July 3, 2014 at 5:02 PM ET
Tired of being embarrassed and hiding her colostomy bags, a former model living with Crohn's disease decided she was no longer going to let her condition control her life.
To celebrate her new attitude, Bethany Townsend, 23, a makeup artist from Worcester, England, took a series of photos in a sleek black bikini and other midriff-baring outfits that revealed her colostomy bags during a trip to Mexico with her husband in December. She shared her story and the stunning photo of herself in the bikini on the Facebook page of Crohn's and Colitis UK in a post that has since received more than 200,000 likes.
"Finally after three and a half years, I decided that my colostomy bags shouldn't control my life,'' she wrote on Facebook. "So when I went to Mexico with my husband in December last year I finally showed I wasn't ashamed. Still hoping for a cure.''
Townsend's decision to make the photos public has helped others with Crohn's disease deal with their own nervousness and fear over the stigma of using colostomy bags.
“Bethany Townsend decided that she didn’t want her colostomy bags to control her life and she was confident and brave enough to share a holiday sunbathing snap on our Facebook page that has been seen by an estimated 10 million people — perhaps even more since her story has gained so much media attention,'' Crohn's and Colitis UK said in a statement to TODAY.com. "Thousands of our members with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis — and many more supporters — have told us that Bethany is inspirational and that her actions have helped them to shed insecurities of their own."
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that is part of a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowl diseases (IBD), according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. It can affect digestion and cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps and persistent diarrhea.
Townsend wrote that she has had Crohn's disease since she was three years old and has been on numerous medications, and even went through a four-year period during which she was fed intravenously. She also said she had 16 inches of her bowel removed when she was 11 years old and had five subsequent surgeries until her bowel ruptured four years ago. She was hoping the colostomy bags would alleviate her condition, but said it has continued to flare up.
Not all people with Crohn's disease require the surgeries Townsend has undergone, and not all require a colostomy bag, according to Crohn's and Colitis UK.
"It is important to recognize that because of the range of symptoms and the treatments available not everyone with IBD will require surgery, an ileostomy or colostomy bag,'' Crohn's and Colitis UK said in its statement. "It is only through greater awareness that we can help change the way people perceive and treat people with IBD since it is often a sensitive and intimate condition which people living with IBD tend to keep very private."