Keith Paris in Conversation
Chapter Z speaks to the Icy Amputee Warrior about all things, beauty, self-love and home.
Photo by Wesley De Jesus Bruno
”If there had been a role model for me to look up to... I feel like I definitely would've had an easier childhood and I would've had more goals and aspirations.
But I feel like we're definitely going in the right direction. We really are starting to celebrate people for how different they are.”
“When I started showing my prosthetic leg, people would guess really crazy things like I had been in a war or I was in a gang or something,” explains beauty vlogger and LGBTQ+ activist Keith Paris when we speak about the everyday reactions to his disability. “I used to laugh so hard when people would guess how I became an amputee. That’s something I’ve learned, you just need to laugh about it.”
Keith was born without a tibia in his left leg. After doctors performed an x-ray, they realised it would have to be amputated below the knee, and he now wears a prosthetic. Unfortunately, like many people with a disability, he faced bullying as a teen which left him in a pretty dark place. The hardship made him stronger, he says, and now Keith wants to use his platform to educate others and be the Black, queer amputee inspiration he never had growing up.
“If there had been a role model for me to look up to… I feel like I definitely would’ve had an easier childhood and I would’ve had more goals and aspirations” he tells us over the phone from New York City. “But I feel like we’re definitely going in the right direction. We really are starting to celebrate people for how different they are.”
Through the unifying power of social media and a budding career as a beauty and makeup influencer, Keith has found a safe space to celebrate himself and connect with a supportive community that many people don’t have IRL. We spoke about his journey to self-love, his passion for makeup, and how he deals with bigotry in online spaces (hint: the ‘block’ button is your best friend).
Photo by Wesley De Jesus Bruno
”...now people love big lips and they want to get them done, but I hated my lips when I was younger because people would make fun of them.
Images from @keithteboy_ via Instagram // Collage image by David Oldenburg
You call yourself the ‘icy amputee warrior’ on Instagram, which I love. Tell me about that name and what it means to you…
Well, everyone used to say growing up that I was such a warrior in everything I do, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I kind of am’, so I put that together with the word ‘amputee’, and then the final name actually came from the rapper Saweetie. I would always interact with her on Twitter, I’ve been a huge fan of hers since the start of her career when she came out with the song Anti and everything, and she called me the name that everyone calls me now, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna use that’, and it stuck to me like glue. So yeah, Saweetie birthed me!
What made you want to be a visible role model for other people like you?
I always wanted to be a role model for people in general. When we’re little, we all have role models and we joke, ‘I want to be the next Beyonce’ or ‘I want to be the next Jay-Z’, but for me when I was little I didn’t wanna be the next Michael Jordan or the next Beyonce, I wanted role models who looked like me. I could look at a lot of Black celebrities and relate to them, yeah, but I wanted someone who was Black and disabled just like me, who was queer and disabled just like me. If there had been a role model for me to look up to who was Black and queer and disabled, I feel like I definitely would’ve had an easier childhood and I would’ve had more goals and aspirations.
As you just said, you live at this intersection of being queer, being Black and being an amputee. There’s a lot of room for people to discriminate against you there, and you’ve spoken before about the bullying you experienced when you were growing up. Have you found this hard, or has it been empowering to be able to thrive in all of these things that make up your identity?
I would say it’s a 50/50 split, because when I was younger it was way harder to be myself and to fit in. I used to be home-schooled back-and-forth, and I have memories of being bullied a lot. I went through hell and back when I was little, and obviously it did make me so much stronger, but it was a lot for a little kid to go through. There was a time I didn’t like myself and I didn’t like the way I looked. People used to pick on me and I didn’t understand why. For example, it’s so funny how now people love big lips and they want to get them done, but I hated my lips when I was younger because people would make fun of them. They’re natural, I get them from my father’s side, but now it’s such a trend. I wish it was a trend back in the day! And I was so ashamed of being an amputee. I used to never have any friends because of my prosthetic leg.
I imagine there are people who meet you and probably ask a lot of questions about your prosthetic. Do you find this intrusive? Or do you feel like this is an opportunity for you to educate them?
No, I don’t find it rude at all. People are always curious about how I became an amputee, and they’re worried about offending me, but I’ve been explaining this to people ever since I was little, I’m comfortable with saying it. I’m at the point now where I’m proud of my differences, so like you said, I feel like this is my opportunity to educate people who ask. I was born like this, so I had all my surgeries since birth. When I started being on social media and showing my prosthetic leg, people would guess really crazy things like I had been in a war or I was in a gang or something, but obviously that’s so not true. I used to laugh so hard when people would guess how I became an amputee. That’s something I’ve learned, you just need to laugh about it.
You’ve overcome some difficult times in life. How did you do that? And what would your advice be for other people who are struggling too?
The main thing is having a really good support system and surrounding yourself with good energy. I don’t know about you, but I read off people’s energy and I need positive people in my aura and in my circle. Also, any problem that you’re facing, whether that’s mental or physical or whatever it is, just talk to someone and try and get help for whatever you’re going through. Finding a friend or a teacher or a colleague you can trust really helps.
You have a really strong passion for makeup and beauty. How has that changed your life?
I never would’ve thought in a million years that I would be into makeup and fashion because my main love is acting, that was always my goal when I was little, I wanted to be in a sitcom or a teen drama or something. Makeup was something I got into by accident, I was a freshman in high school and I saw Nikita Dragun on my Instagram – this was before she transitioned – and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this person is so cool’, and while I was reading the comments I kept seeing names like, ‘that’s Anastasia Beverly Hills’ and I’m thinking, ‘Who are these people?’ so I’m clicking the tags and realising it’s makeup. Then I found Nikita’s YouTube channel and binge-watched all her videos until my alarm went off for school, and that same day after school I went to the drugstore and brought an eyebrow pencil. One thing led to another, next it was foundation, then concealers and highlighters, and I graduated to brands like Sephora and MAC, and I just loved it. And now we’re here!
The launch theme for Chapter Z is ‘home’ so I want to know what home means to you?
Home to me is the place where, at the end of the day, I can go and unwind and relax and be myself and feel like I’m in a safe environment.