Niu Yu Photo: Sina Weibo
Niu Yu, 24, became a shining star at Shanghai Fashion Week for her confident and leisurely attitude while striding down the runway sporting a prosthetic leg.
“She is so cool and so pretty.”
Niu’s minute in the spotlight has acquired many compliments on social media, a punch in the nose for prejudice against disabled people.
Niu lost her right leg after she was buried for three days during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. She was 11 years old at that time and a member of the school track and field team who loved running.
On Thursday, she took the stage at Shanghai Fashion Week with her prosthetic limb to complete her first walk down the catwalk. While Niu appeared calm and professional in the audiences’ eyes, but she told the Global Times that actually she was so nervous that she hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before.
Making dreams come true
This is not the first time that Niu has been in the public spotlight. She first grabbed the public’s attention when she completed a marathon in 2018.
The marathon was held in Wenchuan, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, on May 12, 2018, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake. The day was also Niu’s 21th birthday.
Niu attended Shanghai Fashion Week at the invitation of sports brand Pony.
“I was touched by something they said and agreed. They said that traditional views have always connected sports with healthy legs, but sports should be a kind of spirit. Even if I do not have a leg, I still deeply love sports forever,” Niu said.
Niu traveled to Shanghai for the event with her friend. Nervous about appearing on stage the next day, her friend reminded her of a message she received in 2020 from a 19-year-old girl who had lost her right leg.
In the message, the girl said she wanted to become a model one day and walk the catwalk during a fashion show.
The reminder of the girl’s words “Although we are not perfect, we are still pretty” gave Niu renewed confidence to take the catwalk.
When the other models appeared, the audience cheered and applauded, but when it was Niu’s turn, the venue suddenly fell silent. Niu recalled that after four or five seconds, she clearly heard a female audience member next to the stage sigh in admiration, “So cool!”
The video clip of Niu’s catwalk appearance quickly became one of the top three trending topics on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo after it was uploaded on Tuesday. Numerous netizens gave Niu thumbs up as well as similar remarks as the woman in the audience that day, calling her both confident and beautiful.
“She has blooming youth, so pretty!” one Sina Weibo user praised.
Pear, an art critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times that the invitation by the sports brand sets an example for the industry and makes a statement that people should respect and tolerate people with differences and allow them to shine.
This is also the message that Niu wants to convey to the world.
Becoming a bridge
Niu works as a photographer and often uploads video clips from her life on short video platforms such as Douyin, where she has more than 850,000 followers.
She explained that she shares her experiences to help society at large better understand disabled groups.
“China had 85 million disabled people with licenses in 2020, and we have no idea about the number of those who do not have licenses. However, it is rare for disabled people to be seen on the streets. I always thought about the reasons for this and then I realized it’s because they hide themselves.”
When Niu goes outside and walks the streets with her prosthetic limb, many passersby looked her up and down and some people even walk over to examine her artificial limb.
She said understands that people are curious about the life of the disabled, but also that not all disabled people can accept this gaze.
“I feel I have a social responsibility to connect the disabled with the public. Showing my life to the public can allow them to become more familiar with our group and also can tell other disabled people that society is more tolerant than they imagined.”
“[After the marathon,] many disabled people began to send me messages on social media, sharing their stories. I suddenly realized that maybe I can have a beneficial influence on the lives of others.”