Finding Confidence and Rocking Your Own Style with an Ostomy
By Tricia Hottenstein
I was packing to head out on a short vacation to Atlantic City and had all my outfits ready in my brand new suitcase. But when I went to pack my swimsuit, I started thinking about walking around at a hotel pool with my ostomy bag sticking out. Something about a hotel pool as opposed to just walking on the beach made me uneasy. I figure I don’t know the people on the beach and they’ll never see me again. But in a hotel for several days? Those people would recognize me. They’d see me dressed up for a nice dinner and know that underneath all that jewelry and makeup, there was a person with an ostomy bag glued to their stomach. A person who earlier in the day had a wet ostomy bag sticking out between their swimsuit pieces. And let’s be honest. A wet ostomy bag is a revealing ostomy bag. There’s no questioning what’s hiding inside of it. Something about that wasn’t okay with me.
Generally speaking, I feel pretty confident about my ostomy. It saved my life and I went from a love-hate relationship with it, to a genuine love of it, to more of a state of ignorance that it even exists. I’m not shy about telling people my situation and I will often show it to people who ask questions. But when it comes to swimsuits, the struggle has been a little more mental. I’ve previously tried one-piece suits and I hate them. I hate the way they pull on my bag when they get wet, the way they stick to every crevice of my body, the way I constantly check to make sure my bag isn’t leaking the second it starts to puff up. I tried bikini styles. My body is not made for a bikini, and the more often I wore it, the more sure of this I was. And then, hallelujah! The high-waisted trend hit stores, and I found a happy medium. A high-waisted bottom to cover most of my bag while still allowing it to breathe, and a cute colorful top that would hopefully draw attention away from the bag peeking out from my bottoms.
I love that I didn’t need to strip a whole wet swimsuit off in order to empty my bag, and I could easily flip it out after the pool to dry it off (which is a necessity in order to keep my sensitive skin from getting angry). The high waist also gave multiple coverage options and I could choose when and how my bag would be displayed. I could tuck it into the bottoms and feel secure, or leave it out over top of the suit if need be. I chose to secure my bag slightly flipped up inside the bottoms with just the top sticking out. Now this I could rock. And I did. But around complete strangers who would be seeing me over and over again, while never actually talking to me to understand who I was and what I’ve been through? It bothered me.
I bought a pretty cover-up. I tried on several new suits, but none worked the wonders I’d hoped they would. I even considered stopping on the way to the shore to keep trying. And then the lights of Atlantic City sparkled before me, and the tropical drinks and palm trees were calling me from the pool. So I went for it. I wore the cover-up and walked to the pool. Of course, I got stuck with several people in the elevator and noticed their eyes glancing down, and my fidgeting was more than noticeable.
I walked in the pool room and found a chair in the corner. I ordered a drink, hopped in the hot tub, and looked around. And I noticed every single other female in there looking as insecure as me. Ladies with towels draped around them the second they were out of the water. Women with tee shirts instead of swimsuits. Some just sitting on the outskirts, partially hidden by palm trees, in regular clothing. And suddenly I was okay. Forget this bag on my stomach. Every single person has something about them they don’t always love. I’ve got stretch marks I don’t worry about, and plenty of extra flab that doesn’t bother me. But for some reason I was getting caught up over this little protrusion on my stomach; a scar of a war I fought hard against and finally won. And I love this thing!
I was honestly upset with myself over the few days for the waver in my self-confidence. I got out of the hot tub, walked around to the pool, and held my head up a whole lot higher. And everyone who’s eyes glanced downward? They looked at me genuinely, some smiled. Because people who rock their scars in public have already changed perceptions. Chronic illness is becoming less and less of a taboo subject. We’re shaking the world by the shoulders. And THAT is beautiful.
Tricia Hottenstein blogs about life as a mother and living with an ostomy at stomama.com