We live in a world where Victoria’s Secret models are celebrities, Kirstie Alley is called a pig for being overweight, and jeggings are a fashion trend It’s not always a nice place. So, take a young person who is still becoming comfortable with her body, promise her a j-pouch, discover in surgery that she has Crohn’s disease which cannot be treated with a j-pouch, tell her she has a permanent ileostomy when she wakes up, and then let the fun begin.
I know…I’m not very subtle, am I? Yes, I’m talking about myself. But I know there are others who share the story of learning to love their ostomy when they are young. For me, I was in my mid-twenties when I needed to have surgery. Even the doctors I consulted with before surgery acted like I would want a j-pouch over an ileostomy. I was convinced that having an external appliance was the worst possible outcome. But I learned the lesson that I have NO control over certain things, and woke up with an ileostomy. I’ve come to accept and embrace it. I certainly am much healthier because of it. I’ll never forget when I woke up from having my surgery, I said I actually felt better and my dad said with a smile “It’s amazing what removing a diseased organ can do.”
At any rate, in my teens and twenties, I was always very modest about my body. I would prefer to wear baggy t-shirts that didn’t show off my curves. If anything was slightly snug (which usually meant it fit), I would feel very self conscious. Were people looking at my chest? Is this too tight? I wouldn’t want to draw any attention to myself. Heaven forbid.
Then, to suddenly have an ileostomy in my mid-twenties, well….you can imagine what that does to one’s self image. I wish in the hospital instead of teaching me how to take care of the appliance, they also taught me how to take care of my self-image. I was repulsed with the appliance and felt like it was the end of the world. I would have welcomed any tips about what to wear, how to feel confident, anything. Of course, that would come later, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if there was a program in place that would help me adjust.
It has taken a LONG time, but now in my thirties, I am comfortable with my body, comfortable showing off my curves, and aware of what works on me and what doesn’t. My ileostomy is part of me, and I’m thankful for it since it has helped me be healthy. I still resent looking at a Victoria’s Secret catalog, but not because the models are so gorgeous. No, I resent the fact that I can’t wear a bikini without my ileostomy being obvious. But mostly I resent the fact that I didn’t feel more comfortable with my body at an earlier age.
I was 19 when I had my ileostomy in 1977 so I can totally relate to your post.
The Koch pouch was around then but the surgery was kind of a dicey thing and not available in too many places so it wasn’t really an option.
I was more comfortable with my body in my twenties and early thirties but now that I’m going through menopause and midlife, I’m finding some of those old body image issues coming up again.
Good to know I’m not alone. It’s not easy to be female, is it? I’m cautiously optimistic about menopause. But thinking about it (and knowing it is not far away) makes me feel like I need to brace for the impact of those body image issues that never seem to totally go away. I welcome any and all wisdom you can share. 🙂