Body Image With a Stoma
With the weather getting warmer recently (although I now don’t know where the sun is hiding), body image is something that starts to spring to a lot of people’s minds, including myself. Naturally, even before my stoma, how I would look when more of my body was visible compared to when I was wrapped up, was something I would think about.
It’s very common when it starts to get into warmer weather to start worrying about how we look even more so and become more body-conscious and, if we are not careful, body-obsessed, but I am a huge believer right now, even more so than ever, in learning to love the skin I’m in and embrace my body, scars, stoma bag and all. Whether that be in a bikini, dress, cute little co-ord number or in my pyjamas, I always choose garments which are going to promote a good mindset towards how I feel about my body. I started post-surgery in high-waisted swimwear for swimming, the beach and days in the sun, but I now mainly only wear high-waisted for swimming in a pool as I personally prefer how my body looks in normal swimwear.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease & my body
My body has been through a number of changes during my Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) journey. It has gone through the more “visible” changes, such as weight loss and weight gain and I have obviously gained a stoma bag and a battle scar to go with it. It has also gone through less visible changes, such as smaller scars and healthy changes such as developing a regular period pattern & gaining a healthy appetite, not so good changes in my iron levels which have needed intervention and various mental health struggles and triumphs.
I have stretch marks from where I have lost and gained weight and they make me proud. I do not feel the need or see the need to hide them or cover them up if they are on show with the clothes I am wearing. They are part of me, just like my stoma bag and scars.
Adjusting to bodily changes before and after stoma surgery
Adjusting to how I view and appreciate my body over the years has been difficult and tough at times and that is completely normal. Going from a bagless body to suddenly having a bag attached to your body catching your poo isn’t something most people are going to feel amazing with 100% of the time. It is a journey, where there are stumbling blocks, days you want to scream and shout at it and even some days where you can’t face your own reflection in the mirror.
Naturally, I would choose not having a stoma bag and going to the toilet in the “normal” way if I could, but life hasn’t dealt me that hand and there is nothing I can do about it, so I have to crack on, embrace the fact that my bag saved my life and celebrate my body and myself for who I am now. 95% of the time I love my bag and I have always thrown myself into loving my bag and what it does for me where I can. I always focus on what it has enabled me to do and not focus on the few things it has hindered temporarily or permanently, such as my ongoing battle with fatigue.
Before my surgery, I often had such a negative relationship with my body. I used to have regular accidents where I just could not get to the toilet on time or I’d poo myself in my sleep. I’d never be able to maintain weight and if I did gain weight, it would be because of steroids which made me so self-critical when I looked in the mirror at my swollen face from the side effects. I’d never be able to experience intimacy or look at myself without seeing my ribs that protruded under my skin, the fact that I had no curves or boobs and I’d often find myself crying when I’d ordered clothes to make myself feel better but the reality of them on myself was so far off the image I’d wanted in my head.
I wouldn’t want to go through that again. It’s all thanks to my bag that I now have a much healthier relationship with my body.
Choose self-acceptance & embrace the skin you’re in (when possible!)
I say the above line with sensitivity, as I understand that some days that seems like an impossible mountain to climb. That is human and that is okay. I’ve been on such a journey that I have to focus on being kind to myself on the days where I struggle to accept my body, or those days where I look in the mirror and the bits that I don’t like jump out at me instead of shifting my eyes to the things I do like most days. Learning to accept the body you’re in post stoma surgery isn’t something that will happen overnight or even in the first several months or years for some people. It is a gradual and delicate process which is different for everyone and if you still haven’t reached that part yet, it is okay. Please don’t be hard on yourself.
What can I do to help me accept my body more post stoma surgery?
First and foremost, it’s important to tune in to how you are feeling before you go ahead and try some of these things. These tips are just from my own experience and what I find has helped me. Trying these tips on bad days may help whereas on the other hand it may make you feel worse if it requires you to step out of your comfort zone and you don’t quite manage it. It’s okay if these things take you a few tries or if they do not work for you. Everybody’s journey is individual and unique for them and is something that should be handled sensitively, without doing too much too soon and expecting too much of yourself.
Some tips to boost body confidence surgery which still help me now, nearly 9 years post-surgery, are:
- – The “3 things rule” – you may have seen me mention this one before. Look in a mirror and pick out 3 things you do like every day and focus on those. If you think 3 is a bit too much for you to manage, start smaller and pick 1 thing for a few days, then go from there.
- – Unfollow any social media accounts which don’t promote a good relationship with your body – I follow so many accounts where people celebrate the skin they’re in and use their struggles and differences to empower If I see something which makes me have negative chatter with my views on my own body, I reaffirm that I don’t need to compare myself to others. If that doesn’t work, I will make a note of the things I like about my body or if it’s too detrimental then I will unfollow said account.
- – Treat yourself to pretty underwear and do a little photoshoot on self-timer – Pretty underwear, your phone and a tripod is all you need for this. Pamper yourself, do your hair and make-up how you like, spray some nice perfume and put on some feel-good music if you really want to get into it! Then, snap away and have a mini photoshoot. These photos are for you. They aren’t to compare yourself to others with or to post on social media or to add any pressure to you. They are to try and promote your relationship with your body and your “feel good” factor. Again, focus on what you do like, not the things you would change.
- – Wear clothes that you feel good in
- – Have regular self-care sessions & give yourself a pamper with a nice candlelit bubble bath, exfoliate, do a face mask and drink your favourite drink
- – Read books on self-confidence and self-esteem – There are plenty out there that can give you different perspectives on learning to love the skin you’re in and how to embrace bodily changes also.
- – Go gentle on yourself – You’ll get there!
As always, if you are worried or are struggling with your body image, you may want to consider talking to a medical professional about your feelings such as a stoma nurse or doctor. Talking to a friend you trust is also a great way to share your feelings and also helps you to realise that most of us have our hang-ups and bodily hang-ups are quite normal. It’s how we put things in place so that these hang-ups don’t control our lives or our mental health which is vital.