After years of living with Crohn's disease, 23-year-old Betheny Townsend decided she wasn't going to let her illness hold her back.
So, at her husband's encouragement, she wore a bikini on vacation—allowing her two colostomy bags to show fully—and on June 21, six months after her trip, she posted the picture to Crohn's and Colitis U.K.'s Facebook page. The image quickly went viral, but more importantly, it's served as a source of inspiration to others in a similar situation and it's given Bethany the confidence to return to work as a model.
She explains why she decided to put on the swimsuit, saying, "Finally after three and a half years, I decided that my colostomy bags shouldn't control my life...So when I went to Mexico with my husband in December last year I finally showed I wasn't ashamed."
Bethany says she's "still hoping for a cure," for Crohn's, which could come in the form of a new drug not yet available in the U.K. or a possible bowel transplant. For now, though, she's happy with how the picture of her has been received.
"I didn't expect this kind of reaction at all," she tells the Daily Mail. "I'm just so glad that it's brought about more awareness of Crohn's disease and it's made me feel so much more confident about the colostomy bags...If I can inspire or help other people in my position to feel a little more comfortable in their own skin then I'm really happy."
The reaction has inspired her personally, too. "I feel confident enough now to put myself out there and pursue modeling again," she says. "I did a little bit of work here and there before I had the colostomy bags, but once I had them fitted I thought that was the end of the dream...I'm looking forward to chasing my goals, and I know now that nothing can hold me back...I won't let the Crohn's control me anymore."