Standing up and ending stigma over stomas

NATHAN Sutherland is just like any other 20-year-old guy - studying hard at uni and eagerly anticipating his 21st birthday.

Mr Sutherland is also a colostomy bag user, and after a photo of a young British woman showing her stomach went viral online, he decided to take to his Facebook account to do the same.

"We strive to keep it a secret so we don't give people that awkward 'what's that under your shirt' feeling," Mr Sutherland said.

"Unfortunately, the reason we get these bags is usually surgery or being sick or something that's been traumatic in our lives."

The CQUniversity paramedical student, who has used a colostomy bag since he was 15, said there were many people in the region who used the devices.

"So far I've seen there's about 10 people in this area who are under 18," he said.

For older people, he said the numbers of users in the region can be "in their thousands".

Mr Sutherland said many people were misinformed about colostomy bag use and that could make it harder to socialise and be accepted.

He said he often attended meetings with young colostomy bag users and there was an annual meeting where Wide Bay users could get together and share their thoughts without judgment.

"I thought the best way to make yourself better is to make other people better, that's always been my motto," he said.

Bethany Townsend dared to bare her tummy. Photo: Caters News Agency.
Bethany Townsend dared to bare her tummy. Photo: Caters News Agency.

Like many others, Mr Sutherland was inspired after 23-year-old British make-up artist Bethany Townsend posted a photo online wearing a bikini and showing her colostomy bag.

The image became a viral sensation on the internet, with colostomy bag users young and old sharing their photos online to help break down social stigma.

"I was encouraged by a girl in the UK who was found on social media with a bag lying down in the sun and I thought if she can do it, why can't I?" Mr Sutherland said.

Mr Sutherland, who undergoes regular hospital visits to treat his ulcerative colitis, said it was important for people to remember having a colostomy bag wasn't the end of the world.

"I would probably say image wouldn't be everything," he said.

"Always keep your support networks open and always seek someone to talk to."


  • A colostomy bag can be fitted if a person is suffering from, or has suffered a disease which has affected or destroyed parts of the bowel.
  •  Bags are attached over stomas, which are surgical openings created in the stomach for the elimination of waste.
  •  Bags are waterproof and people with stomas can swim and live normal active lives.
  •  Stomas can be permanent or temporary.
  •  Stomas may be necessary following illnesses including Crohn's disease, cancer or inflammatory colitis.

Topics:  crohn's disease health social media

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