Tired of letting her condition control her life, this 23-year-old exposed her colostomy bags at the beach.
Credit: Crohn's and Colitis UK on Facebook

Four years ago, Brittany Townsend would have never guessed that a photo of herself in a bikini would go viral on Facebook. The makeup artist from Worcester, England, has suffered from Crohn's disease since age 3, and nearly died when her bowel ruptured in 2010. She woke up in a hospital bed with two colostomy bags, which remove waste from her body through an incision in her abdomen. "As soon as I had the colostomy bags, my confidence was totally knocked," Townsend, 23, told BBC Midlands Today. "I lost so much weight going through all of that. I just wasn't who I was, anymore."

Then, last December, Townsend and her husband took a vacation to Mexico. "My husband always said to me, 'If we go on holiday, I want you to wear a bikini.'" And on her first day there, she did. "I felt like I finally had the confidence after three and a half years of having them." On June 21, she shared the photo above with the Crohn's and Colitis UK Facebook page, which has generated more than 200,000 Likes and has been seen by millions.

  • Townsend hopes her photo will inspire confidence in others with colostomy bags who feel embarrassed or ashamed by their condition. And, bolstered by the positive response her photo has received, she's decided to begin pursuing a part-time modeling career.

  • What is Crohn's disease?
  • Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract, resulting in diarrhea, gut pain, and even skin, joint, and eye problems. It's tough to diagnose and is often mistaken for other illnesses. Crohn's is most commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young adults, but it can strike at any age.