As millions of people start the New Year with resolutions for self-improvement, Harriet Williams offers a poignant lesson in self-acceptance.
Williams, who suffers from bowel disease, flaunts her stoma bag in bikini selfies to encourage others to kick self-consciousness to the curb.
The 25-year-old was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 14. The condition, which causes inflammation of the large intestine, was so painful and debilitating that it caused Williams to run to the bathroom 25 times a day.
“I had the symptoms for about six months before they diagnosed me,” Harriet told the Daily Mail. “I had diarrhea and stomach cramps and had lost about two stone [28 pounds]. I was bleeding, going to the toilet sometimes more than 25 times a day with a severe urgency. I had a severe potassium deficiency from all of the vomiting.”
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After being treated unsuccessfully with steroids, Harriet had an ileostomy bag (also known as a stoma bag) fitted onto her lower abdomen when she was 22 years old. Understandably, the London-based market researcher was self-conscious about the bag at first.
“People’s perception is that it is something old people have, it smells bad or that you can’t wear clothes you want to wear,” Williams said. “As bowel disease becomes more recognized, more younger people are ending up with one.”
Williams initially got snarky comments on social media after posting bikini selfies with her ileostomy bag. “They said they shouldn’t do that – it’s disgusting,” she recalled. “I was being defiant and wore a bikini all the time on holiday.”
Now, Williams is deluged with encouraging comments on social media, with many people saying she’s sending a positive message about self-acceptance. (Check out other bikini beauties here.)
“Now I don’t notice the bag at all, it’s improved my life massively,” she said. “And no one ever looks at me and thinks, ‘she has got a bag.’ The way I live is completely normal.”
Williams has also eased the fears other people battling ulcerative colitis have about surgery and living with bowel disease.
“I posted pictures of what the scarring looked like so people know what to prepare for after surgery,” she told the Daily Mail. “I’ve had a lot of comments from people who say they are now less scared of the disease.”
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Ironically, Williams is more confident than ever because she went public with her colitis and stoma bag. “I think it has made me more body-confident,” she said. “I’m a lot more confident since having the bag anyway. It doesn’t change you as a person.”
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