Cara Cruz is a blogger, influencer, and mother. She promotes a body-positive message and is a proud #lymphedemawarrior and #lipedemawarrior. Pandere is a big fan, and we sat down to talk with Cara about her life and journey.
We have a very special guest today Cara Cruz, also known as Pale Ginger Pear. Thank you for joining us today.
Thank you for having me.
And we also have our fearless CEO, Laura, online today with us. Today we're really hoping Cara to just kind of dive in a little bit to your incredible brand and hear a little bit of your story.
It's crazy to me that it's taken off - and it is like a Brand now! Which is insane because, for me, I'm just Cara. It still takes some getting used to. I started my Instagram on a dare with an ex that I was dating. He thought I would have followers. I didn't think I would. So I was gonna prove him right! And we still talk we're still friends, and I sent him a message last weekend when I hit 90,000. And he was like, yeah, no followers, huh!
What did the brand start out as?
Well, when I started, it was just plus-size fashion and what I was wearing. Because I was always stopped by people asking - Where did you get that? You dress really well for your shape and your size. Where did you get, your dress or your shirt? Or how do you find jeans that fit? I'm also extremely short. I'm like five foot two. So to be short and wide - you don't get a lot of clothes.
Tell us when these problems started for you. And what that was like. I think you've had this into your childhood, correct?
I have. There are pictures of me as a toddler, like 18 - 20 months, where I have clear ankle cuffing. And it's not just the toddler baby fat, there was like ankle cuffing, and some puffing and arching and my feet. There are pictures of me, you know, six years old, where I'm standing with inverted Y where my knees are touching, but then my lower legs are out, which is typical in hypermobility and lipedema.
I have pictures of me at eight and nine when the hormones are starting to kick in. And you can see my legs are getting more column-like. When I was a junior or senior in high school, I fell and injured my left leg. And when I did that, I damaged the lymph channel. And so my left leg started ballooning up with lymphedema, like the size of a football.
I got pregnant with my son in 2008, and by that point, I had googled “one leg larger than the other.” My left leg was worse than my right. I asked my PCP at the time for a referral to go get wrapping and stuff done. He said you read too much online. He's like, "You're just fat. You need to lose weight." And I was like, I have one leg that grew bigger than another?? I said, "You need to give me the referral, and if I'm right, I get the treatment I need. If you're right, you can tell me - I you told me so." So he signed the referral.
I walked in the door to the physical therapist's office for the leg wrapping. They said, you're the worst case we've seen in years, and you're pregnant! Get on the table! And they started pumping my legs before having to even fill out paperwork.
It sounds like you didn't have any real resistance to going into treatment. But I know there are a lot of people that struggle with it. It is intimidating. It is work. And sometimes, people don't have the dexterity and the strength to take care of themselves when they're getting treatment.
I think at that point, the stubborn redheaded side had kicked in, and it was like, I finally had an answer. Because everybody told me over and over and over growing up - You're fat. You need to lose weight. And nobody gave me an answer. Nobody gave me a solution. It was like, well, you need to lose weight and figure it out yourself.
So when I knew that part of my life issue was not my fault, was not something I had done, and that there was a treatment to get that ankle cuffing down and make that pain manageable, that was something I wanted to do. Especially because it got really got bad when I was pregnant. So at that point, I was miserable, and I felt that this needs to be done! Like something needs to get the swelling down!
We talked to some people; a lot of times, we're talking to people who have just learned that they have lymphedema. And so they're in a bit of an identity crisis. Do you mind talking a little bit about identity and having these conditions?
My dad was a fit marine. And then he got a back injury and was on a mattress on our floor for months when I was a small child. He ballooned up during that time. He wasn't happy with himself. In the 80s, and 90s, he went on every fad diet, and I got roped into it. I was the chubby one in the family with him. And so, during that process, I was brought up that it wasn't okay with how I was. That was coming from family, which should have been the most supportive. The only diet that ever worked was Atkins. I think it worked because we later found out I have celiac disease, and so in Atkins, you cut out the carbs and the gluten. I was eating foods that my body can actually process for the first time. My dad never stuck with any of the diets. So once he stopped them, we went back to normal.
I barely eat. I eat like a five-year-old. I'm super picky. And I do not eat a lot. So I knew I shouldn't be the size that I was with the amount I ate. And I was active. We swam every day. I babysat a bunch of kids all the time. Like I did stuff! I was a school mascot. I did cheering. I was active. So there was no excuse why I should be the size I was. I knew there had to be a reason. I had just kind of given up on getting an answer and just kind of accepted it. This is how I'm supposed to be.
I had kind of given in, and then I learned of lymphedema and got that answer for my left leg. Then said, Oh, no, you have some of it in your right leg too!
Then four years into my lymphedema treatment, they said, Oh, you're not gonna lose weight! You have lipedema as well! I thought, what is this? Why has nobody told me this? They said it's a special fat that doesn't react to diet or exercise. It was in this mix of emotions that I knew I'm not crazy!
We primarily deal with folks who've had lymphedema, but we do talk to people with lipedema. It's amazing how the story is so similar. Have you found medical professionals that you trust and that you can kind of lean on with these conditions?
My physical therapist, Megan, for my lymphedema wrapping. I love her. She's a sweetheart. And I joke that she gets the worst side of me because she gets me during wrapping, which I don't enjoy. I'm like, I'm sorry, it's not you, I promise. It's not you! She follows my Instagram and is very supportive. I have some medical companies like Medi that follow my instagram and support me. Lipoelastic, which is my compression for my lipedema side. They are very vocal and supportive, and we've done livestreams together and explained compression and talked about it so the crowd can get it.
And then, of course, my amazing, amazing surgeon, my angel on earth, Dr. Jamie Schwartz, has legit changed my life. He has never once asked my weight, never once mentioned BMI. The only person in his office that's ever talked about it has been the anesthesiologist, and it's just to give you the right amount of medicine so that I don't wake up mid-surgery because I don't want to be awake for it! But he has been amazing. He was literally the first doctor that's ever noticed the condition without me trying to force them to pay attention. And he said, “This is so bad. I don't know how you do it. How do you wear shoes? You have the tiniest feet.” I had really bad ankle cuffing that overlaps, so I wore a ton of ballet flats at the very beginning or flip flops because nothing else fit.
And those have no support, and that throws off your legs and your back, and you're miserable. He legit has changed like my life from surgery. Number one, my mobility was better. My ankle cuffing was gone. I could wear shoes that laced up, and because of that, I could walk more. I could put on a tennis shoe that had support. I could then walk the dog. I can be more mobile, I can do this stuff. I average walking at like a mile a day walking the dog now, and I would never have done that before.
We follow your Instagram. I think that's how we originally found you. You have such a positive body message. And it's something that I think resonates with a lot of our people. I really appreciate it. I love your attitude. I love your posts. I wanted to know - Who do you think your audience is? How do you think you got to 90,000 followers? Who are you reaching? And why do you think you're reaching them?
I've had quite a few that have reached out to me and said things like - My fiance has this, and how can I help her? I want to get her a nice outfit. Where can I get her clothes? Our anniversary is coming up. She doesn't want to go out, but what can I do for her at home? And so that's great to me. It's almost close to like 50/50 guys and female followers. I have a younger group of body-positive girls. Not necessarily like lymphedema or lymphedema, just younger girls that are on the plus size scale and no longer care what society thinks. They're going to wear what they want. They're going to show the tattoos. They're going to have crazy hair. They're going to be themselves. I think my blunt personality and my tell it how it is realness attract them.
My ink is definitely a factor in all of that. And then I have a group of probably like my age and up because I'll be 40 at the end of the year. So like my age and up lipedema, lymphedema women that say - My legs look like yours. I know the feeling. Or, I hope I'm getting surgery one day, or where do you get pants that fit the leg? What compression do you wear? What shoes do you wear? Like, all of that insight to try to just have as much of a normal life. Because it's all, we really want. We want to dress. We want cute little shoes. You want to feel normal. We want something cute to go out with.
Our whole brand is built around this idea of creating shoes that help people live their lives like normal people. Laura's story, as you may have heard, is that she just got fed up wearing ugly orthopedic shoes or trying hundreds of shoes and not one of them fit. And so the idea that we've been trying to build slowly over time is that there is a better way. We continue to develop styles that aren't just sneakers but are something hopefully that you can wear to a wedding and that you can go out to dinner with. Styles for diabetics with swollen feet. Styles for everybody.
I think you have to have some of our styles. One of them is the bootie.
The rodeo. Yes, yes. That was the first one. That's the one I typically wear when I walk the dog and I'm running errands. Long distance walking because it's like, like a tennis shoe. There is a little bit of like a height to it, which is nice for short people. And then I have the traveler.
I think a lot of our people, in addition to searching for shoes for swollen feet or sandals, they're looking for clothes, can you talk a little bit about, you know, kind of your search for clothes that fit with lipedema and lymphedema?
My biggest struggle clothes-wise has always been jeans. I love a good pair of ripped jeans like that look, to me, is like that. That's my go-to outfit. Especially if I'm not wearing compression under it.
And you can see my tattoo peeking through. I love it.
I always had the issue of the jeans fitting the hip, but then my waist was so small that it would buckle out. Or if I found the ones that were like the skinny jeans that fit up here tighter, then they were too skinny at my ankle and didn't stretch enough.
It was like a constant kind of battle. Torrid - I get a lot of jeans from Torrid or Lane Brant. I think the Terra & Sky at Walmart just came out with a stretchy “jegging.” And if you don't care about having a zipper and buttons and are okay with a jegging, I think they go up to a 34-36. They go pretty big. And they seem to run big. I know I was able to size down in them. They stretch over the lower legs well and fit better. They also have a jean short that works well. And they're like Walmart prices, so they're fairly cheap. So that you can put your money in compression or good shoes!
Post-surgery, I have now been able to fit into American Eagle Plus. This is shocking to me because they say they are 22-24, but I've held them up to my Torrid 20 to 24s, a good couple-inch difference. I had the ripped jeans over my compression, so you can see the black compression through it. That's something I always do. I always make sure I wear my compression when I'm going to try on clothes. And I make sure it fits over it. Because I have to wear my compression. If I slack off on it, I get out of the habit, and then I'm miserable. And then I have to do the wrapping, which I don't like to do. I made sure that if I'm trying on pants, dresses, or shoes, I have my compression on. So I know that it fits. It might not seem like that much of a difference, but it really can make a pair of pants not fit. Or a pair of shoes not fit. It's shocking how much that little bit of difference can like not make something work.
We’d like to thank Cara for her openness and inspiring spirit. You can follow Cara on Instagram or Facebook or on her website: palegingerpear.com.
The full interview can be found on the Pandere youtube channel.