With an estimated 1 million Americans currently affected by Crohn’s disease, the need to raise awareness has never been greater. And, thanks to a host of women posting photos of themselves with their colostomy bags, the condition is shedding its stigma.
The disease—a chronic condition that causes the immune system to attack the digestive system—is especially prevalent among those aged 15-35. Inflammation can occur throughout the digestive tract, causing diarrhea, nausea, ulcers, bleeding, joint pain, malnutrition, weakness, and weight loss, among other symptoms. There is currently neither a cure for the disorder nor any indication of how it is caused—though it’s thought to be genetic, environmental, or both. Many sufferers are subject to procedures including intestine removal and the fitting of a colostomy bag, which can easily be humiliating when it comes to stripping off one’s clothes.
But thanks to a spate of uninhibited vacation snaps spreading like wildfire across social media, that idea is taking a serious kicking. Posting on a Crohn’s and Colitis (a similar condition contained to the colon) charity Facebook page, 23-year-old Bethany Townsend shared a photo of herself sunbathing in Mexico—stoma and all. The image quickly took off, being seen by 10 million people and liked nearly 200,000 times within a matter of days. Alongside the picture, she wrote: “After three and a half years, I decided that my colostomy bags shouldn't control my life. So when I went to Mexico with my husband in December last year I finally showed I wasn't ashamed.”