Marsha Elle never thought she would ever see herself posing for Playboy.
The model was born with a proximal femoral focal deficiency, a condition that impacted how her right leg was growing. Consequently, the limb was amputated and she was given her first prosthetic leg at 5 years old. She endured years of insecurity and didn’t wear shorts until age 23.
But life took an unexpected turn when she started posing for cameras. Not only was Jada Pinkett Smith a supporter, but Jameela Jamil asked her to be the April 2020 Playmate, a role that Elle accepted in hopes of sharing a special message to her nearly 59K followers.
Elle, who proudly calls herself the “bionic model,” spoke to Fox News about appearing in Playboy, why the photos left her speechless and how she gained confidence over the years.
Fox News: It’s been said Jameela Jamil asked you to be a Playboy Playmate for April 2020. What’s the story behind that?
Marsha Elle: She’s just an amazing woman who’s so authentic and caring. We actually met through Instagram where she was beginning her “I Weigh” platform to speak out on social issues, as well as promote body positivity and self-acceptance.
She reached out and asked if I wanted to participate. So we definitely collaborated on that and she ended up becoming more of a mentor. She gave me some advice on being a woman in Hollywood. She was always encouraging me and that was just the beginning of a great friendship.
We ended up meeting in Miami and the relationship just blossomed from there. Five months later, she said, “I’m editing Playboy and I would love to have you be a part of this. No pressure. Just think about it.” I said yes because I felt so confident in her. She understood my position and the message I want to present. She connected me with the editors from Playboy and everything grew from there. We all had a great time making this issue happen.
Fox News: What was her reaction to the photos?
Elle: She couldn’t wait to see them. She’s very proud of them and how we all came together to make this work in such a short amount of time.
Fox News: What about you? How did you react to the photos?
Elle: Honestly, it was surreal. I got chills. It shook me to my core. I kept saying to myself, “This is really me.” I knew I had this confidence but to see it portrayed was remarkable. When you’re shooting, there are so many moving elements so a picture really does tell a thousand words. I think ours said maybe five to 10,000 words. The outcome was wonderful. My family is very proud of them.
I’m proud to share my story and feeling that I don’t have to hide behind baggy clothes. I really felt like I ostracized myself from the world until I went to [amputee] camp early on and met other people like me. I think that really empowered me over the years. I didn’t feel alone. I hope that when people look at me, they can say to themselves, “She overcame her insecurities and now look how far she has gone. I can do the same, too.”
Fox News: Where does your confidence come from?
Elle: My confidence was definitely built over time. After my time in amputee camp, I wrote a song where I expressed how I had to take things in stride and be happy that at least I have a process. Positive affirmations were so helpful. I started with gratitude. I said to myself, “I’m going to let these legs serve me in a positive way.” I started seeking out things in me every day of the week. I would say, “I’m beautiful. I’m trying.”
I started [modeling] at 17, 18 years old. I had this strong belief that my photos would show the confidence that I’m building. And then the photos started going viral. I never thought this would have ever been positive, but my confidence led me to believe in myself… No one desires to be disabled… But that doesn’t take away from your sexuality or sensuality. I want to show people like me, “Hey, you’re beautiful. You can be sexual and sensual. It’s OK to have these feelings. It’s OK to crave having partnerships and relationships. You’re worthy of that.”
Fox News: Jada Pinkett Smith shared one of your photos on Instagram. How does it feel to have someone like her support you?
Elle: It’s so heartwarming. When you’re in an industry like this, sometimes you put so much of yourself into the work that you honestly don’t expect anyone else to notice. … So when she noticed it, that meant something. It was so encouraging.
And look, I wasn’t always so confident. There were times where I was terrified. I would get comments about my leg all the time and your first instinct is to cover it because you feel it looks weird or it’s going to cause people to stare. But I’m trying to break that, escape from that. I just want to look great. I want to be great. And I want to show others they can be, too.
Fox News: If you can go back in time, what message would you give to your younger self?
Elle: Don’t give up. Ever. Don’t stop creating. Even in your darkest, darkest days, find ways to be creative and discover the things that bring out the best of you. Don’t look back at your setbacks and don’t take anything personally.