Bold, beautiful and making moves
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Jearlean Taylor draws on her career as a model and motivational speaker to help women radiate confidence and make a difference
My ostomy journey had given me purpose and allowed me to make a difference. I’m especially grateful that I’ve been able to empower other women to know they are not defined by their circumstances.
I was only 2 years old when I was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare vaginal cancer. The doctors didn’t think I would reach my 3rd birthday. However, by the time I was 4, after many lengthy hospital stays with lots of chemo and lots of reconstructive surgery, I was declared cancer‑free.
I came away from this with two permanent stomas: a colostomy and a urostomy. Growing up, my heart’s desire was to be normal like other children, but I lived with a secret, and I often wondered what would become of my life. As I became a teenager, I struggled with self-pity, low self-esteem and depression, on top of some severe medical complications. I was always thinking ‘why me?’, but I never expressed how I felt, even to my parents.
Through my journey and my faith, I discovered who I could be in spite of my medical circumstances. My insecurities did not change overnight, but I learned to be a survivor and to love every part of me, inside and out.
Jerlean has been modelling for 21 years
Strutting our stuff
I now work as a professional model, on the runway and in print. Even though I was well-trained when I first hit the runway, I still felt insecure. I hoped no one would ask me to model a two-piece bathing suit. It turns out that my ostomy bags haven’t been an issue in the fashion world, and for that I am grateful.
Still, to be the fabulous fashion model I wanted to be, I did have to figure out how to disguise my bags, and I did so. For fashion shows or photo shoots, I never leave home without my high-waist undergarments to keep my bags secure and in place. It’s these secret undergarments that help this super model stay fierce.
The fashion industry does still cling to certain standards looks—especially when it comes to size, age and shape—but we don’t have to be defined by those standards. The essence of who we are is within. Models come in all shapes and sizes, and our character, personality, confidence and self-love are what make us truly beautiful. I’m 53 years old, and I’ve been a fashion model for 21 years with two ostomy bags. My positive body image is a reflection of inner beauty, on and off the runway. Fashion modelling has helped raise my self-esteem and let me to step out of my comfort zone. For me, it’s fun, exciting and a challenge—just like life. I love it!
Top fashion tips with a stoma
You can wear anything you want, and there are clothes for everyone, so be open to trying new things
Don’t be afraid to go clothes shopping; you can always bring a friend or family member along for support
You can use ostomy accessories to help disguise your ostomy under your clothing, while providing extra security; examples include ostomy wraps, high-waist undergarments, stoma belts, belly bands and stealth belts
Patterns, such as prints, florals, stripes and polka dots, can make for great camouflage
Accessories can make any outfit fashionable, whether you bedeck yourself in jewellery, throw on a scarf or shawl or just practical belt, suspenders, purse or backpack
You don’t always have to disguise your stoma bag, and you can wear it proudly with confidence and style
What makes you different makes you beautiful, and a smile can make any outfit fabulous
Strong for each other
We are all are strong women. We have the ability to make a difference, to change lives and to be role models. In order to be all that we can be, we women need to help each other build self-esteem and show each other how special we are. To do that, we should give each other support, guidance and a listening ear. I encourage you to celebrate yourself, embrace that you are beautiful with your ostomy and make your aspirations a reality.
Ostomy Stylzz is a social media community for people with a stoma to help each other be stylish, look fashionable and feel confident with their ostomy. The Ostomy Stylzz attitude is summed up in comments like:
• ‘I realize “life” happens to us all; I accept my ostomy journey with pride’
• ‘Everything I went through has prepared me to make a difference in someone else’s life’
• ‘My ostomies do not dictate who I am; I’m boss of my bags’
• ‘I am beautiful with my ostomies’
• ‘My life does not stop because of my ostomies; I do, be and live my life with a purpose’
• ‘I appreciate and love my body—my scars, my flaws and my bags’
• ‘“Can’t” and “ostomy” do not go in same sentence’
• ‘The ostomy community is my source of inspiration; we need each other’
Jearlean Taylor is a model, author, cancer survivor, ostomate and entrepreneur, based in Baltimore, Maryland, USA