Woman bravely posts bikini photos to show the truth about her 'invisible' illness
Though many of us probably think Instagram is just a place for shallow and narcissistic people to share their selfies, the social media platform has also given rise to discussions about body positivity. Many fitness bloggers, Instagram models, and even mainstream celebrities have taken to the picture-sharing app in order to dispel the misconception that healthy people must look a certain way, and talk about what really makes an individual "beautiful".
So, when Bethany Purnell, a 20-year-old from Wales, decided to post a brutally honest picture of her health condition, she hoped she could inspire others to reconsider their beliefs about what really defines beauty, and prompt people to reconsider their idea of what "being healthy" really means.
Purnell suffers from a condition known as Crohn's Disease, a type of long-term inflammatory bowel disease which has no known cause or cure. The 20-year-old is one of 115,000 people in Britain to suffer from the illness, which also affects approximately 1.6 million people in the USA.
Despite suffering with Crohn's since the age of 10, she finds that most people still don't understand her illness, or assume that it's not as bad as she says it is. So, in a post at the end of last year, Purnell shared the above image of herself with a caption explaining how "invisible" her condition usually is.
"I just wanted to post a picture of me to show how invisible this illness is," she wrote. "You'd never ever be able to tell that I no longer can go to the bathroom the 'normal' way and I have to wear a bag on my belly, you'd never be able to guess that I have been months without food and having to be fed by a feeding tube, you'd never even insinuate that this young and healthy looking girl has spent countless of days away from home and in a hospital bed all scared and alone."
She went on:
"What you don't know is that she is battling a very debilitating disease and that it will take her days to recover from a single trip out of the house. She tries to be as happy as possible, she tries her damn best not to complain and to think positive.. Some days it's very hard to see the light and she wants you to be understanding, caring and compassionate."
And, on another occasion, she shared an image of the "bag on [her] belly", which she has had since her large intestine was removed three years ago.
The ileostomy bag takes the place of Purnell's colon, and collects the waste that should have been stored inside her body.
"I'm genuinely proud of myself and my body for handling all that has been thrown at it. I've never hidden away, I've always worn what I wanted and I've always been proud," she said. "I have always been open and honest about my bag and any questions are always welcome. Personally I've NEVER had a bad comment made about me/my bag."
And she has a good sense of humor about it, too.
But Purnell also wants people to know that just because her illness isn't obvious when she's clothed, it doesn't mean she isn't suffering:
"Please don't tut at me for using a disabled toilet, my ileostomy bag just leaked and I need privacy and room to change it. Please don't expect me to give up my seat on the train, I just had a very exhausting day out and although I look well, I am suffering majorly and need this time to rest. Please be aware and always be kind to others around you. As they say, you have NO IDEA what that persons [sic] story is and what they are battling with."
Sharing experiences like this is incredibly important, not only to educate those who do not understand the things that other people go through, but also to offer solidarity to those who do. As Purnell herself would say, this post really took some guts.