Six years ago, performance artist and model Viktoria Modesta made a brave decision. She persuaded her doctors to amputate her lower left leg after undergoing 15 surgeries since birth. But that didn’t slow her down. Since then, the 27-year-old Latvian singer, whose prosthetics range from a Swarovski limb to a futuristic, sci-fi spike, has walked the runway for Naomi Campbell’s Fashion For Relief show, performed in the 2012 Paralympics and released a beautiful six-minute music video called “Prototype” that has amassed over 5.5 million views. And that’s not all. Last month, Viktoria nabbed a major IMG contract. Meet the bionic woman who’s redefining our notion of sexy.
theFashionSpot: Backstory, please!
Viktoria Modesta: I was born in the USSR. My childhood was tough due to a complicated birth, which meant that I was in and out of the hospital trying to have reconstructive surgery to fix my leg. I felt really out of control. I couldn’t make a lot of decisions about my life because so much of it was dictated by doctors and parents. And since I was always in the hospital, I was quite detached from normal things. I didn’t get to properly integrate into society and form friendships with other kids. By the time I moved to London when I was 12, I didn’t live by strong rules that other people had in their heads about how to act. I didn’t have school or society telling me what I should be thinking. I went on my instinct, which has really helped me in life.
tFS: When did you start modeling?
VM: I started modeling in my teens. I had an expressive style, and I was always sort of loud and pretty. When people approached me, they usually didn’t know I had a limp, or why I wore flats and trousers all the time. I did a few shoots, but it was so depressing. I couldn’t even get into a pair of heels. I felt like someone had released me too early — that I was unfinished.
tFS: At what point did you decide to have a voluntary amputation on your left leg?
VM: By the time I was 20, I had undergone 15 surgeries. My leg was causing me so many problems. And trying to hide my leg problems was really affecting my mood. One day I asked myself, “How is it that someone who is a double amputee is enjoying their life without feeling so dragged down?” There I was with a “real” leg and feeling so held back. It seemed like the most obvious decision.
tFS: How did people react when you told them?
VM: When I went to the doctors initially [to request the amputation], they were very against it. A lot of times it’s the professionals that can’t give you the full information about what could be a good solution for you. They get stuck on ethical questions. Is it OK to remove your own body part? Who cares about those questions. It’s a matter of quality of life. It took me five years to do my own research. Eventually, I saved up money and sought private doctors for a consultation. They agreed that my body would continue to suffer if I kept things the way they were. I think in time this will become a solution for more people as they learn what artificial technology, or bionic limbs, can offer. There’s just not enough information about it.
tFS: How did your modeling career change after the amputation?
VM: After my operation, everything changed. I just went for it. At first, I did shoots without the prosthetic limb. I felt like I needed to see my leg from the outside and understand what it really meant. The rest of my profile was elevated because of it.
tFS: When you transitioned into the music world, did you feel like you had more to prove?
VM: 100 percent. It was a nightmare. People tend to already have their doubts if you’re attractive or have a strong image. Then when you throw [in] the fact that you’re a model, it becomes an even harder transition. People would say, “Oh, you’re a model, you probably don’t write your own stuff,” or, “You probably don’t sing live, do you?” But I do write my own songs and I do sing live. I‘m not trying to be the next Kate Moss or Mariah Carey. I’m just being myself.
tFS: What’s your musical training?
VM: Between all my hospital trips, I went to a performing arts school from the ages of 6 and 8. I studied sheet music and piano, and I was the lead singer in our local school band. I got sidetracked by my health. I didn’t pick up music again until I was 17.
tFS: Who are your musical influences?
VM: The first records I bought when I was 12 were The Prodigy and Tupac Shakur. My tastes haven’t changed that much. It’s still electronic music with a hip-hop influence behind it. And I’m from Eastern Europe, so I’ve always enjoyed a dramatic song.
tFS: What was it like to perform as the Snow Queen at the Closing Ceremony for the Paralympic Games in 2012?
VM: Totally surreal. I didn’t even know about the Paralympics. A month before the event, a friend of mine called me and told me they were looking for a Snow Queen and asked if I wanted to come in for a meeting. We started rehearsing two weeks before the show. I didn’t have any dance training and all of a sudden I was practicing with the guys from Dancing on Ice [the U.K.’s version of Dancing with the Stars]. Before I knew it, they were teaching me all these jumps and throws. When we finally performed, it felt like a historical moment.
tFS: You’ve worked with Vivienne Westwood. What’s your relationship like?
VM: I’ve performed for a couple of the brand’s events and their Christmas party. I was really fortunate they were willing to work with me for a couple years, even though I wasn’t considered a celebrity. They’d allow me to borrow clothes for events and really supported me. I once sat next to her on an airplane, eating tomato soup. It was a highlight.
tFS: Do you wish the press would focus less on your leg?
VM: I think at the moment it’s unavoidable. It’s a big passion of mine to inform people out there and change perceptions. Totally eliminating that from my story feels wrong, and totally concentrating on it feels wrong as well. Naturally, the novelty will wear off. I’m going to keep concentrating on everything I’m doing.
tFS: What’s inspiring you right now?
VM: The reaction to my latest project [“Prototype“] and my new album that I’m working on. It’s going to be unusual and collaborative, mixing every medium; fashion performance, music, technology. It’s going to be an extravaganza!