sam cleasby sexualising disability

Sexualising disability or normalising life with an illness?

As my photographs of an old photo shoot with my stoma have gone viral last week, I have been subject to a few comments about sexualising disability (and some just telling me that ostomies are gross and I should put it away, but that is a WHOLE other story!!!) and I wonder am I guilty of that?

The short answer is fuck yeah! And you know why?  Because my sexuality, my femininity and the person I am didn’t get removed along with my colon.  The long answer is about how disability is seen in our society and also how women are viewed in society.

In 2013 when I had my colectomy and an ileostomy formed, I did what we all do in times of uncertainty and I googled it.  What I found were some great charities such as Crohns and Colitis UK and I A Support, but what I wanted was a personal story, something that I could relate to.

Looking at images was even worse, there were either terrifying images of stomas that were infected or prolapsed or photographs of smiling old ladies… Nothing that I saw helped me, it frightened me, upset me and made me feel that life as I knew it was over.

And that is why a month or so after my surgery, I made the decision to have some photographs taken.  It helped that I lived with a super talented photographer! I wanted some images that represented ME.  The person I was before and the person I wanted to find under my scars, dressings and emotional pain.  I knew I was under there somewhere, and the camera helped me find myself again.

When I saw the photos I was so overwhelmed.  I saw some great images of me.  And then my ostomy.  It made me realise that I was still me, that my stoma was such a small part of me and all the other characteristics were still there.  It empowered me to speak out more, to share my photos and share my story.  And to this day, I tell you now, I am DAMN proud of every one.

ostomy photoshoot sexy ileostomy 50s pin up photo shoot so bad ass sam cleasby

People like to say that I did this for Facebook likes, for twitter followers or to boost my blog stats.  And I suppose they are right.  I share all my images because I want to reach as many people as I can who are feeling lost in their illness, who feel that the world has forgotten who they are and only sees their disability, to the people who want to know that life goes on after ostomy surgery.  I want to help as many people as I can and if sharing my images does that then bloody go me!

I would also like to point out that there are HUNDREDS of photos on this site and only a handful are what anyone could consider ‘sexualised’.  I wouldn’t say I sexualise my disability, I would say I normalise it.  I show photographs from every part of my life, there are photos of me playing with the chickens, hanging out with my kids, with my husband, my mum, in gym gear, at the beach… I show all parts of my life because my illness and my disability do not change all those parts of me.

I know that my audience feel that I help raise the profile of the diseases, that I support many and that I inspire others to speak out and to be brave.  I know this because they tell me so and I have to laugh at those who think this is simply an ego trip or a numbers boost!!

stoma ileostomy femininity black and white photography creative shoot

I don’t prescribe getting your hoo-hoos out to anyone, I do not suggest that taking your clothes off for a photograph is for everyone, in the same way that body building, dancing or wearing a bikini isn’t for everyone.  What I do talk about it self love.  I talk about body confidence and in taking positive steps to you living a happy, fulfilled life.  The path to this is different for everyone, for me as a photographer and a photographer’s wife it was through imagery.  I would have done EXACTLY the same shoots beforehand.

If I choose to show my sexuality alongside my disability and you don’t like this, then I suggest you click away, go look at a different site, or even better go read a book, talk to someone or make someone happy!  If my sexuality makes you feel uncomfortable, then please step away. It’s fine, honest!

But don’t slut shame me.  Don’t belittle my plight to make a difference in the world by judging me on the images that show my undercrackers.  It is so easy to use a woman’s body against them, to suggest that any showing of flesh is in some way a dart in the heart of feminists everywhere, to imagine that my professionalism is affected in any way by an image that shows my stoma.

I am a feminist in that I believe in equality for men and women, it is odd isn’t it that when we see the semi-naked photographs of men that there is no backlash, no one suggesting they are belittling the campaign by showing their bodies, yet when women do it, we are subjected to judgment and mocking.

sam cleasby stoma ileostomy photo shoot woman beauty

The facts are that I am a woman.  I have a stoma.  And I live in a country where I have free speech and the freedom to show images of myself.

The facts are that I make a difference.  I help many people and I do it in my own way.

The facts are that I am so bad ass and I will carry on raising awareness, supporting people and kicking ass!


Love Sam x


17 thoughts on “Sexualising disability or normalising life with an illness?

  1. You had your colon removed–you didn’t turn into a nun! The photos are beautiful & artistic and help raise awareness about ostomies. Great blog, Sam!


  2. Thank you!! Sexualising disability? More like not letting disability disable your sexuality.
    My worry, when I was diagnosed with crohns at 17, was that I would end up with a bag and never have sex again, because its gross. I’m greatful that I haven’t yet needed surgery, and 13 years later, I’m grown up enough, and feminist enough, to not thunk that way anymore. I think I’d just get on with it, embrace it as you have done…as with age, I have done with my flabby bits, my hairy bits, (my squirty tits) my scars etc.
    But yes, its something people need to see and realise – your body being a bit broken doesn’t mean the rest of you is.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sexualising disability, or making a point which makes some people uncomfortable, that people with disabilities CAN be sexy? Surprise, just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they are asexual and unattractive. Having a stoma, or one of millions of other conditions doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have the same aspirations as everyone else, including wanting to look good, having relationships, and yes, having sex!


  4. You keep kicking ass! And I think your photos are beautiful and inspirational. I personally couldn’t bring myself to photograph my actual stoma, I wish I could, but my abdomen is in such a state after several surgeries that it isn’t a pretty site. As for posing in sexy underwear with my stoma bag on show, or underwear which covers my tum, bring it on! I have felt empowered doing this and do manage to feel sexy. My hubby is a massive support and encourages me to do anything that helps me to feel good about myself 🙂 x


  5. Well you see people seem to see people with disabilities with the same outlook as children. But no we are adults, the same as everyone else, maybe we have a bit missing somewhere or not one of our main senses. Maybe we even have learning disabilities, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t grown up to be come an adult and want to be just like any other adult. Ignore all the negative things from people who do not know what they are talking about and be always yourself.


  6. Oh ffs. People really do need to GET A GRIP. It’s not like you got your baps out or were sticking a cucumber in it.

    You’re an amazing lass. Ignore the dickheads and keep going. You are raising awareness all over the world and that is always a good thing. Xx


  7. Do you know about Blogging Against Disablism Day? It’s an annual event which The Goldfish has been holding on her blog for a number of years now. It happens on May 1st. You should definitely contribute to it, if you’re up for it. The link to follow to find out more is here:

    It’s always a really good blog event. There are loads of different categories you could blog about, including “everything else”. I have benefited a lot from reading about so many different perspectives. Also, I love your writing. I bet you have some really interesting stuff to say. Well, I know that you have some really interesting stuff to say, as you say it quite a lot!


  8. Hallelujah! My disability and my sexuality are two different parts of me. I’ve got some beautiful pictures done by a very talented photographer, with… gasps… lots of my body showing! I am me and come before my disabilities, I do not want to be defined by them, or have anyone tell me what I should or shouldn’t do because of them. Being able to see that I still looked mostly the same, and felt pleased with the pictures, and that maybe I might even look pretty in them, made me hate the body that has in some ways betrayed me by not working properly.


  9. Bravo Sam! 👏👏👏. Bring your husband to the states…I want photos too but wouldn’t feel comfortable using any photographer. A new business venture for you…traveling stoma photographer! 😀


  10. Pingback: “She has a prosthetic leg anyway…” Disability shaming | So Bad Ass

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