Showing your stoma: why it’s time to stop hiding
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Jessica Grossman recalls how she learned to stop worrying about having her pouch on show
I am over it. I’m officially over trying so hard to hide my ostomy. Since I had ostomy surgery in 2003, I’d always tried to hide it. Not because I was ashamed of it (as looking at my website will show), but because I always thought it would make other people uncomfortable. That’s why I’d never been one to just let it hang out, and I had spent lots of time and effort to find clothes that would blend it into my body. I did it for the sake of those around me.
Dressing with a stoma
To me, the ostomy is a pseudo-bum. After all, it took over a large part of my bum’s job, so I wear clothing that hides it, because I figure that if I don’t want to see someone else’s bum, then they probably don’t want to see mine. I’m very good at keeping my ostomy invisible: I wore a skin-tight wedding dress without a line or a bulge, and I honestly consider that an achievement. I’m all about ostomy awareness, but not on my wedding day; that day there were more important things at hand.
One of my favourite things about being so good at hiding my ostomy is the times when I’m wearing super-tight jeans or leggings and someone tries to guess where the bag is, to no avail. I like being able to prove that I can still wear stylish clothes without waving my pseudo-bum in everyone’s face.
The bikini challenge
As my ostomy is sited quite low, jeans and a T-shirt are a pretty easy combination for me. But bathing suits have always been a struggle, as they are for most ostomates. Every so often, I post photos on my blog or Instagram of myself in high-waisted bikini bottoms or in one-pieces—which I adore, and which keep the bag concealed. That’s only after I’ve done a lot of shopping, searching and trying on to find the suits that work. Most bathing suits are actually just strings of fabric, so how are you supposed to keep a bag in there? When I find what works, I will be sure to share it.
One day, on my search for a new bikini, I saw a pair of super-tiny black bikini bottoms and decided to take on a challenge, saying to myself: ‘maybe I can make these work’. And I did! However, to get those itty-bitty bikini bottoms to hide my bag, I had to roll, tuck, squeeze, cut and basically not move for it to stay safely concealed behind the small piece of black fabric deemed appropriate for water activities. It has been worth the effort for the tan lines, but it has always been a pain in the … bag.
There are a few companies that make swimwear designed especially for people with a stoma, including shorts and one- and two-piece swimsuits.
Many women with stomas prefer to wear regular swimwear, often choosing high-waisted bottoms for bikinis. For ideas on different styles, check out the following blog posts:
Stopping the shame
Not long ago, I was getting ready to sit by a pool. I pulled out those tiny bottoms from my pile of one-pieces and high-waisted bottoms. I looked at them for a while and suddenly just thought ‘why not?’, and I decided to wear them as a person without a stoma would. I tucked the bottom of my pouch into the suit, so it wouldn’t flap around (which can be annoying), and left the top of the bag peeking out from the fabric before going outside to sit in the sun.
No one cared. And when I say no one, I mean no one even bothered to notice—not a second glance, not a deep stare. If there was even a quick ‘oh hm’, I didn’t notice, and certainly no one gave it more than a split second’s thought. That was amazing. I felt so free, so at peace, so relaxed. On top of it all, my tan lines were soon where I wanted them! A new and sun-drenched world had opened up for me.
Still, I don’t exactly regret not wearing swimsuits this way from the very start. Perhaps I was just younger, but I feel that back in 2003 when I had my surgery, society was in a very difference place and a lot less sensitive. Comparing how people react to my stoma pouch, it feels that there is now a much greater understanding of people with illnesses and disabilities.
Jess and Uncover Ostomy are working on a new project, and they need your help! Head over to osto-mate.com, sign up, and someone from the team will reach out to you to learn about your unique ostomy story. That story will then be used to help ostomates worldwide. Questions? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now we have the internet giving each of us a megaphone to tell the world who we are, why we’re different and how proud we are of this. When I talk to people about ostomies now, I hear more people saying: ‘oh yeah, I heard about those’, or ‘my cousin/friend/uncle’s brother’s mum/sister/husband has an ostomy’. Now it’s almost like everyone knows someone with one.
Thanks to the internet, and thanks to people like you, we’ve been able to change the way society looks at any type of difference. We’ve opened up and shared our struggles and triumphs (whatever they may be), and we’ve shown others that we’re just like them, with just a few minor tweaks. These efforts have helped society grow to be more curious, accepting, and I would even say, over it. Everyone’s got something, right?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a long way to go, and I’m not done just yet. Spellcheck still thinks ‘ostomy’ is a typo, and I still find myself trying to explain how great life can be with an ostomy to those facing surgery. But we’re definitely going in the right direction.
I’ll probably still tuck my ostomy in to some of my high-waisted bikinis or one-piece suits, because I like them, and, honestly, sometimes it’s just annoying to have the bag hang out! I’ll also still find and wear clothes to keep my bag hidden, but that’s only because there is a time and a place to show off your bum (like by the pool), and other times, it’s best to keep it to yourself.
What I can say is that I am planning to expand my bathing suit wardrobe into more exciting styles and cuts, because if I have to look at other people’s bums by the pool, then they can look at mine!
Jessica Grossman is a Toronto-based actor and model, who founded and blogs at UncoverOstomy.org
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