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What the #AerieREAL campaign means to me as a young woman with an ostomy

For those who may not understand why representation is important.

This post originally appeared on ImproveCareNow.

As a young woman who has had an ostomy for nearly five years, I know the struggle of not feeling completely confident and beautiful. Ostomy or not, a majority of teenagers and young adults struggle with confidence and body image.

That’s why it's so exciting to see Aerie representing women of all shapes, sizes, and skin colors in the #AerieREAL underwear campaign. They took it to the next level with their latest ad images of women with various disabilities and conditions, including a beautiful woman with an insulin pump, a stunning woman in a wheelchair, a graceful woman with Down Syndrome, and many many more wonderful ladies.

What stood out to me the most, though, was a woman with an ostomy. When I look at her picture, I see a beautiful, happy and healthy young woman who appears so full of life. This image is important because it's a big step towards shattering the stigma maybe ending some of the stereotypes about ostomates. It’s normalizing ostomies.

Personally, I have always felt proud of and grateful for my ostomy; never really ashamed of it. After all, it saved me from a life of constant pain and suffering. I know it’s not gross. I know I am happier and healthier because of it. I know, even with an ostomy, I am still beautiful. But I don’t think society realizes these things because there's still a lack of knowledge and acceptance. Here are a few of the most commonly misunderstood things I want to share with you about life as an ostomate:

Ostomies are not gross. In fact, they’re quite beautiful. Each bag, each stoma, tells a story. In fact, they’re sort of like a tattoo. I look at and take care of my ostomy every day, and all I see when I look at it is where I was, where I am, and where I will be in life. It shows my struggle. It shows how much I am able to thrive today because of it. Most importantly, it shows me that I have so much potential and so much life ahead of me.

You can still love life and be happy with an ostomy. Because of having surgery, I am able to actively enjoy my life. I am so much happier now that I have it. Without it, I would probably still be so sick that I could not do any of the things I love. Today, I am able to attend college, travel a lot, and enjoy eating the foods I love.

Everyone with (and without) an ostomy is beautiful. This is something that I honestly struggle with sometimes. There are days where I look at myself and don’t always see a beautiful young woman, but this is why the #AerieREAL campaign is so important. It’s helping young women, just like me and different from me, realize that ostomies (or disabilities, or medical devices, or anything that makes a person unique) and the people living with them are beautiful.

Article credit: ImproveCareNow