When disability activist Paula Carazzo, now 28, was 5 years old, she was admitted into hospital in her hometown in Venezuela, to have a tonsillectomy — a routine procedure performed daily by doctors all over the world without issue.
But that day saw Paula’s life change forever. She suffered an injury in the motor cortex region of her brain, which controls the signals that direct the movements of your body. And after waking up from an induced coma a few weeks later, young Paula was completely quadriplegic. “I couldn't move any of my four extremities. I couldn't do much of anything,” Paula explains to HELLO!
Passed from one doctor to the next, Paula’s parents grew frustrated with the lack of care in Venezuela, and decided to move her to the US in the hope of finding answers. This turned out to be a good move. After many surgeries, Paula gained back the use of her arms and she was able to start elementary school by the time she was 6, albeit still restricted to a wheelchair as she still didn’t have full use of her legs.
It was when Paula reached high school that she first realized that she couldn’t let her disability define her, and she discovered that seeing the positives and appreciating the good parts of herself would help her live her best life.
“All of my life, I’ve had comments like: Paula’s too pretty to be disabled; Paula doesn't walk well; Paula’s hips are uneven. But one day I decided to reverse the mindset and tell myself, I kind of think my limp is cute. I am disabled and sexy. It’s about putting yourself first, and comes from a place of redefining things that are negative to be positive.”
Paula’s acceptance of her disability is fuelled by courage and common sense. “I can't walk normally but I think once you accept it, you can see past so many things. I get that having a disability is not fun, but I think a thousand percent self-acceptance has helped. And it comes when you see the thing that you don't accept in a positive light.”
This bright acumen and smart self-reflection has transformed Paula’s career from fashion publicist to disability activist, content creator and model —and she now collaborates with major brands like Victoria’s Secret.
Paula’s latest project for the intimates brand, has seen her help develop their Active Collection which has earned the GAMUT Seal Of Approval - a highly respected trademark that reassures customers who purchase the VS & PINK Adaptive products, that they have met a stringent set of requirements.
"My mental mindset has allowed me to live the life that I am living now, because I never gave myself permission to live like this when I was younger because I wasn’t accepting my disability,” Paula explains.
“When I heard Victoria's Secret wanted me to model, I was like, What? It's really impactful to see that people like me are resonating more with brands. It makes people feel like they fit in somewhere. You have to put yourself into the mindset that you have to be your own role model because nobody's gonna come get you at the end of the day unless you do it for yourself.”
“Start by loving the little things about yourself. You know, whether it's a love handle, whether it's a scar - make a list of the things that you should really love about yourself. Because at the end of the day, it's your body. And your body does a lot for you.
So what’s next for Paula? “Maybe it's writing a book?” she tells HELLO! “About my current life in New York. It's literally going to be Disabled in The City, like the disabled Carrie Bradshaw.”