I have to be completely honest about my personal struggle with body image and my ostomy… I don’t really have any issues. Wait, let me clarify that opening statement: I do have body image concerns, but fortunately for me none of them relate to having an ostomy. In my experience, my ostomy has actually helped me with body image. Let me explain:
I’m now in my very early thirties, very early. 🙂 I had my colon removed almost a year ago and it came out during a time when I felt as though my body was no longer mine. I couldn’t eat, even when I wanted to. I couldn’t control my bowels. I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t. From a purely physical point of view, my appearance changed drastically in the span of a couple of months. In the time leading up to my first serious hospitalization I had gained about 30lbs between stress and swelling and topped out at about 220lbs. By the time I was being wheeled into surgery I’d lost a total of 55lbs. And just for a reference point, before I ever started noticing any symptoms of UC I weighed about 135lbs and maintained a pretty rigorous workout schedule.
With all of that being said, I spent the majority of my twenties living up to impossible beauty standards. I was obese once upon a time and relentlessly pursued the idea of the “perfect body”. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know now that I would have never achieved it and honestly I started figuring it out once I started hitting very specific and measurable goals and I’d never be satisfied. I’d find myself wanting a flatter stomach or smaller arms and no matter how hard I worked or how well I ate, it was never enough. I’d wear shapewear ALL THE TIME and obsess about whether or not I looked fat. So, it would be an understatement to say that my twenties were a time when my body image was extremely warped.
I am someone who can empathize with the fact that having an ostomy can also warp or distort one’s body image, but for me an ostomy has afforded me the grace I needed to realize that chasing physical perfection is just that, a never ending chase. I sort of rationalize things this way nowadays: I may no longer in theory, ever have a nice flat “perfect” stomach, but my ostomy has allowed me to thrive, not just survive. In the months leading up to my long hospitalizations, like I’ve mentioned before, were hard. I wasn’t eating or drinking anything, muchless going to the gym. I was just trying to survive and to be honest there were days I thought I’d die young from complications of my UC.
I can only speak on my journey, but once I came out on the other side of my UC ordeal I was so happy to be alive and on the mend that what I looked like physically didn’t matter at all. I mean, like AT ALL. My hair was falling out due to malnutrition, I had Prednisone moonface, I was covered in bruises and scars from surgery and the countless procedures I had undergone while admitted. I was tough to look at, but I was relieved and grateful I’d survived UC.
I still have scars on my abdomen from my surgery and now have a bag that hangs there constantly and for good measure, I also some rolls and stretch marks from years of yo-yo dieting. I’ve got this little buddha vibe going on. Ha! Now that there is so much imperfection, I’ve just gotten to the point were I don’t stress any of it anymore.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that I do have days when I get really down on myself. I’ll feel pathetic and complain about the fact that I didn’t ask to look this way and pretty much paint myself as a hopeless mess, but what I’ve learned to to is remind myself that although I’m a little battle worn, I have a body that now functions pretty much like before (with a few alterations). I also try to remember just how much I suffered due to Ulcerative Colitis and how hard life was during that time and I’m always overwhelmed with gratitude. The gratitude for the life I’m currently leading with my ostomy has made body image pretty low on the list of things that I currently worry about. I still look in the mirror from time to time notice things I can work on, but I also take a nice hard long look at my bag and remind myself that if it weren’t for my ostomy I wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to mold this body into something better than it was before.