Bethany Townsend embraces her colostomy bag. Photo: Crohn's and Colitis UK / Facebook
After three and half years of hiding her body, Bethany Townsend decided she will no longer be controlled by her colostomy bags.
While holidaying in Mexico, Townsend’s husband convinced her to wear a bikini and embrace her beautiful figure, colostomy bags and all.
''At first I was nervous and worried that people would stare but it was fine,'' Townsend, 23, told the Daily Mail.
''I realised that the colostomy bags didn’t control me or define who I am.''
Sharing her story with the Crohn's and Colitis UK Facebook page, the image of Townsend in her bikini, taken last December, has gone viral.
Crohn's Disease causes inflammation of the bowel, affecting the sufferer’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste.
Townsend, a make-up artist and aspiring model from Worcester, was diagnosed with the disease at the age of three.
Since then, she’s had various surgeries – including having sections of her intestines removed – tried numerous drugs and was tube fed.
But in 2010, her bowel burst. Waking up in agony one morning, Townsend told the Daily Mail, ''I had to break a glass on the floor to alert my mum who called an ambulance. I had no idea when I woke up that I would have the bags.''
She was lucky to be alive, but the reality of wearing colostomy bags soon set in.
She said: ''I had a really good cry that day, and since then I haven’t shed another tear. I’ve just got on with it, I suppose.''
It wasn’t until Townsend married her husband Ian that she felt comfortable enough to embrace her colostomy bags.
''When I met Ian I showed him my bags straight away, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. I actually felt like I was overreacting,'' she said.
Last Christmas Bethany and Ian went to Mexico for a holiday. Six months later she decided to to share her photos and raise awareness about Crohn's disease.
Reaching out to the Crohn’s and Colitis UK Facebook group, Townsend asked if she could post something on their page.
She sent them a picture and some information which, she said, all ''blew up'' from there.
While doctors thought the colostomy bags would put an end to Crohn's for Townsend, four weeks later it was back.
Still hopeful for a cure, Townsend is considering getting back into modelling, a dream she thought was over once she had the colostomy bags fitted.
''I feel confident enough now to put myself out there and pursue modelling again,'' she said.
''I’m just so glad that it’s brought about more awareness of Crohn’s disease and it’s made me feel so much more confident about the colostomy bags.''