Lauren Baker's story: How a simple dress gave back my self-confidence.

If you are a twenty-something chick like me, then you are bound to have a few insecurities when it comes to your body. I have yet to meet a woman my age (or any age, for that matter) who is completely, 100 percent, okay with their body. Even the most fit women grab their thighs or midsection and say, “See? I am soooo fat!”I have realized it doesn’t matter if I think this person is thin or in great shape, all that matters is what they feel when they wake up every day and stand in front of the mirror. Being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at such a young age (12) has made me very aware of my body and just how difficult it is to feel pretty with such an ugly disease. When I was first diagnosed with UC, I lost a lot of weight. This led the people closest to me to think that I had an eating disorder. It was very difficult for me to realize that I was at the beginning stages of colitis; I just thought I was losing my baby fat. After a battery of test, and many of the different ASA drugs (that my body rejected) I was put on steroids to calm my angry colon.

This whole flare-up/remission cycle went on for years, usually resulting in more flares than healthy moments. I finally had my colon removed and had j-pouch surgery in one step in 2003. I had five great disease-free years with no issues (other than a hiccup here, and a bowel obstruction there). My j-pouch and I were great pals. I ate what I wanted, and drank what I wanted. In 2008 I started to have major, very ugly symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. These ugly symptoms left me with a fistula in my lady-parts, and 5 separate surgeries, drains, and numerous EUAs (examination under anesthesia) to attempt to repair my issues. Nothing was working, and it seemed that a temporary ileostomy was slowly creeping its way into my life. I was in denial, “Lets try the surgery again! Sixth time is a charm right?” Each attempt at closing the fistula made me more and more scared at what I was trying to prolong…the bag.

Ironically, soon there after my 5th surgery I was having trouble evacuating and had a VERY bad bowel obstruction, which left me no more chances to put off having the (dreaded) bag. I had no choice. No more opportunities to hide my head in the sand. I had to bite the bullet and face the scariest thing head on… the fear of the unknown. I tried to prepare myself for what was going to be attached to the outside of my stomach, even if it was only for 3 months. I googled ostomy, stoma, bag, ileostomy, ostomy swimwear, ostomy lingerie, ostomy art, ostomy accessories. The google stream of consciousness took off and I was frantically searching for a road map of what life with the bag would be like. When I woke up from surgery, I wouldn’t even look at the right side of my body for the first few days. Every time a nurse emptied my bag, I was embarrassed and would wonder how they were able to do it without being as grossed out as I was. I eventually realized that it was sink or swim and I needed to put my big girl panties on (which, by the way, are from www.ostomysecrects.com and I still own them because they are SO adorable).

As the days passed, I grew accustomed to changing of the bag, keeping things clean and tidy and learning how to treat my new body part. It was definitely challenging at times, but I got the hang of the process and built up a bit of a routine. The problem was that I did not want to leave my house. On the surface I was getting along fine with my new way of using the toilet. I would smile and say, “I still have my legs, and arms, and I am lucky to be alive,” but on the inside…I felt so incredibly undesirable. I felt ugly.

What made me feel pretty, feminine and “normal”, sounds as 1950's housewife as it gets. What really made me feel better was putting on a dress. When I tell you how many pairs of jeans I own, you may think I am crazy. I never wear dresses, skirts or anything of the sort, but one really hot summer day I threw on a sundress and felt my mood turn around. What I realized when I had the bag is that these cute (and inexpensive) stylish dresses hid the bag so well, that no one even knew I had surgery. I felt pretty and feminine and unrestricted because the dresses were light and not too clingy. Yes, a simple dress was able to raise my mood and make me feel better about my body again. (Tip: I went to Target and purchased a bunch of Belly- Bands (for preggo ladies) which let me feel like I had a little extra support around the waist when I would wear these light and comfortable dresses. They are made of spandex and expand with the bag nicely.)

I realize how this sounds. Put a dress on and you will feel pretty? I promise, I am not trying to start an anti-feminist revolt here. I realize that people are different and one thing does not work for everyone, but I dare you to try it and not feel a bit better about leaving your house. I know it helped me and allowed me to get back a sense of normalcy in my life. My feelings are simple: if something makes you happy and it isn’t hurting anyone, keep doing it and don’t look back.

-Lauren B