Photographs by Epic Media Photography, Hair and Makeup by Takia Ross
My personal journey started when I was diagnosed with a rare form of vaginal cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma) at 3 years old. I was cancer-free a year after my diagnosis but left with a permanent colostomy and urostomy, so I wear two ostomy bags to collect the diverted stool or urine. “Ostomy” refers to the surgically created openings on each side of my stomach, near the navel, for the discharge of body wastes.
My life has proven to be a journey of unexpected challenges. As a child, body image didn’t concern me, but as a teenager and an adult, I struggled with self-pity, depression, and low self-esteem. I was always thinking, “Why me?”
I never expressed how I felt, even to my parents. My ostomy bags aren’t visible, even when someone is close to me; however, I often wondered if people could somehow tell and if they were staring.
I didn’t feel psychologically prepared for this life. I knew I was blessed that my cancer has been in remission since I was 4, and my parents taught me to love who God created me to be. However, my body image caused me to struggle.
As a professional model today, I am grateful my ostomy bags haven’t been an issue in the fashion world. I was well-trained and ready to hit the runway when I started, but I was still scared and insecure. I hoped no one would ask me to model a two-piece bathing suit.
I had to figure out how to disguise my bags and still be the fabulous fashion model I wanted to be. So I did. For fashion shows or photo shoots, I never leave home without my thong girdles to keep my bags secure and in place. My “secret” undergarments help this super model be fierce.
The fashion industry has standards for size, shape, and looks, but why do we 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 have been a fashion model for 17 years with two ostomy bags. My positive body image is a reflection of inner beauty on and off the runway.
Modeling has helped my self-esteem and allows me to step out of my comfort zone. I love it! For me, modeling is fun, exciting, and challenging, just like life. I am 50 years old, and I won’t stop being the best fashion model I can be.
For that little girl who “looks” like me, I would tell her that over 750,000 Americans are living with an ostomy, and she is not alone. The adversities that you overcome will allow you one day to inspire and encourage others to tell their story. Set your goals, believe in them, and watch them come true.
While life will happen to all of us, we have the power inside to survive and beat any obstacles. Our challenges in life build, groom, and grow us to be conquerors. I am living my life on purpose with a purpose for a purpose. Be the best version of you. It is not optional.
What you are uncomfortable with can be your blessing in disguise. My life has impacted people in ways I never imagined. My goal is to inspire, encourage, and motivate the masses. I lean on my faith and keep pressing forward. This “bag” lady is on fire!