Meet The Golden Girl Lauren Wasser

Lauren Wasser

Dress; and underwear, both from DOLCE & GABBANA. Clash de Cartier bracelets and earrings; Panthère de Cartier rings, all from CARTIER.

Model Lauren Wasser opens up about Toxic Shock Syndrome and how it claimed her legs

It was a normal day in Santa Monica, California when Lauren Wasser’s life took a turn. A difficult story to tell and a far cry from the glamour of her life, the wide-eyed 24-year-old woman did not expect to lose herself in the labyrinth of a disability in October 2012. “I was just like any young woman. I had dreams. I had goals. I had the whole world in my hands to become anything I wanted to be,” she professed. But, when she was found unconscious on her bedroom floor, that was the day the sense of uncertainty and loss of control took over her life.

Programmed to anticipate the arrival of her period, Wasser had just bought and used a super absorbent tampon when she started to feel sick—wholly unprepared for it. Struggling to make sense of what was happening, she decided to dismiss her flu-like symptoms and head to a friend’s birthday party where everything went downhill. She had shocked everyone with how frail and sickly she looked. “I felt it at that moment, it felt like I had been hit by a train.” With the low-hanging clouds bordering her, she finally decided to head back home—especially when the pang of unease came creeping in—then unexpectedly, passed out entirely.

Lauren Wasser

Jacket; top; and skirt, all from SAINT LAURENT by Anthony Vaccarello. Panthère de Cartier necklace, rings and bracelet in 18k yellow gold set with tsavorite garnet, onyx and diamonds, all from CARTIER.

Yanked out of sleep by her cocker spaniel and a police officer knocking at her door for a welfare check, Wasser had woken up with a high fever, feeling and looking sick to the core. Despite the way she looked, the police officer hadn’t taken Wasser to the hospital to get a health checkup. “The hospital was down the street; I still wished he had taken me in,” she claimed. Because, not long after, she was found unconscious on the floor by a concerned friend and 10 minutes away from death—her entire body shutting down. Wasser suffered a high fever, two heart attacks, and kidney and organ failure, causing her to plummet completely.

Rushed to the hospital, Wasser had to immediately undergo a slew of tests to save her life. By that time, it was conclusive that she had Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a rare, but life- threatening disease caused by bacterial infections, typically staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It is a disease that can be triggered by the use of tampons, an item Wasser had been using before her hospitalisation. The TSS infection had caused her legs to become gangrenous and she had to immediately be medically induced into a coma.

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A week and a half later, Wasser woke up disoriented and unsure of the turbulence that disrupted her life. “When I woke up, that’s when the nightmare began.” She added: “I had tubes everywhere and was pumped up to 200 pounds of fluid to get all the toxins out of my system and my feet were excruciating; I was in so much pain.” Unfortunately, the day got even worse, when she overheard a nurse behind a curtain explaining the severity of her situation and how it was urgent to save her life with a below-the-knee amputation. The words echoed through Wasser like a bolt of lightning and the realisation of her new world made her knees quake.

Top; skirt (just seen); and gloves, all from SCHIAPARELLI. Ecrou de Cartier necklace and earrings, both from CARTIER.

Dress, AADNEVIK. Boots, MARC JACOBS. Juste un Clou necklace,
bracelet, earrings and rings, all from CARTIER.

Gangrene had set into her right leg and was moving quickly, but the doctor had given her an option of keeping her left leg—giving her a 50 per cent chance to keep it functional, so she took it. “I knew it would be too much for me emotionally and mentally if I did both initially.” While doctors had initially salvaged her left leg, it caused her so much pain in the six years that followed that she had no choice but to amputate it too, just before she turned 30. “I couldn’t believe it and I didn’t want that to happen and to be true.” But, she did what was best for her. “I was turning 30 and I was over the pain and suffering, so I set myself free and chose to amputate my left leg.”

Before being diagnosed with TSS, Wasser was a precocious, curious, high-spirited, and athletic woman. She loved going for runs, long bike rides, dancing in her room, and playing basketball. “I couldn’t look at my leg for a long time. I guess I didn’t want it to be my reality,” she confessed. So, adjusting to her new norm took a while to get used to and it most certainly took a toll on her mental health.

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The uproar of her narrative arc propelled her into an emotional chaos like no other, thrusting her into one of the darkest moments in her life—contemplating ending it. “I couldn’t do much for myself and I was miserable, and I didn’t want to be alive anymore.” But, defying all expectations, she conquered her new reality like a phoenix—emerging from a catastrophe stronger, fearless, and more powerful with the help of a strong support system. “My mother was a real superhero. She never left me and she was always sleeping on a little bed next to me for months,” she expressed. With the help of her mom, brother, and close-knit friends, her emotional resilience and mental immunity grew stronger day by day, keeping her alive.

Lauren Wasser

Dress; matching shrug; and boots, MARC JACOBS. Juste un Clou earrings, bracelet; and Baignoire de Cartier watch, all from CARTIER.

Even when the inner whirrings of her mind churned gloom-ridden thoughts, she held her head high and, the newfound self-acceptance of disability started nurturing. “I was choosing to regain my life and happiness by being pain-free.” She added: “You can’t be radiating that light in the sun without addressing the darkness and the pain inside.” True to her word, Wasser slowly began finding a new love connection with her body and discovering a new centre. “It’s okay to have bad days, but don’t allow anything to take away the power of having a beautiful life,” she said.

So, with that in mind, she quickly fell back into her old patterns, throwing herself into work the first chance she could. As the child of two models, Pamela Cook and Robert Wasserburger, it wasn’t a surprise to see Wasser striding down catwalks again and appearing in fashion campaigns. “I’m lucky to be able to show a new side of beauty and trailblazing my way into the industry, making a name for myself with my golden legs,” she said.

Without any blueprint, paving her way back into the modelling world wasn’t an easy feat, but the jolt of determination whooshed by immediately after she shared her story with Vice in 2015. “It was the moment where I took back my power and gave my story of resilience as a warning sign and in hopes to get the world’s attention on what’s happening.” Breaking new ground in the industry, she without a doubt became a role model overnight and made it her life’s work to inspire others. Today, ‘the girl with the golden legs’ is a fashion trailblazer who has refocused her life on advocating, inspiring, and educating.

Top; and skirt, both from
RICK OWENS. Clash de Cartier necklace, bracelet and earrings; Panthère de Cartier ring, all from CARTIER.

Echoing the sentiment, Wasser turned her personal fight to live into prominent activism where she used her golden legs as a tool to inspire and shine a spotlight on the devastating impact of TSS—and changing the collective conversation around it. “I want women to be more aware of what they are putting inside their bodies at such a delicate time. And, I want women to demand transparency and safe products,” she voiced out. “I want women to go to the store and look at the boxes and the ingredients they contain.” With an unprecedented level of courage, she has taken the responsibility to showcase how differently-abled people can strive to be anything they want to be. “We are half the population and we deserve to be heard and protected. We demand equality,” she said.

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After years of turbulence, the most life-affirming decision she’s ever made was to always champion young girls and women to never give up and to constantly do good. “Do the work, heal, and lead your life with love and passion. Your leadership will inspire others to do the same,” she professed. When asked what advice she has for all the women out there, she only stated “Never allow whatever life has thrown at you to mould you, instead use it to grow and evolve.”

And though her work in women’s health and modelling takes up the bulk of her time, she still finds a bit of calm amidst her chaotic schedule to snuggle up with her pups—Luna, Lloyed, and Love—in her downtime. Wasser has also recently found her love for running again and is slowly getting back into it. Through it all, her main focus is prioritising the positives and living her life the best she can. “I love my life. I’m just grateful to be able to have an amazing job and be in a place that can make a change in the world.”

Sharing an appetite for life and love, now the 35-year-old model has become an unwavering force and a fighter. She’s someone who is passionate, outspoken, fearless, and takes on the world and then some. With tons of projects lined up for her such as the lead role in an independent film, there’s nothing that can stop her from flourishing and rising like phoenix. “Life works out a lot better when you just trust and believe, and not try to control what you can’t control.”

Photographer: Damian Foxe
Stylist: Elad Biton
Make-up: Renee Garnes
Hair: Koji Ichikawa
Manicurist: yukie_miyakawa_nails
Text: @syameensalehaldin
Fashion Assistant: Posh Mckoy
Retouching: @loveretouch
Studio: Splash Lights Studios

A lover of steamy romance books and all things green, Syameen Salehaldin is the Senior Content Producer for Harper's BAZAAR Malaysia. She spends most of her time immersed in books, and food and doing anything that makes her happy. Expect to see her diving into lifestyle, fashion and beauty trends on this platform.