Like many women in their twenties, Livi Deane loves Instagram. The 24-year-old businesswoman regularly posts pictures and videos of herself for her 10,000-plus followers and recently, a modelling agency noticed her stunning looks and signed her up.
"I feel so lucky and so blessed because I never thought I’d be able to be a model and already I’ve done several photo shoots including one for Vogue," says the 24-year-old businesswoman from Horsham, West Sussex. "It’s incredible because everything I thought would be holding me back in life has actually opened doors for me."
It’s not hard to see why the camera loves her. With her slender figure, beaming smile and caramel complexion, she’s a natural beauty.
But Livi would be the first to admit that her looks are not ‘conventional’ in modelling terms.
Because this vibrant young woman has only one eye, the result of life-saving surgery when as a child. What’s more, she is more than happy to pose without the prosthetic eye, showing off the bare socket underneath.
"I used to only post pictures of myself wearing my prosthetic eye and even then, I’d delete hundreds of them because it looked like I had a lazy eye," admits Livi, who lives with boyfriend Max, 25. "I’d been self-conscious about it and would either cover it up or only show off half my face.
"But over the last four years I’ve realised that I have been wearing my prosthetic eye in order not to scare other people. Every morning I see myself without my eye, and so does Max. Why should I have to hide away from the world? I don’t need the eye to feel pretty anymore and if anything, I feel more confident without it. But it’s taken several years for me to grow in confidence and I want to be able to inspire others."
Livi was only 12 when a routine eye test detected a black mass in the back of her eye and she was referred to hospital. Within a couple of days, she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer which usually affects children under five.
"When I heard the word ‘chemo’ I knew it was really serious and mum and nan were both in bits," says Livi. "I remember looking at the surgeon and saying: ‘I know this sounds really silly, but am I going to die?’. He assured me that I wouldn’t but the ‘worst case scenario’ would be that I would lose my eye. I was horrified but had to stay strong. I never cried throughout it all."
Livi had chemotherapy for six months, losing all her hair which knocked her confidence. "It was a difficult time," she admits. "I was at the age where girls and boys were beginning to fancy each other and I felt very alone and was always ill. A few nasty things were said about my appearance, though thankfully I had a lovely close group of friends, but I just wanted to be treated like everyone else.
"I went into remission but unfortunately a year later the cancer returned. Although I had more chemo, the surgeon said she had no choice but to remove my right eye. It was horrible for everyone and although I’m glad it saved my life, at the time, it was horrendous. I woke up from the surgery in agony.
"I was given a prosthetic eye but I hated it because it didn’t look realistic enough. I was mortified having to wear it and would get very angry and emotional. But the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust referred me to Moorfield Eye Hospital who handpainted a really life-like eyeball for me which I’ve worn for 10 years. I was so much happier."
Last year, Livi took the brave decision to post a picture of herself without her prosthetic eye on Instagram – and the response has changed her life.
"So many other people with prosthetic eyes reached out to me to say thank you and Katie Piper (the activist who raises awareness of people with disfigurements) got in touch and shared the video. She has been absolutely lovely to me and when a modelling agency spotted my video on her feed, that’s when they got in touch.
"I organised an awareness day in the summer and it was wonderful to meet so many people who had lost an eye whether through cancer or illness or an accident. One girl who had leukaemia, had never spoken about her own experience and it brought me to tears. Seeing everyone’s confidence grow over the course of the afternoon was wonderful and many of us have now kept in touch.
"Of course I’ve had a few horrible messages from anonymous accounts on Instagram but the overwhelming majority have been positive. Having always been the odd one out and never knowing anyone with a disability, I feel that there are now a lot more people out there wanting to share my story.
"If I could go back to my 12-year-old self now I’d say: ‘Although this is the worst time of your life, things are going to change and you’re going to be happy and healthy and you’re going to help other people feel the same."
To follow Livi go to @livi.deane.
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