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Why we should all be more drag queen

As you may know I am slightly obsessed with Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s like a drag version of America’s Next Top Model, totes trashy but amazingly addictive.  As I sit watching a screen full of men dressed as women it got me thinking about the qualities in women that these queens imitate.

I think drag queens are absolute artists, from the make up and hair, to the outfits, performance and dance, you can see the hours of dedication put into their creativity and I LOVE it.  Its like watching a theatre piece.  Many imitate celebrities, but a lot talk about mimicking the strong women around them, mothers, sisters, friends, aunties.  They imitate them in an exaggerated way, magnifying the qualities that they love.

ru paul be more drag queen

Watching these beautiful queens act in such an open, daring, funny, extravagant way, you easily forget that they are men dressed in womens clothes and just enjoy watching hilarious, wicked and wild performers.

So I have been thinking about why women should be a little more drag queen, Im a big believer in faking it till you make it, as in acting like the personality you wish you had until you eventually stop faking it and start feeling it.  What if we all performed as the type of woman we adore?  Despite my outward appearance, I am sometimes quite shy and I get really anxious when I have to speak to new people but it is something I dislike about myself and so I fake being a chatty and confident person.  I have faked it for so long that sometimes the new behaviour of being gregarious just comes out as a habit and without trying to fake it, I AM that confident person.

Watching drag queens is so interesting as they perform as how they ‘see’ women rather than how most women actually are and man, that looks likes fun!  Perhaps next time we feel shite about ourselves we need to put on a floor length glittery gown, massive lashes and act like a giddy diva?  Well, maybe not.  But maybe we could all do with seeking out a little inner drag queen to boost our confidence from time to time, acting like a woman in our lives who inspires us.

Ru Paul has this saying…

ru paul

How true is that? I KNOW it sounds cliche but without self confidence and love for ourself, it is a real struggle to love someone else and to be loved.  We need to spend more time working on ourselves, on loving ourselves, respecting ourselves and making time for number one.  We need to make our own happiness a priority rather than putting ourselves last in the queue.

You know that saying “If momma aint happy, nobody happy”? That is because as women and mothers we tend to be the key pin in families (dads are of course as important, please don’t think Im dissing the baby daddies).  If we are unhappy it affects everyone in the family.

So this week, make time for you, do something that makes you happy and if you are really struggling perhaps try being just a little more drag queen.

Sam xxx

How do you define beauty?

We all know the old sayings of ‘beauty is skin deep’ and ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ but do we actually live by them? Beauty is a billion dollar industry, we are sold images of beauty every day, studies say we see over 3500 marketing messages a day designed by marketing execs to show this narrow western ideal of beauty.

My talk last week for International Women’s Day was about chronic illness and body image and so it got me thinking about beauty, how we see ourselves, how the world defines beauty and where we fit into that concept.

My friend Helen sent me a message telling me to take a look at motivational speaker Lizzie Velasquez, she has an extremely rare disorder which means she cannot gain weight and I watched a video of hers called ‘How do you define beauty?’ where she talks about how she found a youtube video of herself naming her as the worlds ugliest woman.  I was blown away.  Watch this video and then think about it next time you want to make a ‘funny’ comment on a youtube video or random photo on the internet.  Remember her words ‘I felt like someone was reaching through the computer screen and punching me’, think about that before you post a comment about a celebrity or an unflattering picture of a stranger.

The amazing thing about Lizzie is her positivity, she accepts the life and the body she has and makes the absolute most of it.  Her strength, humour and positive attitude are BEAUTIFUL.

So how do you define beauty? Is it flawless skin and a size 0 figure? The perfect gym body? Toned arms and a six pack? Big pert breasts?  Or is it more than that?

Beauty to me is confidence, uniqueness, pride, kindness, positivity.  Beauty can be found everywhere if you are open to seeing it.  Size 0 or size 30, beauty is inside us all.  We just need to accept ourselves and let the awesomeness inside shine through, I KNOW that is easier said than done.  But we need to change the nature of society where we as women constantly put ourselves down, we are our own harshest critics and we need to be kinder to ourselves.

Its a shame that it took major surgery and living with an ileostomy bag for me to recognise and voice my wonder of my body.  It shouldn’t take such a drastic thing to see beauty in oneself.

We need to stop with the negative comments we make into the mirror and start with positive affirmations.  Say to yourself  ‘you are amazing’ ‘you are beautiful’ ‘you kick ass’ – say them enough times and you may start believing them.

self esteem quotes sam cleasby so bad ass

Think about the people in your life who are truly beautiful.  Do they fit into the tiny select package that beauty magazines tell us is beautiful? I have this friend and she is beautiful, but you would never hear her say those words because sadly she doesn’t believe them.  I wish she could see herself through my eyes, I see her as this magnificent person, she is kind hearted, open with her emotions, has  these gorgeous eyes that break my heart when they shine with tears.  I love her hair and she has an awesome rack… She has an amazing style, one of those annoying people who throw on several things that layer up like she’s just walked off a quirky fashion show.  Her heart is so big, she cares ferociously about those around her and has the most beautiful aura.

That is beauty.  That is what counts.

We need to stop giving ourselves such a hard time and be more ready with compliments for ourselves and those around us.  I am learning to accept compliments, I used to be embarrassed by them and make an argument as to why the person giving them was wrong…

Nice person – “I love your hair!”

Me – “Really? Have you not seen my roots?”

Nice person – “Your dress is beautiful”

Me – “This? It was really cheap.  And Im wearing massive fat pants to fit into it”

WHY???? Why do we do this? And so I make myself accept a compliment graciously with a “Thank you, that’s so kind” It doesn’t feel right, perhaps immodest to do this but I know I need to learn to be kind to myself and so if someone is nice enough to be kind to me, I have to learn to accept it.

If you do only one thing today, make it something good for yourself, tell yourself you are awesome.  Find just one thing that is amazing about you and say it out loud to yourself. (Perhaps do this at home rather than on public transport though as shouting “I have amazing breasts” on the bus is generally frowned upon)

Love Sam xxxx

IWD talk at Barnsley Town Hall – Body Image and Self Esteem

On Saturday 8th March I was invited to talk at Barnsley Town Hall as part of International Women’s Day by Experience Barnsley.  My talk was about my journey of ten years of chronic illness, surgery and living with a stoma.  I talked about Ulcerative Colitis and how my colectomy and ileostomy affected my life.

It was about raising awareness, trying to stop poo being taboo and relating my story to the average woman.  It was about body image, self esteem, confidence and positivity and how we need to both learn how to love ourselves as women and how to pass these things onto the young women of future generations.

Have a watch and please feel free to leave me a comment telling what you think.

Thanks for watching!

Sam xx

My brave body is no less beautiful because of its scars

My ileostomy is part of me and my scars , stoma and bag make my body no less beautiful than a body without.

If you have an ostomy, be proud of it, own it, love it. It probably wasn’t part of your life plan but it’s here now and you need to accept it and know it is saving your life.

My ileostomy bag is not unattractive, it’s not scary looking or disgusting.  I love the softness and femininity of these images, the lines of my body and lines of my bag become one.

I’m proud of my body and it’s strength, I celebrate my ostomy by showing the world that beauty is not about perfection, beauty is in everything, if only we can have a mind that is open to it.

woman with ileostomy bag beauty art empowerment confidence

woman with ileostomy bag beauty art empowerment confidence

woman with ileostomy bag beauty art empowerment confidence

Love Sam x

Fashion tips for women with ileostomy or colostomy bags

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you choose clothes to wear with your ileostomy bag, and so I thought Id do a little post on the question…

Its a funny one because my first reaction is ‘Wear whatever the hell you want to” and that is my general rule.  But there are a few things I wear for comfort and ease…

1. Maternity trousers

I know, I know, wearing maternity trousers when you aren’t pregnant seems awful, but they are FANTASTIC.  You can get a ton of different styles these days from most high street stores and they are really affordable.

I went for maternity jeans because from the crotch down they look like any other pair of trousers, but that soft stretchy band above makes them super comfortable and holds your bag snugly against your stomach so it just feels so safe.  Wearing these means I happily wear jeans and a vest and don’t even think about my bag.

2. Don’t feel that you have to hide it

The fact is that sometimes you will be able to make out the shape of your bag under your clothes, but seriously who cares?  What is the absolute worse that will happen? Someone will ask you what it is, you tell them.  The End.  Wear what make you feel good, if you can see the bag, own it and make it awesome…

ileostomy bag and fashion

I love this tshirt and didn’t want to go bigger and get a baggy top, I know you can see the shape of my bag through and so what!

ileostomy bag and fashion

I bought this is Australia and its totally see through… I think Im rocking it!

3.  In there like swimwear

I looked at a few ileostomy swimming costumes and never found one I liked and so I just wear what I already have! On the beach or sunbathing I am happy to wear a bikini and just let is all hang out…

ileostomy bag and fashion swimwear ileostomy bag and fashion having fun swimwear ostomy stoma

If I want to cover up on the beach, or at the local swimming pool I wear a one piece, if you are bothered about people seeing it, go for a large pattern.

ileostomy bag and fashion swimwear

4. Tight fitting clothes.

You had your bowel removed, you did not become a nun.  If you liked wearing tight fitting clothes before there is no reason you can’t still wear them.  It comes down to confidence and self esteem – your bag has probably saved your life, its not something to be ashamed of, wear what makes you feel amazing.

ileostomy bag and fashion

5. Loose women

If you want to go baggy then do it, but do it because you love the dress, not because you want to cover everything up.

ileostomy bag and fashion

6. In the bedroom

I don’t usually talk about ‘bedroom stuff’ just because it isn’t really something I want my mum or kids to read, but regarding clothes Ill talk a bit.  There are some specialist lingerie sets for ostomates, I have had a look and to be honest they aren’t for me.  There are specialist wraps but in a way I find them a little bit offensive, its like saying I need to cover up my bag for my partner to find me sexually attractive.

I tend to wear a vest in bed because I feel more comfortable when my bag is close against my skin, but honestly, with the right partner, you really don’t need to worry about what you are wearing in the bedroom.  I think sex is about trust and respect, if my partner didn’t want to see my bag during sex, he probably wouldn’t be the right partner for me.

7. Underwear

I tend to wear big panties, you know the high waisted ones, I do this because I prefer to have the cotton between my skin and the bag.  Its total personal preference, you can buy specialist underwear that has a pouch in it for your bag.  I haven’t bothered with these so far as Im comfortable in what I have.

8. Wear what makes you feel amazing…

This is the main point.  Clothes are such a personal choice, there is little reason for you to change your style because of your bag.  There are a few things I avoid nowadays because of the position of my stoma, waistbands need to go above or below my stoma to feel comfortable.  I’d never stop wearing something that I loved unless it was ridiculously impractical or uncomfortable.

ileostomy bag and fashion

Wear what makes you feel awesome and amazing, you deserve it xxx

Love Sam xxx

International Women's day 2014

I was absolutely thrilled and blown away to be invited to be a speaker at Experience Barnsley’s International Women’s Day event on 8th March this year at Barnsley Town Hall.  It is £2.50 a ticket so if anyone fancies coming to hear me talk about bowels, shit and self esteem I would greatly appreciate the support!

international womens day 2014

 

Along with three other amazing speakers I will be doing a talk about my journey with IBD and how this and my ileostomy affect self esteem and body image.

Dr Lorna Warren is a lecturer at the University of Sheffield and is doing a talk on a project called Look at Me which has worked with women in Sheffield to explore representations of women and ageing in the media and to produce new images to challenge existing stereotypes.  An amazing project that you can see more about here.

Anne Fay is the head of education at Wallace Collection and her talk on The Beau Monde sounds fantastic.

Author and Lecturer Katie Edwards talk on religion and feminism is one Im really looking forward to.

It is an honour to share a stage with these women and though Im frankly terrified I am hoping to deliver a speech that will explain both the physical, emotional and mental affects of illness and surgery on female body image.  Ill be discussing how I dealt with the last ten years of ulcerative colitis and then my operation and how positivity has played a huge role in dealing with the emotional side of living with a stoma.

I talk about poo A LOT on this blog and the thought of talking shit to a room full of people is both amusing and scary.  In September when I lay in HDU at the Northern General in Sheffield covered in tubes, with my arms full of canulas and feeling so weak that I couldn’t lift my head, I never dreamed that six months later I would be standing in Barnsley Town Hall being a speaker for Yorkshire women.

Thanks so much for the support of all you people who regularly read my blog, Facebook and twitter.  Being part of International Women’s Day is an absolute dream come true and I just hope I do you all proud.

Thanks

 

Sam x

Bride with an ileostomy bag

I have been married to my awesome husband Timm for ten years in May 2014, we married in Las Vegas with Elvis in gold lame, an amazing experience that was so fun and just right for us at the time.  We had two small kids and the pressures of planning a big white wedding got to us and so we packed up and eloped to have the most ridiculous, fantastic wedding we could think of!

viva las vegas wedding

viva las vegas wedding

We had an absolute ball and it was just right for us, but it was marred with sadness that some people who really mattered to us couldn’t make it.  So for our tenth wedding anniversary we decided to renew our vows, that is happening this September in a ceremony and reception that we can invite all our nearest and dearest to.

I am currently in the midst of planning the whole shebang, I am spending more time than is healthy on pinterest and just trying to plan the perfect wedding for us now, ten years older and wiser.  Im looking at beautiful venues, Ive asked my (NINE) bridesmaids if they will be part of our day, we are looking at food and music, themes and Im spending a LOT of time reading Rock n Roll Bride.

But Im also feeling worried.  Im thinking about how this will be a day where Timm and I are centre of attention and crazy scared about being a bride with an ileostomy bag.  I brazen it out most of the time and if you read my blog you know Im not against showing my bag off, it helps me to think Im helping raise awareness when I talk about my experiences with a stoma but sometimes it hits me hard.

As I look through hundreds of beautiful wedding dresses I look at the fronts to see if my ileostomy bag would be on show, I think about where waist bands will sit and whether they will cut across my bag, I wonder whether my forced cheer will hold out on me wearing a big white dress.  I think about the horrific consequences of a bag leak in a wedding frock!!!

I see all this gorgeous, silky, lacy wedding underwear and laugh wryly wondering if they do anything to fit around a stoma, then I get scared that I won’t be a ‘proper’ bride whilst sporting an ileostomy under my gown.  I wailed at Timm this morning that Im going to be a bride that smells of poo… He laughed his head off and reminded me that I never smell of poo and gave me a cuddle.

Im finding it hard to put into words how I feel about being a bride with a bag, of course I know it doesn’t make a difference, but I can’t help feeling a bit sad that I won’t be a ‘perfect’ bride.  Id love to be able to take the stoma off for a day, to have one day where Im not thinking about medical things.  I want my bridal handbag to be filled with pretty things and perhaps a drop of dutch courage, not stoma adhesive and barrier creams.  I don’t want to have to worry that if I drink champagne that my bag will get gassy and Id rather my wedding night didn’t involve a big plastic bag stuck to my stomach!

I sometimes worry that Timm shouldn’t have to deal with all this, that he should  have a wife who doesn’t carry bodily waste around with her.  And I suppose those feelings are coming to a head whilst planning our renewal.  I DO know that all these things are in my head, that in reality Im a super lucky woman who has a husband who loves her.  I also know that our wedding renewal is about love.  Its a celebration of our relationship, our joy, our devotion to one another.  Its nothing to do with being perfect, anyone who has been together fifteen years knows their partner isn’t perfect, because we are all deliciously and uniquely flawed, its what makes us who we are.

Timm said to me this morning “I think you are beautiful at your very worst, at your best you have me in tears”

And thats why Im marrying him.  Again.

Love Sam xx

What would you say to your 16 year old self?

A bit of a different post from me today, but after 2013 being a tough one with illness, surgery and learning to live with an ileostomy I have definitely begun to reflect more on my life.  I saw a post on Facebook from my friend and awesome parent blogger Corinne from Motherhood Journeys.  It was a photograph of herself as a youngster and she was thinking of what she would say to her 16 year old self.

It got me thinking as to what would I say to myself if I could go back 16 years and speak to the young woman I was then.  People who know me now don’t believe that I was a shy person, to be honest I still have days of crippling self doubt and a reluctance to speak to people in case they find out Im a fraud, that Im not nearly as grown up as I seem, Im thick and I am a total dork.  But at 16 I was basically scared most of the time.  I covered it with being loud and silly but I felt less than others around me, I idolised TOTALLY the wrong people and ended up boosting my self esteem (or so I thought!) with relationships with men who were, to be honest, fucking idiots!

my 16 year old self

Family life was difficult, I lived between home, with sisters, with an aunty, in a student house for a while and for a brief stint alone in possibly the most terrifying flat in Sheffield… I found myself entering the adult world feeling completely adrift, I had no idea who I was or where I wanted to go.  I clung onto other people’s dreams by following them into jobs and college courses that they seemed so excited about and so I thought it was the right path for me too. I drank alcohol because others around me did, I smoked, went to nightclubs and got myself into situations that were stupid and dangerous.

So what would I tell my 16 year old self?   I’d tell myself that it will all get better, that everyone feels that weight of doubt inside them and that there is no rush to grow up. I’d tell her that her weirdness is great and the sooner she accepts it the happier she will be.  I’d tell her to stay in college and go to university because she’ll regret it for the rest of her life if not. I’d tell her to travel the world before settling down and that kindness is the key to a happy life. I’d tell her to dump the man she is going out with because that dangerous flare of temper becomes a hell of a lot less sexy very, very quickly and  that the man she will meet in a years time may cause a few tears and at times the relationship will be stressful but he will become her best friend, her soulmate and her husband.

my 16 year old self

Id tell her that she can’t help everyone, that sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away from a terrible situation as though she is only trying to make things better, it simply drags her further down.  Id tell her that self esteem can ONLY come from within and NEVER from the men she thinks will care for her.  Id tell her that tequila is not her friend and it will end in a night where she will awake in a fountain.  (Don’t ask!!)

Id tell her she is enough.  That she is good enough.  That she has a kind heart and a good soul and the people who she wants in her life will see that, she doesn’t need to pretend to be anything she is not, she shouldn’t go along with the crowd and she should accept her ridiculous humour, weird personality and geeky self because it is enough.

Id tell her that her two school friends Tania and Hannah will be her lifelong closest friends, to hold them close and to remember that no matter how far apart you are, that they will always be the ones who will hold her up and make everything better.

Id tell her that everything will work out, that life is filled with ups and downs but with a good attitude and strong self belief, any situation can be overcome.  Id tell her that when you fuck up, an honest, heartfelt apology goes a long, long way.  That if you follow two life lessons of ‘Just be nice’ and ‘Try your hardest’ you won’t go far wrong in life.

And Id tell her if all else fails, go with your motto in life of ‘If you can’t sing well, sing LOUD’
So what would you say to your 16 year old self?

Love Sam xx

Stoma and Ileostomy photoshoot

When surgery became a possibility I did what we all do these days and googled it… THAT was a mistake (seriously don’t google stomas, you’ll give yourself nightmares!!)

Many images are medical, none are particularly flattering, most are terrifying.

Since having my subtotal colectomy and ileostomy I have realised that neither is anywhere near as frightening as I thought they would be.  My bag is barely noticeable and my stoma is kind of cute to be honest!

I had two separate emails from women recently, one saying she had a stoma and an ileostomy a few years ago and didn’t leave the house for six months till she had the takedown surgery.  And another from a woman due to have surgery who spoke of her fears of being ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting’.  Both emails broke my heart.  I feel so sad that this life saving operation has such a bad reputation when it comes to looks and self esteem.

I understand the feelings.  When I first had my surgery I was to scared to look at my stoma.  The thought of my intestines being on the outside horrified me and from the images I had seen online, I believed my femininity and any form of attractiveness would have been removed along with my diseased bowel.

Since then I have been googling A LOT – I wanted to find some powerful, beautiful images of women with ileostomy or colostomy bags and stomas to share on this blog.  I struggled…. There are some model shoots for stoma products that I found cheesy.  There are plenty of medical photos and quite a few selfies!

So I decided that as I live with a photographer and Im not really a wallflower that I may as well do a photo shoot to show off my bag and stoma and hopefully to create a series of photos that show femininity, sexuality, creativity and beauty.

I would LOVE your feedback as Im feeling quite nervous about putting these out there…  I wanted to show others the true face of stomas and ileostomies.  Im obviously not a model, Im a normal size 16 woman with wobbly bits and stretch marks.

I have a stoma and I wear an ileostomy bag but they are such a small part of what I am.  I hope this can inspire others who have had or are due to have the surgery.  Your body is awesome.  This surgery saves lives and that little bit of intestine doesn’t change who you are – be proud, be confident and be amazing.

Love Sam xx

All photography is by the awesome Timm Cleasby of The Picture Foundry.

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shootstoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white

woman with stoma

ileostomy and stoma photos

ileostomy and stoma photo shoot black and white female woman with colostomy bag

ileostomy and stoma photo shoot black and white female woman with ileostomy bag

ileostomy and stoma photo shoot black and white female woman with ileostomy bag

Objectified or flattered?

This is an article I wrote for parenting website Bad Mothers Club a few years ago, for more information see my PR friendly page.

funny parenting quote

The age of innocence seems to be ebbing away in my house. When asking my seven year old son what he thought of his new teacher, I did not expect him to answer:

“She’s OK, not as fit as Miss Smith though.”

My poor naive brain thought he must be referring to the amount of time she spends on the treadmill and I mumbled a sheepish reply that Miss Smith did indeed seem quite sporty. After bursting into giggles he put me right by letting me know that the general consensus at school was that she was a ‘Fitty’.

When did my sweet innocent child turn into this hormonal creature?? He’ll be reading some God awful lads’ mag and wolf whistling at girls in the playground next.

The left wing, lentil munching hippy came out in me and I tried to discuss how we shouldn’t objectify women in this manner, how Miss Smith was a highly trained, intelligent woman who was a wonderful, caring teacher.

“I agree mummy, but she’s still a hotty!” Charlie happily replied.

This contrast between the grown up phrases coming out of his mouth and the little boy stood in front of me who cried yesterday because he couldn’t finish the last level on his Spongebob game is confusing to say the least.

I thought I was doing so well at sex education, my husband and I decided we would be open and honest and answer any questions they may have with no embarrassment or fibbing about storks. We have talked about how babies are made, about vaginas (though I still hate that word) and penises (or is that peni??). We have looked through a variety of sex ed books aimed at children with the minimal amount of pointing and giggling. I have also had the pleasure of explaining to my then five year old why his willy gets hard sometimes.

But I hadn’t even thought about the social side of sex. Yet in an age where they are completely surrounded by sexual messages, and when they hear older children imitating language they hear on TV, is it any wonder we have a generation of seven year olds who are teens before their time?

So we sit down for a chat, he senses immediately that something is not right and wriggles restlessly, casting a yearning eye towards his games console.

“Son” I say, “when you get older you may start to feel attracted to girls” (The thought that he may be attracted to boys crosses my mind but let’s not complicate things for now.)

“Don’t worry Mummy, I’m always going to live with you,” he says.

“Well, no, you probably won’t,” I say. “When you grow up you will find a girl who you fall in love with and you’ll might want to get married and have your own house. And er, well, the point is that you may find girls attractive but you must treat them with respect. They may not like being referred to as ‘Fitties’.”

“Mummy” he sighs, looking at me as a patient father would an idiot. “Is this because I called Miss Smith a fitty?”

“Well yes. I understand you may hear these phrases but they are not really appropriate.”

He gets up, pats me on the thigh, kisses my cheek and says,

“Don’t worry, Mummy, I think you’re a fitty too!”

Did I feel objectified or flattered? I’m still working on it.

Love Sam xx