Last week I wrote a post about ‘Body Confidence with a Stoma' talking about my experience of this and sharing the results of the poll I produced a few weeks ago. 59% of the 260 ostomates that took part said they had low body confidence with their stoma. This surprised me so I thought I would write a post sharing some tips that helped me improve my body confidence.
I would like to say that this does not happen overnight and I had to actively work on this part of myself. I was fed up of hating my body and how this low self-esteem seeped into every area of my life. Self-esteem describes how we think and feel about ourselves, and usually refers to the value we place on ourselves as a person. Unpleasant or stressful experiences can lower our self-esteem and positive experiences and achievements can help improve it.
When we have a negative view about the way we look this can have a devastating blow to our overall self-confidence affecting multiple aspects of our lives. This is why it is important to re-frame the way we view, think and talk about our bodies.
The following 10 tips have helped me not just improve my body confidence but also helped me accept my stoma's and find some gratitude in them. I worked hard on improving the way I spoke about my body and reframing my thoughts. This took time and did not happen overnight but I am so glad I put the time and energy into this because now my life is much easier.
You may already know from my social media accounts that I am a huge fan of affirmations! I wrote a post a while ago behind the science of affirmations and if you would like to read more about how they work please click here.
I have to say that I haven’t always liked affirmations when a friend suggested years ago to stand in front of a mirror and to say ‘I love and accept myself’ I think I laughed and scoffed, not because I would look stupid but deep down I knew I didn’t love and accept myself and this felt very daunting to me. After my urostomy in 2015 I saw how much my life had changed getting rid of the SPC and bladder and I decided I wanted to embrace this gift and the 2nd chance I was given. I did a lot of reading and decided now was the time to try affirmations and see if they worked. The first time I stood in front of the mirror I felt so silly and it was uncomfortable looking in my eyes saying I loved myself but I vowed to at least give it a go. I did this everyday for 2 weeks and something changed inside me. It became easier and when I spoke the affirmations I actually smiled at the words. I started to believe them and feel them. I then concentrated on affirmations about my body and noticed the change in the way I held myself and spoke about my body. I continued this for months and I still do affirmations now when I need to do them.
All I would say is before you judge ‘affirmations’, give it a go everyday for a week and see if you find it helpful. It is commitment but trust me affirmations have helped in every aspect of my life. Here are some examples of affirmations that I use to help the way I view my body.
“I love my body as it is today”
“My body is a gift and a temple, I embrace my body with love and respect’
“My worth is not defined by the way I look. I define my worth and I am worthy”
“My body is perfect the way it is and I honour it in this state”
“I am not my illness “
“I am grateful for everything my stomas have given me and I live life to the fullest”
After doing these for a few months I suddenly realised I started to RESPECT my body and I could see just how miraculous it was. It had survived more than 25 operations, 9 septic bouts and intensive care and the way I viewed my body and spoke about it was not right. When I found respect for my body I started respecting myself. This leads me on to my second tip:
- Stop the negative talk
When you look in the mirror, try to replace any negative thoughts that are pushing their way through with a positive one. Notice the negative thoughts and try to change them. Try to not slate the way you look to friends and family because this can have a spiral effect. And start the negative talk back up again.
- Find the right bag that fits
This is very important, if you are struggling with constant leaks with your stoma please contact your stoma nurse or seek out samples to try other manufactures bags. You should not put up with regular leaks. There are so many companies out there and everybody is different. What works well for one may not work well for another.
Having a stoma is a massive change and takes a while to come to terms with it. There is a period of adjustment, accidents while finding the right bag and this can lead to negative thoughts about your stoma which then go to your body. From experience when I used to have an accident I found I was very tearful hating my stoma and then hating my body. With my prolapsed ileostomy it took a while to find the right bag but now I have hardly any leaks. Before this bag I had leaks daily.
If you would like to know more about requesting samples I wrote this post about 'How to Order Ostomy Samples'
- Find some stoma support wear that you like
When I go out, I like to wear a support belt, vest, knickers or boxers to help me feel more confident. Wearing these items helps hide the stomas and I feel like I did before I had surgery. This is my favourite and it is the Comfizz Double Layer Boxer that is out of stock at the moment but due to come back soon.
I very much like having my bags out at the beach and pool but sometimes when I go out I want my outfit to look more streamlined. Stoma support wear really helps me feel more confident when I go out. Here is a list of some of the support companies available:
Some items can be bought on prescription so please contact your Stoma nurse to enquire about this. Some areas are cutting back on this, I believe I still get 6 support garments a year but I know some ostomates struggle to get 3 on prescription. Stoma support wear help prevent hernias and when you do have a hernia they can help support it when out and about or exercising.
- Set some goals
I found this extremely helpful, setting small goals that helped improve my self-esteem. To start with this could be going back to a hobby you used to do or something you have always wanted to try.
Start small and then once you start achieving some goals, try slowly stepping out of your comfort zone. This could be going swimming again or when you feel ready taking part in a photoshoot.
- Take some selfies of yourself
This is a powerful tool. It took me a long time to have the courage to take some selfies of myself. Let alone with my bags out. Up until 2 years ago I hated having my picture taken but I slowly realised how taking pictures helped me improve my confidence.
Not everybody will be ready to take pictures with their bags out, but when I first did it; I felt very empowered and felt I had achieved something massive. I felt proud of myself and this was a good feeling.
- Seek out supportive people and fellow ostomates
I had a great support network around me a few years ago but what I lacked was identification from ostomates. I did not realise there was support online in the form of facebook groups for ostomates, forums and the associations. When I accessed this network my life changed. I no longer felt alone and there was a massive amount of support. Fellow ostmates help you gently accept your stomas by seeing how they cope or by taking stoma selfies. This blew my mind and I think this was a major factor as to why I am so accepting of my stomas and life now. I have met amazing friends with stomas and I can’t imagine not having this outlet now.
- Gratitude List
This was not easy at first. I struggled to be grateful for becoming ill, loosing my career and being in hospital so much. I felt stuck in the ‘victim’ mentality and I couldn’t get past this. It was suggested to me to write a gratitude list every night so I could see the positive things in my life. Top of the list were my family and friends for being there, it helped me find the positives in the day instead of the negative.
Over the last year, I generally found some gratitude for my stomas and I could see how amazing they were and what they have given me. In finding this gratitude for them I have found some gratitude for my illness. I realised that life wasn’t too bad and I started achieving more things. This gratitude helped me to dig deep and find gratitude in my body and subsequently helped me truly love my body again with the bags and scars in tow.
- Find some nice lingerie or boxers
Lingerie can help you feel confident and sexy. It is important to find lingerie that you like and makes you feel good. Lingerie is not just for your partner but it is also for you to feel empowered, sexy and the warrior that you are. Jasmine Stacey Collection have some lovely lingerie designed with ostomates in mind. Lingerie has definitely helped me with my confidence especially when I received a grant from Purple Wings Charity for some of this lingerie. Being an ostomate you can choose if you want normal lingerie or have some that covers the stomas. This is ultimately up to you.
If you are a man reading this the same could be with finding some nice boxers that make you feel good and confident.
- Get professional support if you need it.
If you have tried these tips and found they haven’t worked for you then you could speak to somebody about getting some support. It can be challenging asking for help, but your GP and Stoma Nurse will be aware of local counselling that is available or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Thank you for reading and I hope you find these tips helpful. I would love to hear from you, if any of these suggestions have helped you :)