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Blog: Living Mighty Well

Dating With An Ostomy

My name is Liesl (LEE-sel), and I am a 23 year old in central Illinois living with a chronic illness. When I was 17, I got sick with what we all thought was the flu, but after multiple tests and failing medications during a 37-night hospital stay, my illness turned out to be ulcerative colitis. Six weeks after my diagnosis, I decided to have my large intestine completely removed. After nearly 7 years and 16 surgeries later, I finally got a permanent ileostomy, meaning that the end of my small intestine is poked through to the outside of my body, and I have to wear a bag to collect stool.


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Can anyone name something remotely sexy about this? Probably not. I literally wear a bag of poop on my stomach. As I am typing this, I am pooping, and I don’t have any control over that.

Like most women, I struggle with my self-image on a daily basis and adding an ileostomy bag wasn’t going to help AT ALL. I was constantly aware of this bag of stool on my stomach. For me, the biggest issue I had was dating. There was no way any man would find me attractive with this. 

I absolutely dreaded getting an ileostomy. In fact, I had undergone approximately 10 surgeries to avoid having a permanent bag. I kept having to drop semesters of school for surgery. On top of this, I once had a temporary ileostomy before, and I knew that I felt better with it. So what stopped me?  My own self doubt: How on earth would I date again? What man would find this attractive? That was my thought process for so long and it kept me from going to school and just living my life.

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The bags themselves aren’t sexy, but they definitely aren’t ugly. They match my skin tone, so they don’t stand out too much. So I decided I was going to “fake it ‘till I made it.” I wasn’t totally confident with showing off my bag, but I tried my hardest to make myself get used to it. I started wearing high-rise jeans or shorts and crop tops that would show a little bit of my ileostomy. I slowly made it more visible (in appropriate situations, of course).

But when my boyfriend and I broke up, I started to worry more. He had already loved me without my ileostomy and he still loved me when got it. But now? How do I explain this to the next man I date? How are they going to react to my bag? I want someone to love me for me - not love me despite having a bag.

And then the unexpected happened: The men that I talked to about my bag only used words like “total badass” and “brave” and “strong”…even “beach body!” I was 100% wrong. What makes my ileostomy sexy is ME. It wasn’t an easy process, but I slowly regained confidence in myself and in my body. I explain my story in a way that tells people that I’m not a victim - I’m a survivor. I wasn’t dealt the best hand, but I’m making do with what I have. Radiating that mentality changed their perception of me entirely.

For clarity’s sake, I’m not going to pretend that any of this is easy - because it’s not. It takes time for your mind to adjust and accept what has happened to you and your body; whether you can manage to even “fake” the confidence for a little while, it will become reality. And this reality is so much better than the fear and insecurity I used to feel.

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