At first glance, with her long blonde hair, bright green eyes and a thin physique, Taylor Muhl looks similarly to many other working models. But then, as you can see, her torso has what appears to be a line straight down the middle, with one half a different skin pigmentation than the other.
That’s because Muhl has a very rare genetic condition called chimerism, which most often occurs as a result of two fraternal twin eggs fusing together in the womb. It can happen in the early stages of pregnancy, or a little later on, which is what happened in Muhl’s case. As a result, she has two different bloods streams, two different immune systems that are allergic to entirely different things (her ears are sensitive to a metal her belly button is not, for example) and that line down her stomach, which Muhl was born with.
The redder side of her stomach actually comes from her fraternal twin’s genetic makeup, which Muhl absorbed in the womb. That means that yes, Muhl is partly her own twin, with the twin’s DNA and cells still in her body too, reacting to everything from food to medications differently.
But growing up, she had no idea what chimerism was. She only saw that her stomach had that line. “My whole life, my mom and I were told by doctors that it was just a birth mark,” Muhl said in an interview with Mic. “They’d never seen anything like it. As long as it didn’t hurt, it must be a birthmark. I never knew I was different until like 6, 7, 8 years old. I was a dancer and they put us in a costume that was a two-piece and that’s when I noticed like, ‘Oh wait a minute, why don’t the other girls’ stomachs look like mine?’”
For years Muhl’s mother insisted that she was just special, and Muhl tried to cover it up as much as possible throughout her teens. “I would always try to cover it and not show my stomach,” Muhl said. “If I did show it, it would be with friends and family. Maybe I’d show a little midriff, that sort of thing, but I was uncomfortable.”
As an adult, Muhl kept it private not necessarily because she was embarrassed by it but because she knew as a performer and model that there is an expectation for what she should look like, which her stomach obviously deviated from. So for the sake of her career, she kept quiet and it wasn’t until well into her 20s that she finally actually got a diagnosis. Even then, not that much information was — or is — out there about chimeras.
Finally in 2016, after Muhl underwent another round of extensive testing to try to get well, and as she continued to stump doctors, she decided that if no one else was going to speak out about chimerism then she would, for the sake of other people who might have it as well.
“It all of a sudden came to me, like, what am I doing? Why am I hiding this?” Muhl said. “This is a part of my life. I really need to start spreading awareness. This whole time I’ve looked at it like a hindrance — what my stomach looks like, and instead I need to look at it all as a gift. I was born like this and if I can do good with this and help other people, maybe to those undiagnosed, or even just spread body positivity throughout the entertainment business, then why not?”
This past spring, Muhl went public with her story, appearing on an episode of The Doctors to talk about her condition.
Her clip has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube. On the show, Muhl met with a geneticist who was able to tell her more about her condition while also introducing it to the show’s millions of viewers. After the show aired, Muhl posted about it for the first time on her Instagram, and has been receiving more support than she could have imagined.
“On a daily basis I get men and women writing in and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I have this huge birth mark on the side of my leg and for years I just wore pants and because of you I just walked out in shorts,” Muhl said. “People thanking me for having the courage to show my physical abnormality. People have been so accepting and loving and kind and supportive.”
Through posting about it online and continuing to model, Muhl has two real end goals: to launch her own chimerism and autoimmune foundation so people like her have the resources they need, and to spread this idea that beauty doesn’t have just one definition.
“I really do want to spread body positivity, that beauty comes in all different forms, shapes, sizes,” Muhl said. “No one should look a certain way to be in the entertainment business and in everyday life.”