Woman born 34inch thighs now models for brands showing them off

Woman who spent years trying to ‘diet away’ her 34in thighs discovers she has a condition causing an abnormal build-up of fat – and now makes money off her curves as a model

  • Heather Johnson, from South Carolina born with condition called lipedema
  • It causes abnormal build up of fat in legs and arms, and can be very painful
  • The mother-of-four had been on diet for years when found out about condition
  • She is now a successful model online and works with body positive brands

A woman with large, painful legs said she spent years dieting in vain before discovering her unusual proportions are caused by a medical condition.

Heather Johnson, 38, a mother-of-four from South Carolina, suffers from lipedema – a painful condition which causes an abnormal build up of fat in the legs and arms.

Lipedema sufferers like Heather tend to have a small waist and upper body in comparison to their arms, legs and bottom – the skin of which can be soft and dimpled in texture.

Unware of her diagnosis, Heather spent decades dieting starting at age six but entered a vicious circle of losing and gaining weight, tipping the scale at 424lbs when she was 31.  

Following the advice from her doctor, she underwent gastric sleeve surgery the same year and lost a whopping 165lbs and now after some years weighs 285lbs. 

Heather is 5ft 9ins tall and has a slim 39-inch waist compared to her 59in hips, with each thigh measuring 34in.  

Heather Johnson, 38, a mother-0f-four from South Carolina, suffers from lipedema – a painful condition which causes an abnormal build up of fat in the legs and arms. But she has now embraced her condition and raises awareness as well as models online, pictured 

Heather, pictured, said she spent her life dieting, but could never shake her thick thigh. It’s because dieting doesn’t affect lipedema 

She found out she had lipoedema through Instagram and now models for body-positive brands while raising awareness about the condition. 

‘I’ve been a big girl my whole life. I started weight watchers when I was six, I continued to do diet after diet after diet,’ said Heather.

‘I always had a big butt, big legs, small waist, and flabby arms. When I was 31, I weighed 425lbs and I was told that if I didn’t lose weight that I would die, so I proceeded to have a gastric sleeve,’ she added. 

‘I lost 165lbs pounds but I couldn’t really seem to lose the weight in the lower half of my body as much as I wanted. 

‘Instagram is how I found out about lipedema. I was happy to figure out that I wasn’t crazy in the thought that my body was different from other people’s, it was like a relief to know that all these things were connected and had a name.

Heather, pictured, said she’s finally accepted her thighs and her shape after decades of dieting 

The model has caught the attention of plus size model Ashley Graham, who has shared one of her posts on her Instagram page

Lipedema: The chronic condition that causes abnormal fat build-up in the legs 

Lipedema is a chronic condition typically affecting the legs and thighs.

The build up of fat is not caused through obesity, and diet and exercise have little impact on the condition.

While the exact cause for lipedema is unknown, it can run in families and be inherited. 

It can also have a hormonal cause.  

It is not caused by obesity, however, more than half of patients who have it are overweight or obese. 

Dieting won’t make you lose weight in the areas affected by lipedema, however, it can prevent it from spreading further.

As the condition gets worse, lipedema can affect your ability to walk. 

Non invasive treatments such as a gentle form of skin stretching/massage called manual lymphatic drainage therapy or  special wrapping techniques called complex decongestive therapy can help. 

 Source: Clevland Clinic. 


‘Lipedema is a condition where your fatty tissue grows differently and stays in certain areas of your body, for instance mine is my lower half, my butt, my thighs, my legs, and then also your skin is a lot softer.

‘Your legs hurt to touch, so if someone sits on your legs or pushes on your legs, you could be bruised, also it makes you feel like gravity is pulling you harder than normal people, your legs feel like they have weights in them.

‘I have to wear compression clothes to make it comfortable to walk, my legs are always very sensitive to touch, I get bruises very easily, I always wear sleeves on my arms because I have so much loose skin on my upper arm. 

Heather shares sexy pictures online of her wearing beautiful dresses, underwear and bikinis in the hope of showing other lipedema sufferers that they are perfect just the way they are. 

‘I decided to embrace it when I realized that this is who I am and if I don’t love myself, no one else will.

‘I’ve always kind of embraced the fact that I’m big even though I’ve always been really self-conscious of it. No one really knew when I was a teenager – my dad told me that even if you don’t feel confident, fake it because eventually you’ll start believing it and so will everyone else.

‘The lipedema community on Instagram is amazing and so helpful, and so willing to answer questions and awareness. I love those ladies.

Heather, pictured, said men loved her curves, which was a confidence boost. She wants to raise awareness on lipedema online

The mother-of-four, pictured, said she had been harrassed by trolls online, but did have to interact with a few close minded people about her weight 

Feeling the curves! Heather said her legs were painful to the touch and that she had to wear compression clothes, but online, she conveys a positive message about the condition, pictured

The mother posts sexy pictures online showing off her curves, pictured, and said she was flooded with positive responses

Heather in a bodice and high heels. The mother-of-four said she covered her arms because they were covered in loose skin

The model said she was inundated with positive comments daily from men and women who say that she has inspired them. 

Some men have also commented that they love her legs and say that she is beautiful the way she is – this is something that boosts Heather’s confidence. 

‘Honestly, I have been very lucky that I haven’t been matched up with a lot of trolls on my Instagram.

‘I have to say probably ninety-five per cent of my comments are the most positive, rewarding, and complimentary. 

Heather, pictured with friends. When she is not modelling, she has to wear compression clothes to ease the pain from her legs, but in pictures, she always wear skimpy outgits 

Heather, pictured in lingerie, said she wanted people to stop judging each other online for who they are

The model said she hoped to bring attention to the condition which she said was understudied  

‘Every once in a while, I’m faced with someone who is close minded or just an internet bully and honestly, those people are either having a really bad day or they’re just not happy with themselves.

‘Men are very supportive, telling me I’m beautiful the way I am and to keep being me, I appreciate every compliment. It let’s me know I’m on the right path.’

Heather has an incredible 498K followers on Instagram under the handle @heatherj.143 where she shares her positive message.

The awareness raising work Heather has done has also captured the attention of supermodels Ashley Graham and Tyra Banks, who have both shared her on their own personal Instagram pages. 

The mother-of-four said 95 per cent of the comments she received online were positive and complimentary 

The model wearing a bikini. Heather said she wanted to show other people with Lipedema they were good just as they were 

Heather, who said men were supportive of her pictures, said it let her know she was on the right path

The mother-of-six has more than 498,000 followers on Instagram, where she shares her positive message, pictured

‘My message to the world is to spread love and stop judging people for who they are, what they are, or how they feel, also believe in yourself,’ said Heather.

‘It’s never too late to follow your dreams, you’re never too old, you’re never too big, you’re never too anything to just wake up every day and follow every dream that you have.

‘I am hoping to bring more light upon this very understudied condition and also help others accept and live who they are.

‘People need to love themselves and remember they are amazing and perfect the way they are.

‘I want to show them they can be bold and beautiful. That they can wear that dress, that bikini, and that sexy piece of lingerie.’

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