As my photographs of an old photo shoot with my stoma have gone viral last week, I have been subject to a few comments about sexualising disability (and some just telling me that ostomies are gross and I should put it away, but that is a WHOLE other story!!!) and I wonder am I guilty of that?
The short answer is fuck yeah! And you know why? Because my sexuality, my femininity and the person I am didn’t get removed along with my colon. The long answer is about how disability is seen in our society and also how women are viewed in society.
In 2013 when I had my colectomy and an ileostomy formed, I did what we all do in times of uncertainty and I googled it. What I found were some great charities such as Crohns and Colitis UK and I A Support, but what I wanted was a personal story, something that I could relate to.
Looking at images was even worse, there were either terrifying images of stomas that were infected or prolapsed or photographs of smiling old ladies… Nothing that I saw helped me, it frightened me, upset me and made me feel that life as I knew it was over.
And that is why a month or so after my surgery, I made the decision to have some photographs taken. It helped that I lived with a super talented photographer! I wanted some images that represented ME. The person I was before and the person I wanted to find under my scars, dressings and emotional pain. I knew I was under there somewhere, and the camera helped me find myself again.
When I saw the photos I was so overwhelmed. I saw some great images of me. And then my ostomy. It made me realise that I was still me, that my stoma was such a small part of me and all the other characteristics were still there. It empowered me to speak out more, to share my photos and share my story. And to this day, I tell you now, I am DAMN proud of every one.
People like to say that I did this for Facebook likes, for twitter followers or to boost my blog stats. And I suppose they are right. I share all my images because I want to reach as many people as I can who are feeling lost in their illness, who feel that the world has forgotten who they are and only sees their disability, to the people who want to know that life goes on after ostomy surgery. I want to help as many people as I can and if sharing my images does that then bloody go me!
I would also like to point out that there are HUNDREDS of photos on this site and only a handful are what anyone could consider ‘sexualised’. I wouldn’t say I sexualise my disability, I would say I normalise it. I show photographs from every part of my life, there are photos of me playing with the chickens, hanging out with my kids, with my husband, my mum, in gym gear, at the beach… I show all parts of my life because my illness and my disability do not change all those parts of me.
I know that my audience feel that I help raise the profile of the diseases, that I support many and that I inspire others to speak out and to be brave. I know this because they tell me so and I have to laugh at those who think this is simply an ego trip or a numbers boost!!
I don’t prescribe getting your hoo-hoos out to anyone, I do not suggest that taking your clothes off for a photograph is for everyone, in the same way that body building, dancing or wearing a bikini isn’t for everyone. What I do talk about it self love. I talk about body confidence and in taking positive steps to you living a happy, fulfilled life. The path to this is different for everyone, for me as a photographer and a photographer’s wife it was through imagery. I would have done EXACTLY the same shoots beforehand.
If I choose to show my sexuality alongside my disability and you don’t like this, then I suggest you click away, go look at a different site, or even better go read a book, talk to someone or make someone happy! If my sexuality makes you feel uncomfortable, then please step away. It’s fine, honest!
But don’t slut shame me. Don’t belittle my plight to make a difference in the world by judging me on the images that show my undercrackers. It is so easy to use a woman’s body against them, to suggest that any showing of flesh is in some way a dart in the heart of feminists everywhere, to imagine that my professionalism is affected in any way by an image that shows my stoma.
I am a feminist in that I believe in equality for men and women, it is odd isn’t it that when we see the semi-naked photographs of men that there is no backlash, no one suggesting they are belittling the campaign by showing their bodies, yet when women do it, we are subjected to judgment and mocking.
The facts are that I am a woman. I have a stoma. And I live in a country where I have free speech and the freedom to show images of myself.
The facts are that I make a difference. I help many people and I do it in my own way.
The facts are that I am so bad ass and I will carry on raising awareness, supporting people and kicking ass!
Love Sam x