TikToker With Prosthetic Fingers Shares Her Experience With Tens of Thousands of Followers

TikTok creator and Indigenous activist Natasha Baggett has gone viral on the app after sharing details of her day-to-day life using prosthetic fingers—and while much of the engagement with her videos has been positive, some of her experiences, including receiving "hateful comments" on the app and having her videos flagged as featuring "graphic violence," speak to the ongoing persecution faced by marginalized communities online.

Self-described in her TikTok bio as an "amputee, farmer, woodworker, [and] spinal cord injury survivor," Baggett specifically gained attention for a video posted last week, in which she responded to the question: "Do you ever get phantom fingers?"

"I actually do, I get that a lot on my nubs," explains Baggett in the clip. As she speaks, she shows her prostheses—which she appears to use on the index and middle fingers of her right hand—from different angles. "It's really odd. People don't understand that it's not just pain that happens...but also, like, sometimes my finger feels like it needs to pop really bad."

"I used to do that all the time, and it feels like the ones that aren't there anymore...need to be popped," she adds. Baggett also said that she feels other phantom sensations besides just pain, including the feeling of water running down her finger and cold temperatures.

The clip has already been viewed over 613,000 times and counting.

In a conversation with Newsweek, Baggett noted that she hopes to "normalize limb difference awareness and help other amputees to not feel self-conscious or ashamed of their amputations." She added that she "would like to highlight the fact that there are functional prosthetic options out there for finger and partial hand amputees."

Baggett is Muscogee Creek and Seminole, and in addition to posting videos about her prostheses, she uses her platform as a space for Indigenous activism. And while much of the engagement has been positive—she says she's "made a lot of friendships through the app" and notes that "it's a great way to connect with other amputees & other Natives"—she has noticed an alarming trend.

"Many of my videos about Native American topics have been reported [and] I have received hateful comments," she explained. "My amputee content as well. For a while, all of my videos even went under automatic review, [and] my account was threatened with being deleted." She noted that her prosthetics videos, which feature her amputations, have been reported for featuring "graphic violence"—an accusation that couldn't be further from the truth.

She theorizes that "the engagement from [her] prosthetic videos may have attracted some people who have a grudge against the Indigenous community, or maybe [TikTok] doesn't like their platform being used for activism."

She added that her experience with censorship on the app is far from unique: "My friend...experienced the same thing with her videos on Indigenous activism, [and] unfortunately many other Disability Advocates & Native American creators have as well." According to Baggett, being "told [her] body was too graphic/violent for their platform" was "honestly kind of a confidence blow."

That being said, Baggett is grateful for some aspects of her videos' popularity. "The engagement [and] popularity of some of my prosthetic videos has helped spread the word to a lot of finger [and] partial hand amputees who were unaware that these prosthetics existed." She has also "received countless emails from other amputees asking for details on how to get their own, many who are just looking for support."

She said that opportunity to help others get prosthetics of their own is "really special."

After the video on phantom pain, viewer questions kept flooding in. Another video, posted soon after, answers another question from a viewer—this time, about how her prostheses work. "Are they fully mechanical?" asks the viewer.

"When I move my nubs, my prosthetic fingers move," she explains. "My prosthetics are body-driven—that means that they are not electronic." As a result, Baggett doesn't need to charge them, and she can get them wet, making them useful for swimming and showering.

She also notes that the prosthetic digits "helped restore a lot of fine motor skills, like picking up small things."

Horton's Orthotics & Prosthetics explains the difference between Baggett's body-powered prosthetics, as opposed to electric options. For a body-powered prosthesis, "a system of cables or harnesses (along with manual controls, in many cases)" is what controls the limb. "Essentially, you operate and control the prosthetic arm using other parts of your body, such as your shoulders, elbows, or chest."

They note that body-powered prostheses are "practical" because "they tend to be more affordable...and do not rely on an outside power source to operate."

Myoelectric prostheses, on the other hand, "are controlled using electric signals that are actually created by your body's muscles." The signal, inside the device, can "obtain electrical signals from these muscles," "translate those signals into movements," and "execute the demands properly."

Prosthetic limbs date back all the way to Ancient Egypt, reports the AbilityLab, but they became more common during the American Civil War due to soldiers losing limbs in battle.

According to the Amputee Coalition, there are "nearly two million people living with limb loss in the United States." Additionally, "approximately 185,000 amputations occur in the United States each year."

Updated 07/23/2021, 10:49 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to add comments from Baggett.

Bionic Hand
A Tiktoker is going viral after explaining what it's like living with prosthetic fingers. Here, retired U.S. Army Sergeant Juan Arredondo wears the world's first bionic hand with independently moving fingers, in 2007. Mario Tama/Getty Images