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Do you remember when you learnt fat=bad?

Social media, marketing, films and TV are putting more pressure than ever on people to feel they have to look a certain way. We also are in a time when there are many voices standing up for body confidence which was something very lacking as I was growing up.

I was born in 1981 and was a teenager in the era of Kate Moss, heroin chic and waifs. But I remember vividly the first time I realised that society equates fat with being bad.

Princess Diana’s cellulite

And ironically enough it was a story about Princess Diana that started it. Someone who later we found out battled eating disorders. She was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. And it was this story that first made me go on a diet and feel rubbish about myself.

It was 1996 and photos came out in the tabloid press of Diana leaving the Harbour Club fitness centre in London. She was wearing shorts and the story said she had cellulite on her thighs. One newspaper called her Princess Lumpy Legs. Wow, just wow.

It was literally front page fodder and was on the tv news, everyone was discussing it. So much so that the princess denied she had cellulite publicly. Saying the dimples on her thighs were imprints from a bar stool she had been sitting on.

Several tabloids then actually hired models. They attempted to re-create the photographs to prove or disprove whether the bar stool could cause these marks.

I’d never even heard of cellulite before this, but suddenly it was all anyone could talk about. I remember seeing girls at school squeezing the flesh on their thighs to check if they had it. I thought to myself that it must be a horrific thing to get. If the worlds most photographed woman had to speak out and deny it.

Body confidence

It was probably the first time I really started judging my body I was 15 and very skinny. But these stories told me that even the slim Princess could have cellulite and be totally shamed around the world for it, so what hope did I have?

In the weeks after, every newspaper, magazine and tv show was all about what diets and exercise you should do to avoid this dreaded scourge of cellulite and I took it all in. I went on my first diet and starting buying fitness videos. I never had an eating disorder but the story really affected me and changed the way I viewed not only myself but other women and I dieted for the next 20 years.

Nowadays I have learned to love my body, whatever size or shape it is. I’ve been very slim and currently due to two hernias and extreme pain stopping me from even walking very far, let alone exercising, I’m at the heaviest I’ve ever been. I’m not actually happy with my weight and shape right now, but that’s down to feeling out of control and weak not the weight itself.

After surgery I will be working on getting strong, but none of this is for anyone else nor any other reason than I want to feel strength in my body, I am so looking forward to getting back out and walking my dogs, in dancing in bars and my kitchen, in swimming and kayaking and gardening and just being a happy, active me! I have no aims to lose a certain amount of weight or to look a certain way, I just want to feel strong and like me again and I know I can feel that at a size 10 or a size 18.

sam cleasby ileostomy colostomy bag blogger body confidence

Does fat = bad?

I have learnt that fat does not equal bad or ugly or shame, it’s only hateful and hurtful words that make us feel those emotions. I have learnt that my body is beautiful and wondrous and my wobbly bits, my cellulite, my scars and my ostomy bag are all part of that. I’m beautiful because of those things, not despite them.

So though social media does expose us to so many more negative images and stories, I’m glad we live in an age where we hear the positive stories and body confidence too. Where we can see women of all shapes and sizes looking fabulous and telling their stories of self love.

Jameela Jamil instagram body confidence

I saw this photo of Jameela Jamil in her Instagram this week showing her cellulite and it made me reflect on how differently that image was accepted compared to the photos of Diana and it makes me feel like things are changing and it is becoming easier to love your body, however it looks. Her campaign of body confidence has been so inspiring.

I’d love to hear your stories, do you remember a time when a news story changed the way you feel about your body?

✌🏽& ❤️

Sam xx

Why you need to stop hating and start being kinder to yourself

Last year I did a talk at the Steel Belles Women’s Institute about body image I talk about how my surgeries were the start of feeling good about myself, how when you feel lucky to be alive, it is easier to stop the negativity.  I also talk about passing poor body image down through the generations and the time my kids told me I had long boobies.

Enjoy.

If you would like me to speak at your event, get in touch now.

What NOT to wear this summer if you are fat

The summer months are upon us and magazines and websites are flooded with articles of what to wear and what not to wear.  For the larger ladies, it is apparently a minefield of finding ‘flattering’ clothes and how to cover up.

I’m a size 16 and love fashion, so here is my guide of what not to wear this summer if you are fat.

1. Shame

Fuck the shame, that’s the last thing you should wear.  Your size doesn’t define you and shouldn’t bring feelings of shame.  Shame suggests that you should feel bad about your body.  Your body is wonderful, it is the only one you get and you should celebrate the one you are in.

how to wear a bikini body confidence so bad ass

2. Fear

The worry and fear that others will judge you.  You know what? Some people are dicks and might judge your shape, but those people are horrid and if you were a size 10, they would find something to pick at you about.

sam cleasby stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

3. Hate

“I hate my bum” “I hate my belly” “I hate my arms”

How many times have you said that about yourself? Stop with the hate, if you allow yourself to say that, then you are open to allowing others to say it.  You are teaching your children that it’s ok to say you hate yourself, you are teaching yourself that you are not worthy of love.

Yes, we all may have parts of our bodies that aren’t our favourite but don’t tell yourself you hate your body, because you are listening…

The naked podcast Sam cleaaby

What you should wear…

Anything you feel amazing in!

Don’t allow society to choose your style, wear what makes you happy.  If you love a bikini, wear it!  I’m covered in scars, stretch marks and have an ostomy bag, I am far from the fashion magazine ideal of beach beauty, but I like an all over tan and hate being too hot and so I rock a bikini!

If you don’t love a bikini, then wear what makes you comfortable and happy.  Covering up doesn’t mean you don’t love yourself, being proud of your body doesn’t mean you have to bare all.  Just wear what you love, what makes you feel like a QUEEN!

A nurse is hospital jokingly said to me after my last op that my bikini wearing days were over, and you know what I felt sorry for her! Sorry that she couldn’t imagine how someone like me would feel comfortable wearing a bikini on the beach. NEWSFLASH! I don’t wear a bikini to look good for anyone else! I wear them because I don’t like being too hot, I like an all over tan and I love how I look and feel in one, screw everyone else!!

In this heatwave at the minute, I hope you all can have the confidence to wear whatever you want and I hope you feel amazing.

 

✌🏽& ❤

Sam xx

 

Why I’m a proud flasher

Don’t worry, I don’t have a mac and follow people around at night flashing my boobies. But I am a very proud flasher of my osteomy bag and here’s why…

I have had many comments about the images I share of my ileostomy bag, most of them are positive but I get the occasional one that says ‘why are you doing this? We don’t want to see it! Is nothing private any more? Won’t somebody think of the children?!!!’

OK, I may have made the last one up! But the point is that people do seem offended by the fact that I happily flash my bag, and these comments always seem to come from a person in the position of priviledge who have never had to face the scary event of surgery to remove your bowel and being fitted with a colostomy or ileostomy bag.

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

So why do I do it?

I remember sitting in a hospital bed, having just been told that I had to have surgery and they were going to remove my entire large intestine and I would have a stoma, they were going to give me an ileostomy bag and I was in tears.  I was terrified, I couldn’t imagine how my life would be afterwards and though I was in part relieved to see an end to the severe and excrutiating pain, diarrhoea, accidents and misery of ulcerative colitis, I was also devastated.

I thought my life would be over, how would I ever feel beautiful or sexy again? What would my husband think of my new body? Would I ever wear a bikini again? Would my new body inspire disgust from others? Would I be able to love myself?  I sat in bed weeping and I felt so lonely.

I googled ostomy bags and it came up with frightening, medical images of sick, old people in bed wearing huge bags on their stomachs looking sad and frail.  And I felt numb.  Was this the end of life as I knew it?  This was in 2013 and there were no UK bloggers talking about this, no one sharing their images of a happy life, no positive, joyful photos, just misery and illness.

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot #stomaselfie sam cleasby

And that is why I started this blog. And that is why I am proud to flash my bag.

You see, though life can still be tough now, my ostomy bag changed my life for the better in so many ways, it gave me back a sense of control over my body, it made me feel well again, it stopped the pain and the isolation that 9 years of ulcerative colitis had caused.  And once I had the surgery, I realised that rather than fear and sadness, when I looked at my bag and my body I felt pride! I felt strong and powerful, I felt like I had dealt with a huge surgery and my body was still standing.

I realised that I never wanted another person to sit alone, frightened and crying in a hospital bed, wondering what their life would hold for them with a stoma.  I wanted to be the image that came up when they googled that showed them happiness, a fresh start, a normal life, damn it an EXTRAORDINARY life!

sam cleasby blogger ostomy ibd woman with a colostomy ileostomy bag stoma

I wanted to be a small ray of light in an otherwise frightening time that could show someone that life with an ostomy bag is a positive and wonderful thing.  That they could be what they wanted to be with their bag, that it wasn’t something to be feared or disgusted by, but to be proud of.

I wanted to show the world that my ostomy bag saved my life and that I am proud of it and myself.

I wanted to show that I can feel beautiful, sexy, strong, powerful and like ME.

I will never stop flashing my bag because every time I do, I get messages from people thanking me, saying that it helps to see others with a bag, that it inspires them to be proud of their bodies, that even if they don’t want to show their own bag, that they share my images to explain to their friends and family what they have.

ileostomy bag and fashion swimwear

Should everyone flash their bag?

No, of course not! It is a totally private and personal decision, I am happy to flash my bag but that doesn’t mean that everyone should.  I hope that showing my bag off will help those people who want to wear a bikini on a beach to do it with pride, to show them not to be scared of being themselves.  But some people are very private and don’t want to have their ostomy bag on show and their privacy is as important as my desire to flash mine.

sam cleasby chicken keeping allotments kiveton sheffield

The stigma around talking about poo is part of day to day life, generally if we talk about toilet habits, it is done by making fun about it.  We find it hard to have an honest and open conversation about our bowels and that needs to change.  This fear of talking bums stops people from accessing medical help when they have bowel issues, it stops them from asking for help and that can have a hugely negative effect on our health.

The aim of my blog has always been to help others, to stop poo being taboo and to raise awareness of IBD, Crohns, Colitis, Ostomy bags and invisible impairments as a whole.  If I have to continue flashing this scarred body of mine and showing off my ostomy bag to keep the conversation going then I will do this till the day I die.

Sam Cleasby blogger ostomy ileostomy colostomy stoma

I am a flasher and proud!

 

Love Sam xx

Slimming World and Body Positivity

I joined Slimming World 12 weeks ago, this week I was asked how I could talk about a major diet industry whilst encouraging body positivity and I thought it was a really interesting point and it got me thinking.

So I haven’t always had the best relationship with my body, I was a size 8 before I had kids and never loved my body, I was always embarrassed by it and I never felt as though it belonged to me.  I was generally unhappy and so my body was another thing to worry about.  I started on a diet when I hit my late teens for no other reason than I thought it was what women did.

I had my first child at 19 and went from a size 8 to a size 16.  I had lots of stretch marks and my once flat stomach was now soft and squidgy and rolled over my trousers.  It was all a bit of a shock to be honest and it deepened my dislike of my body.

sam cleasby blogger

These feelings carried on for years and it was only after my first big surgery to remove my colon and form my ileostomy that I began to think about my feelings towards my body.  After the initial shock of surgery and having an ostomy, for the first time in my life, I felt proud of my body.  It had carried me through this stressful operation, had part of me removed yet I was still standing! I realised that my body was pretty fucking awesome!

I think that this time coincided with my children becoming teens was a big part in my change in thinking, I didn’t want my kids growing up hearing me hating my body.  I was trying to teach them to love and respect themselves and so I knew I had to lead by example.  I began to talk about my body in a positive and loving way.  I saw my stretch marks for the signs that I had carried my babies, my large breasts that no longer were pert were the things that fed those kids, my scars were the marks of my battles through operations and treatments and showed I was still here.

For the first time, my weight stopped being an issue.  I didn’t look at my size as a source of shame, I saw it as my body, and my body made me happy and strong.  My weight went up and down as I went in and out of surgeries, the steroids made me gain a lot of weight, the surgeries made me lose it.

My last op in September last year was to fix two large hernias, one of them ruptured and I was rushed into emergency surgery.  It was a big op lasting around 6 hours and they repaired the incisional hernia and the parastomal hernia with mesh and pig skin.  During recovery, I became terrified of having another hernia and so I stopped walking the dogs, stopped pretty much all exercise and in turn gained around a stone in weight.

woman with a stoma ostomy ileostomy colostomy

So my decision to lose weight was, for the first time in a long line of diets during my lifetime, not about hatred or shame.  It was about health, I knew that the more I weighed, the more pressure I was putting on those hernia fixes, I knew that the weight gain was making me feel sluggish and unfit.  Going into a diet not hating my body was a really new thing for me! I loved myself, I didn’t look in the mirror and dislike what I saw, I looked at myself with love and pride but with a knowledge that I wanted to make changes to benefit my health.

And so I decided on Slimming World, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be for me but I thought I would give it a try.  I went along to a local meeting and the leader weighed me and said this was the last time I would see that number on the scales.  I weighed 14 stone 5 lbs. The heaviest I have ever been.

It took quite a bit of getting used to, Slimming World gives you lots of ‘free’ foods that you can eat including meats, eggs, fish, veg and fruit and also rice and pasta, then two ‘healthy extras’ a day that are dairy and bread or cereals.  Anything else must be counted as ‘syns’ and I hate this word!! I hate that it makes those foods sounds like you are doing something wrong as I honestly believe you should eat what you like and not feel guilty about it.

It has made me really think about the food I put into my body and how many empty calories I was consuming through habit, boredom and just not thinking.  It is great for encouraging you to cook fresh food and ditch the processed crap.  Learning to look at the oils and fats I was cooking with has been a huge benefit and I have changed the diet for the family, our evening meals are Slimming World friendly and with a few little changes are much healthier and don’t taste any different.

I have ditched most sweet foods, cakes and biscuits etc as I realised I am just not that bothered, I was eating biscuits out of habit and now I don’t miss them at all.  If I really want something, then I have it and count it in my syns but I really am not that fussed.  I stopped having sugar in my tea and coffee and swapped to sugar free pop and squash.  I don’t eat much bread these days and it made me realise just how much of the stuff I was consuming and again I don’t really miss it.

Breakfast is probably the meal I find the hardest as cereal means using both my healthy extras of cereal and milk and I would rather save my milk for teas and coffees through the day.  I would usually eat toast, butter and jam before but now I very rarely have these things.  I now have porridge oats with yoghurt and fruit or scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes or grilled bacon and beans.

Lunch was usually a sandwich, these days it is usually a salad, jacket potato, or omelette.  Sushi is my go to lunch if I am out and about.

Dinners are the easiest as I find I can cook pretty much all my favourite meals syn free by cutting out the oil and using lean cuts of meat and plenty of veg.  I think you might struggle if you don’t like cooking as most processed foods are a no no.  I am not one for pre packaged diet meals so though they are available, I haven’t tried them yet.

And so today has been my weigh in for week 12 and I am 12 stone 12 1/2 lbs.  I have lost  10% of my body weight and I feel so much better for it!

slimming world diet weight loss

So how do I marry the ideas of body positivity with dieting? Well, I think we are taught to hate our bodies, especially women, we are shown unachievable, photoshopped images of women all day, everywhere we look we are bombarded by photos of women that are part of such a narrow, Western ideal of what beauty is.  We are taught to much so much emphasis on our looks and so it is unsurprising that so many women will openly say they hate their bodies.

My weight loss is not about what my body looks like, I love my body when it is larger or smaller and I am just grateful to still be alive! This weight loss is about me taking back control of myself and my health after nearly 4 years of surgeries and treatment that took over everything.  I have felt so weak and vulnerable during this time and now is the time where I want to feel in control and strong and I know that dropping a few pounds and getting myself into a healthy BMI is going to do that for me.

I don’t think that everyone should be the same size, I think that we should strive to look after our bodies and to be the way that makes us happy.  I have been on diets for years and they always came from a place of unhappiness, this time it comes from a place of self love and self care.  I want to do this for me, not for any other person.

I am really looking inwards at the moment, I am seeing a counsellor for my mental and emotional health, I am doing things for myself that make me happy, I am going to the cinema regularly on my own because I love it, I am (don’t mock me!!) doing jigsaws, crochet and reading more, I am spending more time in my allotment, and I am changing my food intake to give myself what my body needs not what my habits push.

I was nearly 14 and a half stone and a size 18 three months ago.  And you know what? I was banging hot! I felt sexy and beautiful and awesome.  I am under 13 stone now and I’m in a size 14 for the first time in years and I feel great.  Not because I weigh less, but because I feel I am looking after me.

It is so important to look after yourself, to work on self love and self care.  We so often put ourselves to the bottom of the list of priorities and that needs to stop.  Take a moment to think about what will make you happy and fulfilled and make the effort to do something that makes you love yourself a little more.

 

Sam xx

Body Positivity with an Ostomy talk

My talk for the Steel Belles WI in Sheffield about body positivity, ostomies, feminism, body hair and being fat.

 

Probably NSFW due to my sweary Northern gob…

 

 

You can buy the t-shirt I am wearing here and £2.50 from every sale goes to Purple Wings Charity.

Every now and then I fall apart…

If you aren’t singing Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler after reading that heading then what are you doing with your life? 

Ok, enough 80s awesomeness. I’m not feeling awesome. And that pisses me off. 

After 3 1/2 years of surgeries, scars and ostomies I have gotten used to this body of mine. More than used to it, I’ve learnt to feel proud and brave and strong. I’ve learnt to love it. 

Yet every now and then I fall apart. It’s a weird one as I do genuinely love this body of mine, fucking hell I talk about it enough. I blog, vlog, Instagram and tweet about it. I get paid to stand in rooms full of other humans and talk about it for fucks sake. But sometimes, just sometimes it catches me off guard and I feel shit. 

I was listening to the Guilty Feminist podcast (you should all go listen to this IMMEDIATELY!) and one of the women was saying that sometimes when she hears people telling her she should love her body she thinks ‘Fuck you! You don’t know my body, it’s a right bitch!’ and along with making me laugh, it made me think about how it’s ok for me to sometimes be thoroughly fucked off with my body. 

It let me down! It got sick. And this stupid kind of sick where it’s hurting itself! Auto immune disease means my body is literally attacking itself. It’s like when your older sibling takes your hand and slaps you with it shouting ‘stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself’ but there’s no old, mean brother or sister. You’re just slapping your own face. Stupid body. 

Then doctors fixed me by taking my bowel out and sewing up my arse hole.  Man, I miss farting.  My ileostomy is the end of my small intestine pulled out through the wall of my abdomen. On good days I say it looks like a rose bud. On bad days, I think of it as a scary leech face. 


I wear this bag 24 hours a day. And it’s literally the butt of every joke about something old, smelly or disgusting. Society thinks of colostomy bags (they’re usually not well informed enough to know about ileostomy bags) are gross, hilarious or downright disgusting. And that hurts. It hurts that most people see my illness as an insult. 

Even in the most well meaning of places I hear negativity. I heard someone saying that if they were about to be sexually attacked, they’d shit themselves. Because that makes you gross, disgusting and definitely not sexy.  As a woman who shits in a bag on my belly I can tell you that one knocked my confidence. 

I mean she’s right, shit isn’t sexy. (I suppose it is if you have a fetish in that!) but it made me think about how someone like me can be seen as sexual when every romantic liaison comes with an ostomy bag thrown in? 

Usually I cope well. Mainly because I’m fucking awesome. But every now and then I fall apart. 

Tonight I got out of the bath and changed my bag. I looked down and it caught me off guard. I cried. A lot. I sat in the bathroom wishing I had a pretty and perfect body. I’m a feminist but… (you’ll get this when you’ve listened to the guilty feminist podcast!) I wished my body looked like a woman from a magazine. 

Worry not, I’ve pulled myself together and reminded myself that even the women in the magazines don’t look like women in magazines in real life. I’ve reminded myself that there’s no point wasting time wishing this away, this is my lot now. I have no bum hole people! It’s not going to change!!! And if I ever get abducted by aliens then at least they won’t be able to probe me… 


I suppose this is why I do what I do. Why I speak openly about my illness and my body. Because though sometimes I fall apart, I have also learnt to live, thrive and kick ass with my body. 

I know how it feels to be let down by your body. How isolating and soul crushing it can be.  The road to self love isn’t all sweetness and light, no Kardashian is going to hand you a can of pop and make your world better. It takes time, work, sharing and looking hard at what you want. But you can get to a place of self worth and celebration. 

You just have to accept that even the most badass of people have times when every now and then they fall apart.

When I hated my body

Before I had kids I was a size 8. After I was anywhere from a 12 to an 18. It was a shock to see my body change so much and I hated it. 

When I hated my body, I thought fat couldn’t be sexy, or beautiful, or attractive. I’d been taught that fat people were disgusting, or shameful, or ugly. 

When I hated my body, I thought fat couldn’t be clever, or professional, or respected. I’d been taught fat people were the butt of the joke, they were the low paid staff in a dirty polo shirt. 

When I hated my body, I thought fat couldn’t be loved, or celebrated, or rejoiced. I’d been taught that fat people were the funny friend, the sad spinster, never, ever the leading lady. 

When I hated my body, I called myself horrible names. I said I was vile, disgusting, wobbly, ugly. I’d been taught that this is how fat women talk about themselves. 

When I hated my body, I thought weight loss was the answer to everything. If only I could be a little slimmer, I’d be happier, smarter, sexier, prettier, more confident. If I could fit in a size 10 then all the shit things in my life would be better. 

When I hated my body, I used it as an excuse for all the things that went wrong. If I were thinner, it would all be fine. 

When I hated my body, I pushed my husband away. How could he possibly fancy me when my thighs touched, my flesh hung down, my boobs flopped. I had learnt that men only fancy thin women, that beauty looked one way and that way was thin, toned, perfect. 

When I hated my body, I hated myself. 

Then I got really ill. Medication couldn’t control my IBD and I went into hospital. I was shitting 30 times a day and had a constant flow of blood pouring from my arse. The options were laid in front of me and surgery was my choice. I was cut open and my colon removed, my ileostomy was formed. I was broken, scarred and had to wear a bag of shit on my stomach at all times. 

More and more surgeries came and more and more scars. My poor battered broken body looked so sad, it was scarred beyond belief and so weak. 

It should have cemented my hatred for my body, but oddly something else happened. I felt pride. I felt that my body had been through so much and I was still standing! Slowly, I learnt a lot about myself, I learnt that I’d hated my fat body for so long and it was entirely unfair and unnecessary. 

I learnt to love my body. 

Now I love my body, I accept it for what it is, I like its solidness, I like my thighs, I think my scars are interesting and oddly beautiful. 

Now I love my body, I realise that anyone shallow enough to dislike me for my size is not someone I want to spend time with. But generally I realised that no one gave a shit!

Now I love my body I know that my size has no relevance to my intelligence, my character, my humour, my awesomeness. 

Now I love my body, I celebrate it. It’s brilliant, look at it dance, look at it swim, look at my belly rolls, they’re super cute. Look at my scars, they show that I’m a fucking badass. Look at my big arse, it is amazing!

Now I love my body, I can trust it to my husband. Who, by the way, it turns out never gave a shit what size it was. 

Now I love my body, I can speak honestly about it. Yes, it’s a bit fat. I’m a size 16-18 and I’m not embarrassed by that. Sometimes I think I should lose a bit of weight, I worry about my hernia and know that if I was a little lighter it would be easier on the repairs they already did. I can say this from a practical and straightforward place, not one of shame. 


Now I love my body, it makes me sad to see people around me hating theirs. I wish I could flick that switch and show them that they are brilliant and awesome and beautiful and their weight and shape has no bearing on who they are. 

Now I love my body. 

And that’s a great sentence to be able to write. 
Love

Sam xxx