Mahogany Geter, a model in Tennessee, spent her childhood avoiding mirrors.
“I felt hideous, like a freak of nature,” Geter, 25, tells TODAY.com.
Geter was born with lymphedema in her left leg, which she says caused it to eventually swell to 100 pounds.
“When I’m out in public, people stare at me. There’s a lot of pointing — and I’m talking about adults here,” Geter says. “Kids have the courage to ask me questions.”
The Mayo Clinic describes the medical condition as a swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the body’s tissues. It generally occurs in arms or legs, but can also affect the chest wall, abdomen, neck and genitals.
“Some cases are mild. Mine is very noticeable,” Geter says.
Geter's lymphedema was detected right after she was born.
"What I’ve been told by my mother is that doctors were able to notice it because one footprint was bigger than the other," she says.
For years, Geter only wore pants and long skirts — she was terrified to show her bare leg in public. But that changed in 2017, when Geter was approached by a professional photographer wanting to help her build out a modeling portfolio.
“I was completely skeptical,” Geter recalls. “I remember thinking, 'Why would someone want to take pictures of me?’”
But a few days later, with encouragement from her family, Geter gave the photographer a call.
It was a decision that would ultimately change her life.
"I discovered there was this confident, bad bitch inside of me," she reveals.
Geter began booking jobs and started posting pictures of herself on social media to raise awareness about lymphedema. She says there are many misconceptions about the chronic condition.
“People think that only plus-size people have lymphedema, but lymphedema doesn’t choose a body type,” she explains. “I’ve also been told that the devil gave me this disease. I’ll get messages about healers that I should work with in other countries.”
Lymphedema is not curable, according to Lauren Gressley, a nurse practitioner in the vascular surgery department at Corewell Health in Michigan. However, it can be managed with complete decongestive therapy (CDT). CDT includes a variety of techniques including compression and manual lymphatic drainage, a type of gentle massage which moves lymphatic fluid in the right direction. Gressley is not involved Geter’s care.
Geter says she manages her lymphedema with manual lymphatic drainage. She also wears compression socks that help the fluid move to an area that is draining properly.
Geter dreams of doing a photoshoot with supermodel Winnie Harlow. Harlow lives with vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes loss of skin color in patches. Geter, like Harlow, wants to redefine beauty.
"She's definitely an inspiration," Geter says. "I'd cry if I ever worked with her."