For 10 years, Western Australia-based Krystal Miller has had something important to consider every day when she gets dressed in the morning.
It’s not what activities she’s got on, or even the weather, but the ileostomy bag her body relies on to function.
At 15, Miller was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an auto-immune disease that causes inflammation of the bowel, resulting in ulcerations in any part of the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus.
There’s no cure, only treatment through drugs and it often involves surgery to remove either the colon (colostomy), rectum, or part of the intestine as Miller did seven years later.
Now Miller is the founder of BagLady Mama, a blog and community where she shares her experiences living with Crohn’s and an ileostomy bag. In just less four months she’s amassed plenty of international attention and an incredible 22,000 followers who love her humour, honesty and tips, particularly on how to dress with an ostomy bag (the general term Miller uses to describe ‘bags’ worn for various health issues). (Post continues after gallery.)
And so BagLady Mama was born.
Miller exudes so much glamour and confidence that it’s easy to forget the impact the disease has on her is severe.
“I have a very weak immune system and because of surgery I am living with just 1.75 metres of my bowel and obviously my absorption is significantly decreased. Day to day I am exhausted juggling my blog, work, studies, two children and husband. I am really tired and I get worn out very quickly,” she says.
“There’s also a misconception that Crohn’s disease is an old person disease [in fact the highest rate of incidence is between the ages of 14-24] and that we cannot talk about poo or people can’t be sexy with a bag. I thought that once too so I can understand, but it’s just not true.”
Living with a ‘bag’.
Miller’s bag sits on the outside of her skin and fills up quickly with liquid, as with no bowel there’s no absorption in her body.
“I need to empty the bag out into the toilet continuously, around five times a day. The whole bag needs to be replaced every three to four days and that’s generally because I can be kind of lazy and try to push it out. I know it needs changing when it starts to lift up or it gets very itchy,” she says.
A selfie with her bag. Image: Facebook/BagLady Mama
Having to worry about the bag daily means that many people think you have to be restricted to wearing loose, shapeless clothes and trackies, something fashion-conscious Miller also fell into the trap of.
"Initially I thought I couldn't wear tight clothes and for three years, I just wore and lived in loose baggy clothes," she says.
"Then I met a woman who had a huge impact on my life. She's one of those people who looked amazing even on her slacking off days and she said, 'If you don't own tracksuit pants, you can't wear them'. If you never buy them, then you'll always wear nice clothes and that's what I try to do."
It's what's underneath that counts.
When it comes to her biggest style discovery living with the disease, Miller can't emphasise enough how important it is to get it right at the beginning - your knickers.
"Hands down, the right underwear will give you the confidence to wear what you want. I used to wear hipster bikini briefs but my bag would always puff up, sit weirdly so it was visible and it was uncomfortable. I would try and hold it down by wearing a singlet underneath - then I discovered high-waisted lace panties thanks to a friend which look beautiful and sexy and holds things in place," she says.
"It doesn't have to be ugly, uncomfortable pants - you just have to find the sexiest granny panties out there!"
No pressure, just support! This is the support my panties give when my bag is full. Love my #grannypanties #ostomyawareness #ostomyfashion #BagLadyMama #ileostomy #crohns A photo posted by Bag lady Mama (@bagladymama) on Mar 23, 2016 at 8:58pm PDT
They don't put too much pressure on the bag either.
"Lots of people are concerned by this but I always say they're not support garments. If you're knickers are too tight, just get an extra size larger as I do."
You don't have to spend big bucks on them either - Miller's top picks for her underwear are trusty Best and Less and Target.
"I buy all my underwear from there. Best and Less have really cheap high-waisted underwear, while Target has really nice lacy ones," she says.
Fashionable and practical aren't mutually exclusive.
Now Miller has found the middle ground between style and comfort.
"I used to compromise but now I have found my style. I've found that if I'm wearing the right underwear, I can wear whatever I want. I like my curves and wearing tight clothes for sure, and I also don't give a sh*t about what anyone else thinks anyway!"
The three items you need.
A look at her posts shows her wardrobe looks no different to you or I (except it's probably a whole lot more stylish) but there are a few items Miller swears by as essential purchases for dressing with an ostomy bag.
"A comfortable pair of maternity jeans are a must have because they ensure there is no pressure on your tummy. I love wearing jeans so I'm all about them, particularly high-waisted," she says.
"Coming in to cooler weather, a scarf can help cover and conceal if you're feelig uncomfortable or conscious about how your bag is filling up. Finally, everyone should have a dress that makes you feel seriously sexy or any outfit that makes you feel really good and confident - and yes, it can be tight. If you're not quite there, try picking a pattern that helps cover and breaks up the focus."
Out for lunch with my fam. Casual dress day! Feeling bohoish ???? #ootd #stylingtips #BagLadyMama #removestigma #ostomymama #ostomyfashion #ostomyawareness #bag #pouch #boweldisease #changingtheworld #blogger #boho #colitis #crohns A photo posted by Bag lady Mama (@bagladymama) on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:03pm PDT
You can still shop in your favourite stores.
As well as the high street, Miller favours online boutique Erin Louise.
"She designs and makes the clothes herself and embellishes everything with things like pretty flowers and diamantes. It's very feminine and very flowy but you still look glamorous and sexy," she says.
(Watch: Proof the scarf is serious versatile. Post continues after video.)