Patients who suffer from Crohn’s disease often hide their life-saving accessory: a colostomy bag. For a 23-year-old woman of Worcester, England, hiding her colostomy bags are now a thing of the past. She posed with them in a black bikini, helping her get the confidence to pursue modeling again. The photo, originally shared on Crohn’s and Colitis UK’s Facebook page by Bethany Townsend, has received more than 195,000 likes, helping other people with her condition become comfortable in their skin.
“I didn’t expect this kind of reaction at all,” Townsend told the Daily Mail. “I’m just so glad that it’s brought about more awareness of Crohn’s disease and it’s made me feel so much more confident about the colostomy bags.” “If I can inspire or help other people in my position to feel a little more comfortable in their own skin then I’m really happy.”
The aspiring model didn’t always feel comfortable showing her colostomy bags. Townsend was first fitted in 2010 when her bowel ruptured, after being diagnosed with the disease at the age of 3. She had various surgeries to try and combat the disease, having sections of her intestine cut out, only to be in remission for a few weeks before it came back again. “I was rushed to intensive care where the doctors told my family I would need more surgery as my intestines had become infected and inflamed again,” Townsend recalled on that day in 2010.
The disease is characterized by inflammation on the lining of the digestive tract that can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, and even malnutrition, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although the exact cause of Crohn’s disease remains unknown, researchers believe factors such as heredity and a malfunctioning immune system could play key roles. In extreme cases like Townsend’s, the damaged section of the patient’s intestine must be removed to bring out the healthy part as a stoma, which is known as a colostomy.
Since being fitted for the bags, Townsend met her supportive 33-year-old husband Ian, who she credits for making her feel comfortable with her disease. It was in a trip to Mexico last Christmas that she finally felt she was ready to embrace the colostomy bags, The Huffington Post reported. “When I met Ian I showed him my bags straight away, but he didn’t bat an eye lid — I actually felt like I was over reacting,” she said. “He taught me that there was more to me than the bags and would always encourage me to show off my figure.”
The photo that has caused such fanfare was originally taken in December 2013 while on vacation in Mexico, and then reposted on Townsend’s blog in February. The aspiring model wrote on her blog: “So that’s why I’m doing this, to get awareness out. I’m going to be organizing some fund-raising events and get this disease known. Also, this is just a fraction of what’s gone on in my life, yes there’s more.”
Townsend is now considering going back to modeling, after giving up on it after the colostomy bags. “I did a little bit of work here and there before I had the colostomy bags, but once I had them fitted I thought that was the end of the dream,” she said.