me. I also take CBD oil.

    • Leah says...

      I have basically tried everything, and Cymbalta and Lyrica together have been the “best case scenario” even though there are some days that the pain gets super annoying (yesterday it was driving me crazy!)
      I have tried CBD oil, but I haven’t noticed a difference with it. I think it really helps certain people, and others it doesn’t really have an effect on…
      Thanks for the suggestions though! Good luck with your nerve pain. I hope that there will be better answers in the future!

  11. miranda says...

    the part about her husband made my cry <3

  12. Susan says...

    Leah, Thank you for sharing your story. I shared it with my daughter, who also uses a wheelchair due to paralysis. She says you are “cool,” high praise from my girl. I agree with her.

    We want to share a fashion find with you – Max Studio makes dresses that work really well for women in wheelchairs. Every season a few of their dress styles are cut with elastic waists with lots of fabric, often empire style. They do not feel tight or leave pressure marks, which is so important when you can’t feel in that area. My girl likes dresses with sleeves because she always feels cold, and most of this style of dress has sleeves. The fabrics are pretty and feel silky like a good rayon. They wash like a dream, especially if you hang them to dry, and come out wrinkle-free. They last forever, seemingly. You can find them online at their own website or at a better price at Nordstrom Rack or Ross. She often wears them with Irish wool cardigan sweaters which have a tight knit and are very warm. Ebay is a great source for both the dresses and cardigans.

    • Ooh! Thanks for the tip! Definitely going to look at Max Studio dresses now!

  13. Alison says...

    “Just an acceptance of life on life’s terms”. Wow. The fact that Leah’s aunt came back to repeatedly comment is my favorite thing about this post. What a special family. I could not love this more.

    • Leah says...

      Haha, awww, yes! My family is so supportive. Much rather be loved than beautiful any day. It’s interesting how love and beauty go hand in hand for me.

  14. Beautiful, inspiring, thought provoking – makes me want to go out and hug everyone right now. Thank you for sharing your painful and full of LIFE story. I’d like to hug your Mom too with her “You’d look beautiful in a paper bag” saying.
    Cup of Jo, your blog continues to be a thoughtful highlight of my time online. :-) x

    • Leah says...

      I wish we could go and hug everyone right now! Dang covid. I miss hugs.

  15. Beautiful interview, fabulous story and wonderful photos! ThankYou for highlighting our beautiful, inspiring, talented, tenacious, gorgeous, LEAH NIXON FITZGERALD!
    Yes, I may be slightly biased, as Leah is my darling niece!?
    We have all learned so much from this amazing soul.

    She is a seeker of truth, beauty and love. She also comes from
    a “role model family”
    No “Poor me” whining or crying (well sometimes?) from this crew!
    Just an acceptance of life on lifes terms. Leah and her family are truly an inspiration to all of us!

    • You have always been one of my biggest fans, Auntie! Grateful for you, always. Thank you for your love and for cheering me on – and for always appreciating my art, ever since I was little!

    • Beez says...

      Awww, this comment brought tears to my eyes! I’m childfree by choice but I’m lucky to have 3 nieces and 2 nephews (so far!), and this is exactly the kind of aunt I hope to be.

      Also, Leah, you’re awesome and I love your hair. :)

  16. Sandra Kaye-Kjarum Seidel says...

    LOVED EVERY WORD OF THIS STORY BUT SHE FORGOT TO SAY “Loved by the hottest man!” in her description. Her mom is also brilliant : )

    • Haha aw that’s super true! Good catch. I lucked out with him FOR SURE. (And I’m so glad Mom is getting lots of props in these comments – she has shaped me so much and deserves heaps of recognition.)

  17. Sheri says...

    Beautiful. One of my favourites.

  18. Beautiful. The photo of you crying at your wedding made me cry. ?

    • Leah says...

      My goodness there was SO MUCH crying at my wedding! hahaha I was just so grateful that I hadn’t died before I got married to Kelsey.

  19. Jen says...

    Thank you, Leah! Your obvious commitment to all things good, heartfelt, and true is so empowering. Thank you for your work with the ADA advocating for people of all abilities. Sending love!

    • Leah says...

      I had so many instances in the hospital that I had to speak up for myself– it’s been a struggle against institutions, but it has taught me how to speak up advocate for myself and others. I feel privileged that I have a voice to do so!

  20. lavaroxny says...

    This is beautiful. I’ve been on and off emotional about it all day. I found the story so moving and the dogs precious. Thank you for giving me something to focus on during these weird times: how precious life and dogs can be despite difficulties.

    • Leah says...

      Awwww! I’m so glad that it brought a little light to you.
      We just could NOT get the dogs to all sit at the same time, lol!

  21. Sasha L says...

    I started following Tiny and Snail when I first got Instagram in 2017, and ever since they have been my very favorite account. I remember the day intensely, the day they posted about Leah’s accident, and then all the details…. It just didn’t seem real or possible. I remember crying and crying for this stranger. Tbh, the account still makes me cry on the regular, as did this post!, because I just love them both so much – everything they stand for. And just so much positivity and beauty always. Of all the internet people that I feel like I know through social media, Grace and Leah are the two at the top of my I wish I could meet list.

    Jo, thank you so much for featuring Leah here! This is easily my favorite post ever, made my whole week.

    • Oh my gosh, Sasha, this is the NICEST!!! You just made my entire day, week, month. I swear we have the best people on the internet following our Tiny and Snail Instagram feed and you just proved it. Maybe we’ll get to meet you someday irl. :) xoxoxo Grace/Snail

    • Sasha L says...

      I hope so Grace!! We’re practically neighbors (I’m over in Montana)

      Thank you so much for sharing your work and your lives and your hope with all of us!

    • Leah says...

      Aww, thank you Sasha! It’s amazing to be able to bring strangers on this wild journey! I’d love to meet you sometime!

  22. Thank you for this story. Leah…you are brave and you are inspiring!

  23. Jane says...

    Leah, I feel compelled to add my comment to the mix too…I was in the middle of nursing my newborn daughter Betsy when I got to the part where you described the accident – Betsy started to cry, as did I imagining such a horrible accident happening to her…but as Betsy got her burp out and I kept reading I actually felt so much hope. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Being a Christ follower, it is amazing to see God orchestrating so many beautiful details even years prior. PS – I love my husband…but now I love your’s too, what a catch you both are!

    • AMEN! You took the words out of my mouth!
      Leah’s horrific accident is forever etched in my brain!
      She comes from an amazingly beautiful “role model” family!
      They have had more than their share of tragedy in the past two years, yet remain self effacing, optimistic, loving and kind.
      Fortunately, I know them all intimately as Leah is my darling niece, that I have spent lots of time with, since she was an infant!
      And yes, you got that right – two hotties! Leah’s husband, Kelsey is a doll!
      She couldn’t have picked a more loving, dedicated, fun, adventurous person in the world!
      Yay, Leah and Kelsey!?

    • Leah says...

      Kelsey and I were reflecting last night about how suffering can bring about an intense appreciation for life.
      At least it has for us.
      We question why God allows suffering, but I think it is allowed because it makes “resurrection” (of all kinds!) so much more beautiful and meaningful.

  24. elke says...

    I’ve been feeling really bleak this week, and that photo with her wedding attendants and all the dogs is giving me life! Thank you!!

    • Leah says...

      It was IMPOSSIBLE to get them all to sit at the same time! lol

  25. Monica says...

    I love this so, so much. Thanks for sharing, Leah! That flower crown is beyond gorgeous.

    • Leah says...

      Thank you! It was so fun to sit around the table and create flower crowns for the day of. :)

  26. Nade says...

    Ladies, I just wanted to say that Tiny and Snail stationary is incredibly beautiful! Greeting cards, stamps, all of it! This is on the one of greeting cards, ““Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.” Psalm 23:6”

    • THANK YOU, Nade! I feel like I’m living in a dream, getting to illustrate for my *actual* job (!) and spread beauty in this way. It’s really a gift. Sometimes the best things happen in the craziest of ways…

  27. Quinn says...

    Gee, I just love this! What an incredible woman.

  28. Jackie says...

    What a lovely, courageous soul – both Leah and her entire community. Thank you for sharing this beauty uniform – it’s one of my favorites by far!

  29. Ash says...

    I love the evolution of this series and how it documents all the various forms beauty takes in our society. I grateful Cup of Jo recognizes and values beauty in all its incredible different shapes, sizes, shades, and sizes. xoxo

    • AMEN!! I am sick to death of the “Hollywood” portrayal of beauty! It’s all so artificial and fake.
      One good thing about this pandemic is seeing “celebrities ” broadcasting from home with no makeup or artificial props! Pretty amazing to see – they are just ordinary plain looking folks without all that artificial glamour!

      As Leah’s Mom told her and her sister, Grace – “You would be beautiful with a paper bag over your head” ??
      And that’s the truth! Fortunately, Leah and Grace are blessed with external beauty, however they are also as gorgeous on the inside!!
      Yay, Leah and Grace.?

    • Leah says...

      I love that Joanna is shifting it too! I think/hope that we as a culture are starting to move towards “healthy= beautiful.” I think ultimately, the happier and healthier (physically, spiritually, emotionally) I am, the more beautiful I feel.

  30. K says...

    so lovely, badass, resilient, brave.

  31. Mims says...

    Wow, I want to be Leah when I grow up. I love her wedding attire and the whole bridal party too! That picture of her and her sister!

    • Grace says...

      I smiled when I saw that your uniform is target t-shirt dresses–my mom uses a wheelchair and that’s her uniform too! Last week I came downstairs and we were matching in black and white striped ones… neither of us changed, haha.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ha, I love that grace!

    • Leah says...

      Awww! thanks! :)

  32. Rusty says...

    Okay…THIS is THE BEST beauty uniform, ever.
    The ‘uniform’ is humanity and vulnerability.
    The beauty is Leah’s soul. Seriously, I can feel it, all the way here in Australia.

    Leah, my hair used to be dead straight until I had chemo. It didn’t fall out, it thinned, but…it went curly and stayed that way – some unique change to the roots?! Anyway, seeing you be so comfortable in your curls, which are so much like mine, made me reach a new level of loving my curls.

    Thank you Joanna and Leah! ❤❤

    • Sasha L says...

      You nailed it!

    • Leah says...

      So glad you loved it! Joanna did any amazing job putting it all together. I’m happy that I can be a voice that calls attention to a deeper sense of beauty.

  33. Claire says...

    What a beautiful post and I loved looking at Leah’s stationery shop! Joanna, could you do a roundup post of lovely small brands doing cool things these days? You always have such a good eye and it would be awesome to support some great small businesses these days!

    • Leah says...

      LOVE THAT IDEA!

  34. Claire says...

    What a powerful installment in this series. You’ve got some grit, Leah. Grit is beauty. Thank you for being willing to tell your story. I will check out Tiny & Snail.

    • Leah says...

      Yes! Grit has gotten me so far.

  35. LBD says...

    Thank you. Thank you again. What a crazy beautiful woman!

    • Leah says...

      Awww, Thanks!

  36. Court says...

    I’m dying over the 1920’s silk robe and her facial expression of tears at her wedding! So beautiful!!!!

    • Leah says...

      It was just the exact right thing for me to wear! I felt like an absolute princess from the 1920s.

    • Leah says...

      <3

  37. Julie says...

    I think this is the best beauty uniform yet — I love her dog, her hair, her farm style, her wedding photos, and am so inspired by her resilience. Leah, thank you for sharing!

  38. Rachel Hauge says...

    Thank you. The shift in the tone of these beauty uniforms from – here is a list of products – to – here is what makes my life unique, vibrant and BEAUTIFUL – is so very much appreciated.

    • joy says...

      Agree 100%. I used to skip the beauty uniform series because I just cannot get that into a zillion different skin care products or whatever. The rubric has become more more varied and interesting. I appreciate it.

    • Leah says...

      It’s nice to focus on beauty that accessible for free- the kind of beauty that never gets old. I’m so glad I got to reflect on what makes me feel the most beautiful, inside and out.

  39. Lorraine says...

    What an inspiring woman! It is always amazing to see stories of unfathomable resilience – such signs of hope in this world.

  40. Becky Rainer says...

    Beautiful woman with an amazing story. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  41. Julie says...

    The wedding photos are joyous, and Leah your husband is CU-YUTE. Love this!

  42. Courtney says...

    What a beautiful piece and woman! Thank you for featuring her.

  43. Jackie says...

    Thank you for sharing. I LOVE the way you and your husband look at each other! The love you share shines through!

    • Leah says...

      I see him with almost the exact same puppy-love as when I first met him!

  44. Cathy says...

    Beautiful, simply beautiful.

  45. MB says...

    Goodness, this was really moving. I wonder if CoJ might think about doing a piece on ‘resilience’/moving forward after a major life change/loss. I’ve struggled mightily this last year after the sudden loss of my mom and am only just realizing how many people all around me are adjusting to a world they didn’t expect to find themselves in.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Great idea, MB. And I’m so sorry for your loss xoxo

  46. Jules says...

    totally what a beauty form should be :) Loved this!

  47. Lucy W says...

    What a great post! Thank you so much for sharing with us Leah ♥ – this made my morning.

  48. Lu says...

    She seems so wonderful!

  49. keri says...

    The quote about the dog hair… getting married in a dog park! Can we be friends??
    I love this so much

  50. S says...

    Your mom raised exceptionally grounded, strong daughters. Love that you went after what you wanted, proposing to your now husband, in the ICU no less! Thank you for the insight into your disability. Wishing you much success in your business and life! Glad you are past all the bulls@#t. Letting go of what other people think is so freeing.

  51. Alice says...

    Her dog is SO flipping cute, and I absolutely love this. I know this is said on EVERY beauty uniform, but I love how you don’t just focus on the products etc, rather HOLISTIC beauty. And her hair is awesome :)

  52. Agnès says...

    Leah, you’re such a great artist, I love your cards! Dog hair every where? I couldn’t do that ;-) but I can see how happy animals and nature make you. Nature gives us power.

  53. Jennifer says...

    What a gem! Such a beautiful human being

  54. Kate says...

    This has me in tears. What a beautiful woman, and the love that she and her husband share jumps off the photos. Thank you for sharing this with us Leah, and CoJ xxxx

  55. Jessica says...

    Wouldn’t it be cool if CoJ made a book out of all these Beauty Uniforms?

    • LBD says...

      Oh! Yes! Please!

  56. Tess says...

    Thanks for sharing — this was so lovely to read.
    Plus, Lucy looks so much like our dog Finn! ❤️

  57. liz says...

    Go, Leah! You’re an inspiration, and you have a really cute dog, and are super beautiful. Love!

  58. Tami says...

    You are so brave Leah. I admire you for so many reasons.
    And, those pups just make me smile. xo

  59. Cathy says...

    Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

  60. Susannah says...

    My girls and I loved the pictures of the “dog wedding ” haha! I love how animals get to the heart of it and love us for showing compassion and kindness, love when we slow down, get outside, snuggle up. The important things. Thanks for sharing your story!

  61. Laura says...

    Thank you so much for the link to the sympathy cards Tiny and Snail make! A lot of people I know are experiencing loss and hardship right now and I can never seem to find a card that expresses the right sentiment- these are great and so pretty.

  62. Laura says...

    Thank you so much for the link to the sympathy cards Tiny and Snail make! A lot of people I know are experiencing loss and hardship right now and I can never seem to find a card that expresses the right sentiment- these are great and so pretty.

  63. Carolyn Dorsett says...

    Your interview with Leah Nixon Fitzgerald is wonderful. Great questions and wonderful, illuminating answers! I am old enough to be her grandmother and following her is inspiring and life affirming!

  64. Addy says...

    I love to hear from such an earnest and good soul. She radiates something so light and awesome; I loved reading this post. Thanks for introducing us to this very special person.

    • Ari says...

      Ditto. You took the words right out of my mouth.

  65. Gemma says...

    Leah, you’re so cool and I love your cute curly cut. Thank for sharing your story with us. All the best for you and Kelsey ❤️!

  66. Hollie says...

    UGH. I LOVE THIS. Leah, hope this isn’t taken the wrong way but I don’t feel sorry for you at all. Some parts suck, other parts don’t. Just like everyone’s life. I love how you talk about your partner, and your work, and your awakening to being part of the disability community. Thank you for sharing!

  67. Kristine says...

    So beautiful. Leah, her sister, her mom, her husband, and the dog hair. Made me think of the Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.

  68. Susannah says...

    My girls and I loved the pictures of the “dog wedding ” haha! I love how animals get to the heart of it and love us for our compassion and kindness, love when we slow down, get outside, snuggle up. The important things that anyone, any age, any ability can provide. Thanks for sharing your story!

  69. Fiona says...

    This is the most beautiful and perfect post I think I’ve ever seen on CoJ, and I think I’ve been a follower for 10 years. Just no words. Thank you Leah!

  70. Margaret Newton says...

    I didn’t realize you could have nerve pain like that in the paralyzed parts of your body. Thank you for sharing. And I love that you proposed to your husband :)

  71. Tanya says...

    Leah, you are amazing. I am really inspired by your wisdom and I love your style. After a day of feeling sad about the coronavirus and politics, you have reminded me what a gift this life is. Thank you! And thank you Cup of Jo for highlighting another incredible person.

  72. Allie says...

    I loved this. The wedding photo with all of the dogs and beautiful humans with flowers in their hair totally choked me up.

  73. Holly says...

    Love, love, love….

  74. Saba says...

    I love this! Especially the proposal story. Also, you have my dream hair Leah.

  75. Em says...

    This article is amazing, but Leah’s work with Tiny & Snail just brought me to tears. I haven’t read anything as soothing, poignant, or beautiful as this card in a while. I’ve immediately bought packs of it to send to everyone I know – it feels like the ultimate card for right now. Thank you for this beautiful work Leah!

    https://tinyandsnail.com/product/new-unknowns-group/

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Agreed, so beautiful!

  76. Tyler says...

    Leah is awesome! Great profile. Love the bit about the dog drawing people in. Its so true… I couldn’t believe how many people smiled and talked to me after I got a dog. (Side note, my dog is very cute and a bit unique, people often yell out compliments from moving vehicles. It’s insane, ha!)

  77. FGB says...

    Love this. Thank you for introducing us to Leah!

  78. Sarah says...

    THIS IS AMAZING. Leah, your depth of character and the recognition that beauty is… just all of it- dog hair & nerve pain & love & grief & art & honesty. I’ve always loved the “beauty” series on CoJ because I am a curious human and getting to look inside someone’s makeup bag is a treat, but lately… damn. I just feel like CoJ is showing us that a beauty uniform is so much more than skin deep. Thank you Leah and CoJ for sharing.

    • Sara says...

      Ditto, Sarah.

      Leah, YES. Thank you for sharing your strength, honesty and resiliency. You’re the kind of lady I’d love to be friends with.

    • jane says...

      Well said.
      The admiration I have for your ICU proposal is just: wow. Way to go.
      And I also enjoyed all the awkward photo’s and your little black dog!
      As well, the tiny news-flash cards are genius!

  79. Lura J says...

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself Leah! Can you tell us more about the scarf in the second photo? Love the fabric.

    • Kate says...

      On her Instagram (linked to her name in the CoJ post), she says that it’s a bandana face mask from Baylie Blossom & Co. She has lots of inspiring Instagram posts!

  80. Joanna, you did SUCH a beautiful job with this interview – thank you for featuring one of my absolute FAVORITE people on earth! It buoys my heart so so much to see Leah’s stunning beauty and wisdom shared with the world. Much love, Grace/Snail/Leah’s sister and biggest fan :)

  81. JS says...

    I loved every single word and photo! What a beautiful and inspiring woman. I needed to read this today.

  82. Andrea says...

    So much love in all these photos!

    The orange cat is a scene stealer…

  83. Alison Cooper-Mullin says...

    Leah, I just looked at your website and you have a tiny card that says “You Are a Badass.” You should paper a wall with these for yourself! Loved this Beauty Uniform.

  84. Kelly says...

    What a beautiful, strong and inspiring lady! Thank you cup of jo for sharing such diverse stories <3

  85. This was so much fun! I loved the part about proposing to her husband in the ICU! Wow. And how her mom told her and her sister that they’d be beautiful even wearing a paper bag. I say that kind of stuff to my 4-year-old daughter and I hope it sticks. :)

  86. Nicole says...

    Thanks for this, and for addressing some of the difficulties with spinal cord injuries. My mom has an SCI, and the amount of nerve pain she has can be as debilitating as the injury itself. It’s not an easy life, but it’s so good to see Leah thriving! Love the daily dance parties and the wedding story:)

    As an aside, I am curious about the Ember mug- I so want one, but many reviews mention flaking of the inside. Anyone?

    • Annabelle says...

      I’ve had mine for two years and no flaking.

  87. Ramona says...

    I think I would add Teacher to your list. Thank you for sooo much information about so many things in this post. I wish you a happy, blessed life! ?

  88. Wendela says...

    Beautiful person, lovely to learn about her. This is the kind of beauty uniform I love best- real women who are strong and brave and beautiful, and not in a commercialized way but in a very authentic way. Also, How can you not love someone who married at a (gorgeous, verdant) dog park. Dogs are the best. This made me feel a bit better about the world today.

  89. Mallory Schulte says...

    I cannot contain my excitement at seeing a South Dakota woman featured on Cup of Jo. I hail from the other side of the state in Yankton.

  90. Annie says...

    So many tears reading this beauty uniform – Leah’s beauty shines in this interview and pictures! Thank you for a look into her life!

  91. Joanna says...

    Leah’s hair is gorgeous! What a cool woman.

  92. Jennifer says...

    What a strong woman! I loved reading her story. Thanks for sharing, Leah! And your wedding pics brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful wedding party, dresses and photos.

  93. Priya says...

    LEAH!!!!! It’s amazing to see you on here. I loved hearing about your beauty philosophy, your recovery, your continued love of nature, and your husband! Been reading this blog for years, first time commenting. I’m in Minneapolis, please let me know if you’re in town, would love to see you.

  94. LS says...

    Inspirational story notwithstanding, lots of love from a fellow devoted dog mom :) !!!

  95. This is so beautiful. I had never heard of Tiny and Snail before but it looks amazing!

  96. Cara says...

    Ah, this means a lot to me. What a cool, beautiful human being. I loved hearing her story!

  97. Court says...

    I think this is my favorite so far. Thanks, CoJ for seeking out a variety of inspirational people!

  98. Sarz says...

    Leah, you sound – and look awesome. A fellow dog person, spinal injury survivor, stationary aficionado, curly haired gal? There’s a whole lot to latch onto here. Much love to you and your adorable family. :-*

  99. Rachael says...

    This was an amazing post. I loved the quote about dog hair, as a fellow dog mom, and I loved hearing about Leah.

  100. Amy says...

    Beautiful person and wardrobe. Thank you for highlighting Leah, Cup of Jo.

  101. Robin says...

    What a beautiful girl! I am obsessed with her wedding day look… and totally teared up when she said Kelsey had even bought the robe. I love that the look she chose was about what made her feel good. Searching for the “perfect” white dress (because it’s “tradition”??) was not enjoyable for me at all!

  102. Erica says...

    “You’d look beautiful in a paper bag” made me laugh and think of Rose’s Trader Joe’s bag dress from the other day (she did indeed look stunning!)

    So thankful for all these smart, funny, awesome women we get to meet via Cup of Jo.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, ha! I hadn’t put that together! love it. :)

  103. Valerie says...

    Just beautiful – both Leah and her mindset! She reminds us how important it is to be grateful for the abundance we have in our lives. “Abundance” means different things to different people, but it’s there if we take a moment to recognize it.

    • Jackie says...

      Absolutely Valerie – I came on to say the same thing. What struck me was how grateful Leah, especially the part where she said she was thankful for her arms. Very powerful.

  104. Amy says...

    I tend to avoid talking about my daughters’ physical appearances altogether, but I should probably be more vocal about their beauty. My parents never said much about it either; partly to reduce the importance of our looks and partly to avoid vanity, maybe? I guess out of a reluctance to do the wrong thing, I’ve just done nothing.

    • Gretchen says...

      My mom never did either, for similar reasons, but I definitely wish she had! If I have daughters, I plan to tell them they’re beautiful as well as smart and capable and so many other things!

    • CEW says...

      It’s a toughie, and I don’t think there’s a *perfect* way to handle it. As with everything parenting, sigh. I’m the parent of a boy so I do have the luxury of not worrying as much* – I call him handsome, lovely, beautiful, stunning – and also so smart, helpful, considerate, kind, charming… I think a solid mix of both is perfectly fine.

      I definitely abide by that whole “pretty is not the rent you pay to exist” quote and very rarely do more looks-wise than just shower & brush my teeth…my physical attributes feel secondary to my personality. But I still appreciate being told I’m cute!

      Still, totally loved the paper bag line as well. I think that’s great. Whatever you do, I’m sure your girls know they’re loved & cherished. ^_^

      * Please note I’m fully aware boys can develop body dysmorphia, etc., but I don’t feel constant worry about giving the exact right compliments 24/7 as I think I would with a little girl.

    • Allie says...

      My parents “trained” me and my sister (in a semi-joking way) to respond with, “And smart, too!” whenever they told us we were beautiful. It always made us laugh. Turns out we really are both those things:)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so cute, Allie!

    • Marisa says...

      The other day my son was telling his dog, Lucy, how pretty she is, and I chimed in with “and smart too!” hahaha :)

    • Ruth says...

      My mother told me at my sisters wedding that she and my father decided to never tell me I was pretty because they were afraid it would go to my head. The result was that I only got compliments like that from creepy dudes and saw it as a liability that I had to hide.

      It took a boyfriend who openly appreciated my beauty (while also affirming my mind) for me to learn how to enjoy it myself.

      There is a balance. Tell your daughters they look lovely when they look lovely.

    • Kate says...

      I believe in telling my children (a boy and a girl) ALL OF THE COMPLIMENTS. Because your Mom’s opinion is one that sticks like glue for a lifetime. They both get: you are GORGEOUS, you are INTELLIGENT, you are COURAGEOUS, you must be HUMBLE, but you can do ANY OF THE THINGS.

    • Claire says...

      My parents (both of them) told me that I was beautiful (typically mom) or looked nice today (dad), and also praised me for my intelligence. I think having the reminder of both from my parents was lovely!

    • Susan says...

      The best way to teach children is with praise. So praise them! Be lavish with it – praise their good behavior; their art; their music; their school work; their kindness to friends and animals; their good looks; their attempts to beautify themselves even when they are four years old and stick 20 barrettes in their hair at once! I can’t think of a better way to build confidence.

  105. Sara says...

    This is so, so beautiful and inspiring. Thank you so much, Leah, for sharing your story!!

    • Gill F. says...

      Tiny and Snail!! So awesome to see Leah here. And thank you so so much for featuring strong disabled ladies on your site. I’ve been having a really tough week with my own chronically ill wonky body and this confidence and energy and comfortableness in a body that doesn’t fit the norm but is still amazing is exactly what I needed to see ❤️

  106. Silver says...

    Leah, you sound like an awesome human being – reading this I get the feeling you are someone who follows through on whatever you decide. I think the fact that you’ve just joined the committee that advises the Mayor says it all. I’m really sorry to read about all your nerve pain, that has to be a constant drain on your energy and spirit, and I really hope you find something that works towards minimising that. Thanks for sharing some of your story and that quote about dog hair, I loved it.

  107. Ange says...

    gorgeoooous! not to be a huge PITA but the link to the toothbrush appears to be wrong? thanks!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, Ange! fixed!

  108. Emma says...

    Such a beautiful and fabulous woman, she is someone who truly understands life and what it means…a role model for sure!

    • Kathryn Bagg says...

      My son is paraplegic. He suffered excruciating nerve pain. Tried many solutions including a pump. Nothing helped until an understanding neurosurgeon did a myelotomy . It changed my son’s life for the better.

      Wishing you well Leah.

  109. Hayley says...

    Leah! Grace! Tiny and Snail! Dance parties! Have been so inspired by these sisters for a long, long time.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      their dance parties are so invigorating!

  110. Anna says...

    Thank you for sharing your story Leah. I loved reading your proposal story. Sending love and gratitude your way.

  111. Jill says...

    I LOVE THIS. So many ways to be beautiful in this life.