Lily Beltran and her stepmother Katelyn Beltran like to admire all of Lily’s modeling photos on display throughout the house.
“She just popped this leg and looked all sassy,” Katelyn Beltran said.
Even when she’s not trying, Beltran says 16-year-old Lily has a natural talent for modeling. It all started when a photographer felt inspired during a family photo shoot.
“The photographer, it was the first we’d met her, and she was really taken aback by Lily’s potential versatility in photoshoots – just for being able to pull off a lot of different looks – and so she asked her to come and do another photo shoot afterward, and that’s kind of what kicked it off," Beltran said. "And then we were like ‘whoa, ok Lily, you got something there.’”
The greatest challenge has been finding dresses that fit because Lily has scoliosis.
“They make dresses very specifically," Beltran said. "If there weren’t like a keyhole that gave a little forgiveness in the zip-up, it wouldn’t fit her correctly.”
Lily says she wasn’t too bugged by the cosmetic issues. It was the chronic pain that eventually led her to surgery.
“A lot of the time in the middle of the night, my back would hurt, and so I would wake up, and then it was hard to go back to sleep because it wouldn’t go away," Lily said. "Or chores like dishes stuff where I’d have to lean over would hurt.”
“She was sleeping in such a broken way just to feel comfortable, and I know she wasn’t feeling comfortable, so she wasn’t getting good rest," Beltran said. "Therefore, she was exhausted at school – it was affecting her ability to perform well at school or to keep up with her friends.”
Back in December of 2019, Lily went through surgery to straighten out her back. Dr. Brian Shaw is her orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“She had two curves: one way up in her neck and then one longer one down in her thoracic and lumbar spine,” Dr. Shaw said.
He says scoliosis is a sideways curve or bend in the spine.
“It’s found in about three percent of all people.”
Dr.Shaw says scoliosis treatment has improved vastly even since his early years of training.
“For a whole year, they’d make a whole bed out of plaster that they’d keep people in," Dr. Shaw said. "And they would lose weight and get stiff and get bedsores, and today it’s come in, have surgery, go home two days later.”
The biggest risk with surgery is the possibility of infection. However, Dr. Shaw says most of the time, patients are completely fine. That was the case with Lily. Now in her modeling, her back is straight.
“That’s a super volatile industry and not always the best for self-esteem, and everybody knows that," Beltran said. "And we got really lucky to be working with photographers who were just so kind and so sweet about it. But I know that’s not always going to be the reality.”
Beltran says she believes Lily can now pursue modeling with less judgment. But she’s taught Lily to be comfortable in her skin – including the scar that runs down her back. In her future modeling endeavors, Lily says she hopes to continue finding photographers who celebrate what makes people unique.
“It’s more fun to go that route when they want to take pictures of my scar,” Lily said.