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International Women’s Day: Living as a Young Woman With a Stoma

Sunday 8th March is International Women’s Day 2020 – What better time to discuss what it’s like living as a young woman with a stoma?!

Having had a permanent ileostomy formed in 2011, aged 19, my whole world & life changed overnight. My surgery saved my life, after many touch & go hours, but to go from having a “normal” body to suddenly having different “plumbing” was something that was going to take a lot of getting used to! Having had symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease from as young as I can remember, a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease of the small intestine at age 7, then a re-diagnosis of Crohn’s of the large intestine at 17, I couldn’t recall many days when I really felt like I had actually lived in the 19 years of my life pre-surgery. Right from the get-go of knowing I was going to get my stoma, it is something I have always tried to embrace with open arms, where possible. I adopted the mindset even before my surgery that having my stoma was going to give me my life…Life that I had never experienced before. A life with a lot less physical pain, a life being able to eat, a life being able to leave the house & a life no which no longer revolved around the bathroom being my “best friend”.

Having my stoma not only opened my eyes to a whole different world full of new possibilities, it enabled me and empowered me as a woman to dare to try, dream & explore. Yes, having a stoma is a kinda big deal but this big deal wasn’t given to me to hinder me, it was done to save me, help me & shape me into the woman I am today.

“Well, how am I ever meant to look like her?!” – Learning to accept yourself in a world full of beauty “ideals”

In a world full of programmes such as Love Island, it’s hardly surprising that there is so much pressure around what we “should” look like in society today. Having just sat through another season of Love Island myself, I’ve been guilty of falling for this & finding myself getting absorbed in what I dislike about my body, rather than celebrating what I like, way too often for my own good. A “bikini body” is an ideal that soon becomes very toxic & if you don’t get on top of your thoughts, can soon send you into working on autopilot and comparing yourself to others before you even know it. What I try to remind myself regularly, especially on days where I struggle the most with my self-esteem, is that pretty much everybody has aspects of their bodies that they do not like… and that includes those who you’d probably see as the “ideal” bikini body. Even the girls on Love Island will have things about their bodies they would change or are insecure about. A lot of what we see on programs such as this is what the people behind such shows want us to see. Take yourself out on to a beach, whether abroad or at home, and you’ll soon realise that bodies all come in different shapes and sizes and that is okay. Why can’t a bikini body merely just be as simple as a body in a bikini? You got this, girl! They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

Having had stoma surgery, I try to tell myself that if anything, I have even more right to learn to accept my body for what it is because of what it has carried me through, kicking & screaming or not! I think scars of any type tell a story & they are warrior stripes. They are reminders of how amazing our bodies are and what we have battled through & come out on top. I also think stretch marks are so very natural & beautiful and aren’t things that should be hidden. I have stretch marks behind my knees and on my bum from where I gained weight quite rapidly after surgery, as well as numerous scars from my IBD journey. Scars, stretch marks, belly rolls, body hair, freckles, birthmarks & cellulite to name a few things, are all perfectly normal & something that we should help people embrace (including ourselves!) where possible.

Self-acceptance is definitely a good place to start if you feel that self-love feels a little bit far fetched for you. At the end of the day, we are all fighting our own battles so to get to a place where you can at least accept yourself is definitely a winner over feeling like you have to love every part of yourself. The idea of self-love to me can sometimes make me feel like a bit of a failure if I can’t do that because I have a multitude of physical and mental aspects to deal with that mean I will often find it hard to love myself. For me, it’s more empowering myself as a woman to believe in myself & try & focus on the bits I can be positive about. After all, without my stoma, I wouldn’t be here, so on days where I struggle, I use the fact that my bag gave me a life instead of a box as a part of myself to like. The fact that the stoma saved my life is in itself something amazing.

Struggling to find what you like about your body post-surgery? A good self-confidence booster I know quite a few women use in everyday life is to stand in front of the mirror and name 3 things you like about yourself & reaffirm that a few times as you stand there. If 3 seems too much, then merely focus on 1 thing & keep reaffirming that. After all, it is much better for our self-confidence to stand & pick out something we actually like rather than stand there & pick ourselves apart. On the days where you can’t even name 1 thing, look inside yourself. Beauty often comes from within. It could be something such as you know you are kind or even that you held a door open for someone that day. If you’re still struggling, know that it is okay to have bad days and that those days will pass. You are a beautiful warrior inside & out, even if you don’t see it!

Being a female Brand Ambassador in the stoma world

Being a young woman with a stoma has opened me up to many amazing opportunities, especially in the last few years, within the stoma world itself. Being a Brand Ambassador for a few stoma companies has allowed me to be a voice for young women who have had stoma surgery, and has helped me to reach out to those who have probably just needed that little encouragement to feel more empowered & that having a stoma bag attached to your body is definitely something to celebrate & embrace. It makes my heart warm & my suffering worthwhile every time I get a message from somebody saying that something I have done has helped them.

Aura Clothing & Comfizz

I have had the pleasure of working with the amazing Angelina (who is in my collage below) and the fantastic Aura Clothing. Aura Clothing specialises in high quality, fashionable & ethical clothing, primarily designed with those who have had stoma surgery in mind. I have shouted loud & proud about these garments, & I’d recommend them to anyone, stoma or not! Wearing Aura Clothing has enabled me as a woman with a stoma to feel so much more confident & empowered, & in turn this has driven me to want to empower others. Through being a Brand Ambassador, it has been a great way to help get the word out there, especially to young females in a similar position to myself, that you can still wear what you love with a stoma. I have also had the pleasure of taking part in a photoshoot with Comfizz as a Brand Ambassador. Comfizz specialises in stoma support wear & boosted my body confidence since day 1 post-surgery through their products. Being photographed in stoma underwear & swimwear definitely required me to step out of my comfort zone, but it definitely paid off. The experience I had on the day as well as getting to meet others in a similar position myself is something I use to empower others to really embrace their bodies post stoma surgery where they can. Through seeing my photos from that day, as well as photos I have on my own Instagram, I really hope I can help and empower others to learn to love the skin they are in, scars and all!

Women in the IBD community that inspire me on the daily

Within the IBD world alone, I could list so many beautiful & amazing women that inspire me on the daily. Women who inspire me haven’t necessarily done anything but be themselves & have the courage to embrace their bodies & help others do so, but it’s safe to say that I am inspired even on the tiniest of levels by so many by how they go about their daily lives. I see so many women facing adversity and never giving up, even when it just about takes everything of them to get through. I see so many women holding out their hands to help pick others up, which is definitely what we need more of in society today. I see so many women being brave & challenging stigma. I see so many women helping others even when they are struggling themselves. Below are just a handful of these amazing women who help give me the courage to embrace the skin I’m in.

Ways to empower yourself as a woman with a stoma

  • – Empowering others often empowers you – share your journey on social media & you’ll soon find someone who can relate to you or someone who could benefit from you sharing your experience (private Facebook groups is a good one if you want a more targeted, discreet place)
  • – Increase self-care – looking after yourself usually means you’re more likely to feel more able to build resilience in daily life.
  • – Speak to other women who have had surgery and explore blogs. A personal favourite of mine is Hannah Witton’s website & blog.
  • – Surround yourself with positive reinforcement – things such as positive Pinterest quotes, positive Instagram accounts, self-help magazines such as Breathe & making sure you know when to reward yourself are great ways to do this! Go on, grab yourself that mid-week doughnut & coffee!
  • – Make a list on the pros of having a stoma & keep it in a safe place for days where you need the reminder.
  • – Remember that you are beautiful! And if you don’t see it, I can guarantee someone else will!

For every day, not just for International Women’s Day, with a stoma or without a stoma, remember the importance of building one another up, not tearing one another down! Help fix one another’s crowns & empower one another to help everyone see their own beauty! We got this, girls! 

You can read Amy’s blog here

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