TW: Some may find what I’ve discussed in this post triggering.
I started sharing my journey on social media five months after my diagnosis. Pre-IBD, my Instagram was a toxic underbelly of peached bums, abs and diet fads. I used it as a tool for self-hatred; wishing I could be taller, fitter and slimmer. I had no idea social media could be a platform to benefit my mental and physical health; not destroy it.
When I started posting, it was for the few and not the many. I never thought it would blossom into what it is now. I don’t class myself as an influencer, but with a follower base; much larger than I anticipated; it comes with the risk of trolls.
I’ve come across trolls in all different forms. I’ve been told I shouldn’t be sharing something so ‘disgusting’ or that I’m ‘not worthy of love’. Others use concern trolling. They tell me they’re ‘concerned’ about me by hammering down on my weight and asking if I’ve had a few days without exercise. But the worst, are those who sexually harass me. I try not to rise to the occasion, however this time it needed to be called out. I posted a video in a bikini, displaying my wobbles and bits I used to hate. As a prerequisite for this video, a follower messaged me to discuss confidence. She said she hated how her legs and bum jiggle. So I posted the video to help her see that wobbles are nothing to be ashamed of.
I got a barrage of messages sexualising the video and images I wish I’d never looked at. A video I clearly posted to help others feel good about their bodies, had become an invitation that I was ‘asking for it’. These men; three times my age, with pictures of their wives and kids on their instagram feed; told me I clearly wanted sexual attention. So I outed them. I called them out by posting a very clear message:
Upon sharing this, I got a wave of messages from women who received the same treatment. Some had an experience of sexual violence. Others retold the revolting messages they received for a picture in a dress, gym kit or a swimsuit. Some told me of the cat calling, bum pinching and men assuming they could kiss them in a club because they wore a low-cut top. And when you call this out, you’re a man hater, a feminazi, crazy or just need to relax. I’ve been told to enjoy the attention because a picture in a bikini is (from their POV) consent. But it isn’t consent, it’s not even close to consent.
A woman posts a picture of herself online in clothes, a bikini or underwear to give a voice to those who don’t feel like they can. She does it to empower herself and the girl gang behind her.
My surgery had a huge impact on things healthy people consider ‘normal’. Wearing a bikini with your bag on show at a public pool or on a beach, takes an immense amount of courage. To hold your head high while others stare and point and whisper at you. To ignore them when they get out of the pool because they think you’re going to infect the water. To be naked with someone for the first time. To stand there, bare all and say; “this is me, if you don’t like it, that’s your problem not mine”; takes every last drop of confidence you have. To look at yourself in the mirror, dressed or undressed and be proud of your body takes work, determination and strength. Adjusting to a stoma is a huge journey of self discovery. The girls and guys I found in the early days after my op, are the reason I love my body now. They helped me to come to terms with it by posting swimwear and underwear photos.
So, like those who helped me, I post photos on Instagram to help others. Simple as that. It isn’t an invitation for someone to sexually harass me. It’s an account to empower others to be proud of their bodies. To give them hope that a life with a disability and/or chronic illness doesn’t confine you and doesn’t put limits on what you can achieve.
So, if I can help someone on their journey to accepting their body; stoma or otherwise; by posting pictures in a bikini or in underwear, I’m going to damn well do it. With f*cking bells on.
To quote a comment from the Instagram account Feminist:
“When a woman posts a photo of her body, it is to take control of her body and say: Stop, I am who I am, I look how I look. This is my body and you can’t change it. I am not a sexual object. Im not asking for it.”
Thank you to every single person who stood up for me against trolls and the sexual harassment I and so many others have received.