health

This selfie is groundbreaking. Look closer.

Image via Instagram

In the lead up to 2015, we’re going to be counting down the most popular posts on The Glow from this year.

With just one photo, 23-year-old Bethany Townsend has the whole world talking about something that’s usually hidden away.

This aspiring model suffers from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition that affects around 30,000 people in Australia alone.

The often debilitating reality of this illness is almost never acknowledged in public. So for a young woman to share a photo of herself in a bikini with the most visual evidence of her disease, two colostomy bags, on full display is nothing short of remarkable.

Bethany, a makeup artist from Worcester, UK, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of three. After years of surgeries and various treatments, Bethany’s bowel ruptured in 2010, leading doctors to fit her with colostomy bags. That development left her “devastated”.

“When I came out of hospital and everything finally sunk in, I remember going upstairs into my bedroom and just bursting into tears,” she tells The Mirror.

In the ensuing years, Bethany has been too scared to share photos of herself in a bikini; like many Crohn’s sufferers she didn’t want people to see the bags affixed to her stomach. But that changed when she met her now-husband, Ian, who “didn’t bat an eyelid” when he saw the bags.

During the couple’s holiday in Mexico last December, Bethany decided it was finally time to put on her bikini, and six months later she shared her vacay snaps on social media. After coming across other photos of young Crohn’s sufferers displaying their bags, she decided to post a sunbathing photo on the Facebook page of Crohn’s and Colitis UK.

colostomy bag bikini photo

It has since been viewed over nine million times.

This overwhelming reaction has helped Bethany accept her colostomy bags, and given her the confidence to pursue her ambition of modelling.

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Here are some photos Bethany has shared on her Instagram account, @bethyt_

That dream is rapidly coming true - on Monday, Bethany revealed she'd been approached by Vanilla Blush, a lingerie brand specialising in underwear for people with colostomy bags.

With any luck, we'll see her striding down the catwalk at the next major fashion event.

"I’m just so glad that [the photo has] brought about more awareness of Crohn’s disease and it’s made me feel so much more confident about the colostomy bags," Bethany says.

"If I can inspire or help other people in my position to feel a little more comfortable in their own skin then I’m really happy."

All images via Bethany's Instagram. 

For more information about Crohn's disease, visit Crohn's & Colitis Australia

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