My story: I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis [a serious, long-term condition where the colon and the rectum become inflamed] three years ago. In January 2018, I had surgery, leading to this ileostomy bag, where the small bowel is diverted through an opening in the stomach.
On the beach… I’m just there to swim and sunbathe like anyone else. My first holiday, post-op, was to Ibiza with my best mate. I did have a high-waisted bikini on, but once I realised that nobody was taking any notice of my bag – because they were too self-involved – I felt fine about it!
What I say to the haters is… ‘If you don’t like it, don’t look!’ I’ve only had one negative experience when I was on holiday once. A woman got out of the pool because I was in it, and I heard her whisper ‘that’s disgusting’ to her husband. My heart sank because this bag saved my life! But it’s one of the reasons I share my experiences online (@billieandersonx) – to make people aware – because my illness can happen to anyone at any age.
I’m most proud of my body for… getting through my illness and coming out the other side feeling so much stronger than I used to.
My story: I’ve got the Japanese Legend of the Dragon tattooed on me. I was born in the Year of the Dragon – the same as my mother and sister – so it’s a way of honouring the women in my family. I started it when I was 30 and, so far, I’ve had 386 hours of tattooing.
On the beach… I survey the situation. There can be mixed reactions – in the past, I’ve had people shelter their kids from me, like I’m going to eat them for lunch! I’m always surprised that people react with fear or judgement.
What I say to the haters is… ‘My tattoo is for me, it’s my piece of art that I’ve invested time and money in. If you had a painting in your house that a stranger didn’t like, would you take it down? No.’
I’m most proud of my body for… bringing two humans into the world (my kids are 25 and nearly 21). I also donated eggs to a couple so they could bring two humans into the world. It has saved lives when I was a nurse. It has comforted the dying. And it continues to carry me around.
My story: I’m a Muslim and my faith is Islam. At 19, I wanted to get more involved in my faith and practise it more, so that meant dressing in a more modest way, including at the beach or pool.
On the beach… I feel courageous and strong, because it takes guts to look different. You don’t see many women in modest swimwear – yet. I think it’s because some are still reserved and apprehensive. They need to ask for support from friends and family – maybe even trial it and go with a friend who’s also wearing one.
What I say to the haters is… ‘You need to find a bit of happiness for yourself and have some more life experiences!’ I’ve not had much negativity, though – it’s more curiosity. Like, when I first wore modest swimwear on holiday in Spain in 2016, I saw loads of people staring. I felt awkward for 10 minutes, then thought, ‘I’m gonna rock this! If they see I’m buzzing and enjoying myself, they’ll learn from me!’ It worked: some women asked me about it and I helped them feel there shouldn’t be a stigma.
Women should look in the mirror and say… ‘Girl, you’ve got this – you are beautiful and strong.’ Do not rely on anybody else to tell you. Believe it and tell yourself.
My story: I used to wish my body was different. Even though I was slim when I was younger, I’m big boned and I was taller than everyone else – I ended up developing an eating disorder when I was about 18. In 2016, I entered a modelling competition for quite a big brand. I got to the last round and realised I wanted this to be a big part of my life. Curvy models weren’t as common then, but as I didn’t see someone like me in magazines or advertising when I was growing up, I want people to see themselves in me now.
On the beach… I’m confident! If I notice someone staring, I give ’em something more to look at with a wink and a cheeky ‘Everything OK?’ It makes them feel awkward and embarrassed, because they know they’ve been sprung.
What I say to the haters is… ‘If it’s not positive, get in the bin – and close the lid!’ A stranger’s opinion has no relevance. A passing look or sneer isn’t going to bother me.
Women should look in the mirror and say… ‘I’m beautiful, I’m worthy and my body is worthy of love.’ I have come so far in my journey of self-love and I can continue to love my body. You soon start to believe it.
My story: When I was about 14, I became really aware that my body hair was darker and coarser than most girls I knew (I’m of mixed heritage). And I never saw any women with body hair, even in ads. I also found my skin is so sensitive, I’d get razor burns, bleeding and infections in my armpits from shaving. So I started growing out my body hair when I was about 17.
On the beach… I don’t worry! People fear that someone is going to go, ‘Ooh, you’re hairy,’and laugh. But my experience is that nobody really cares.
What I say to the haters is… ‘My body is mine and your body is yours, and we’re all entitled to our own decisions.’ Unfortunately, I’ve had all kinds of horrible messages online. A photo of me from a shoot went viral and people all over the world told me to shave, saying it’s unhygienic. But they’re not saying it’s unhygienic for
men! That’s a harmful message.
I’m most proud of my body for… overcoming a lot, including self-harm and mental illness, and I also have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects joints and collagen and causes chronic pain, fatigue, and scarring. So I’m proud whenever I go on a hike and get to the top of a hill, despite how tired I am and how sore my joints are.
My story: As I’ve got older, I’ve felt pressure from society to wear a one-piece on the beach. But I always end up wearing a bikini, because it’s more comfortable. It’s a very British attitude that women over a certain age should cover up. A bikini is regarded as being sexy and a swimsuit less so.
On the beach… I’m aware that my body doesn’t frighten anyone! When women get older, I think they assume people will stare and point at them in horror if they’re in a bikini – but that doesn’t happen.
What I say to the haters is… ‘Realise that the way you see things is not necessarily the way it is everywhere.’ We’re very lucky to be alive and walking around a beach and pool at any age.
Women should look in the mirror and say… ‘Good morning!’ Don’t bother stressing about how you look. Life isn’t about your body; it’s about your kindness towards others. You might have a perfect body, but you might be a total pain.
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