Sara Geurts was just 10 years old when she was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome - a lifelong condition causing pain and sagging skin.
At the time, she embraced her illness (“I just thought it was cool that no one else had skin like me,” she told HuffPost UK) but that attitude soon changed.
In her teens and early 20s, she truly hated her body and disorder - a particularly low point was when she turned 22 and went through a breakup.
It’s safe to say Geurts has come a long way since then. Now a model, the 26-year-old loves her body and couldn’t be more proud of it. Her Instagram is testament to that, filled with numerous photos of Geurts proudly baring her skin.
The model from Minnesota first noticed her symptoms when she was seven years old, however it took three years for her to be officially diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS).
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“Being so young, I didn’t really grasp my diagnosis,” she explained. “It wasn’t until I experienced herniated disks in senior year that I really started to educate myself.”
EDS affects connective tissues in the body, which provide support to the skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs and bones.
There are several types of EDS, which share some symptoms. Typically, these include an increased range of joint movement, stretchy skin and fragile skin that breaks or bruises easily.
According to the NHS, the condition can affect people in different ways. For some, it can be relatively mild, while for others it can be disabling and even life-threatening.
Geurts, for example, experiences pain every day. “From joint pain to back pain, even stomach pains, it’s basically daily life,” she said.
“I work a regular office job and even with sitting for the majority of the day, I still have my moments. I can’t keep my legs crossed for too long or my knees will start to pop out. It’s the same with driving and using my driving foot.
“I usually try to move around every couple of hours when at the office, as my herniated disks prove to be problematic.”
The condition also affects her sleep pattern and diet, to the point where she feels constantly exhausted and in pain.
Despite this, she insists she wouldn’t have it any other way: “I am more comfortable in my skin than ever and absolutely love my disorder. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
It’s taken a huge shift in mindset for Geurts to learn to love her body. Her breakup in her early twenties proved pivotal, especially when her cousin, a model in New York, urged her to submit her story to the ‘LoveYourLines’ campaign, which praises people’s imperfections.
“Once I had submitted my story, my whole mindset started to change,” she explained. “I realised that hating my body and my disorder caused a hazardous blockade with my friendships and relationships.
“After my submission, numerous individuals began reaching out, from people with EDS to those with other disorders. It was then that I knew my venture was no longer about me - it’s about all of us.”
Geurts is now helping others learn to love their bodies, by sharing inspiration and empowering posts to her 10,000 followers on Instagram. She has four pieces of advice for women when it comes to owning their beauty.
“A very wise woman once told me ‘the journey to self-love is never over’ and this is a saying I truly believe,” she said. “You don’t just wake up one morning suddenly with a different mindset. It’s a process, one that takes time and one I feel is never truly over.
“I’d also say be gentle with yourself. Self-love is a process, which means you have to be patient with yourself. You can’t just assume your mindset will change overnight, you have to nurture it too.”
She added it’s important to rid yourself of toxic friendships: “Only keep those who support you close. Having individuals around you that don’t help you sustain your mentality, or don’t support your new vision of yourself, can be hazardous to your journey.
″Lastly, say ‘I am beautiful’ every day, no matter the hour and believe it.”