Day 41. 106 pages, 49,267 words.
Basically, the deal is this. Jessica has had a bag from a very early age, and she campaigns and models and travels around a lot to raise awareness and acceptance and general understanding of the *ostomy issue, to take away the mystery of it and the horror people seem to feel for the whole icky concept. Uncover Ostomy is her project. It helps to reassure people going into such an operation, and make people already ‘afflicted’ to feel less like nasty, unfortunate outcasts. And if that sounds slightly familiar, it’s because it’s sort of what I try to do as well, in my own way. ‘My own way’, of course, being with considerably less modelling and a lot more poop jokes.
 Even this form of writing the word may be a bit of a mystery to readers, but it basically represents a way of covering all the different types of this thing that there are: colostomies, ileostomies, urostomies, gastrostomies, and many more. Don’t worry, the link is non-awful, although where you surf from there is entirely your business and at your own risk. Go, self-educate!
So Jessica does a lot of public appearances, talks, tours and publications, stuff like that, getting the word around and making people less ignorant about the *ostomy, and also making people with *ostomies a lot less marginalised and stigmatised and scared to show their faces or talk about why they’re still alive.
So then this other woman, Bethany Townsend, posted selfie-bikini-colostomy pictures of herself online and it went immediately viral.
Now, let’s pause here for a second and think about how many people post pictures of themselves online. There’s quite a few. I mean, at least twelve people do this, right? Maybe as many as fifteen. So for one of them to have an *ostomy isn’t such a stretch, as *ostomates make up a surprising proportion of the human race.
But still, it happened and the whole *ostomy thing is a bit of an icky subject, so it got some attention.
It got a lot of attention, moving Jessica to get first exasperated at how many people were telling her about it like it was some sort of new thing (particularly people who already knew about her *ostomy and her campaigning, weirdly), and then despondent about trying to operate in a world with the attention-span of a speedballed hummingbird.
I was moved to do my lazy best to Facebook-share, blog-comment and tweet about it, and so I did.
It was all a bit sad, because – as I say in my replicated comments above – I do sort of see where she’s coming from. The viral effect is a rare, highly-prized and game-changing phenomenon for promotion in the ’10s. Once it happens, forget about it. You’ve made it. You know, for a few days anyway. There’s no reason for it, no way to make it happen. And it can happen to someone doing shit that you are doing. Shit that you are doing better, even. Shit that you have been doing for longer, certainly. What, you think there aren’t famous movie stars, models, writers, physicists, firemen, serial killers out there who weren’t even born when you started doing that shit? Get real. And they just get famous because they were in the right place at the right time and got the attention of the right person? Of course they do, and forget that bit about serial killers.
Jessica does it the hard way. Day after day. Trip after trip.
Bear with me. These are the celebrities I gossip about now.
Yes, I understand the frustration. It’s like Bethany just water-skied in on the back of the bandwagon and snatched away all the credit, all the huzzahs for her bravery and outspokenness, becoming the first and last and only person to ever boldly expose her *ostomy. Everyone I’ve talked to about this seems pretty sure that’s the farthest thing from the truth, but I understand how it feels.
I also understand, although it hurt me vicariously at the time and I’m still not convinced of the fairness of it, the comments some people made about the blog post. Comments about how selfish Jessica’s reaction was, and how it seemed more about her missing out than someone else succeeding. I’m trying to avoid too much blind fanboy excuse-making and praise myself, but some of the comments were harsh. It was a bit of sour grapes. It happens. Especially when you mix it (just maybe) with a bit of good old-fashioned catty she-envy between two models. I don’t care what hole you poop out of. People are people are people.
Yes, it’s just blind luck when something goes viral. Yes, it sucks to try and try and try, and suffer and suffer and suffer, and have something really worthwhile to say, and to sit in the dust as you watch someone else say pretty much the same thing and go soaring past you. That hurts like Hell and it’s very easy to blame the hapless lucky fool who didn’t even realise they were doing your bit.
But it is the same message. It is the same bit.
And Bethany Townsend has also suffered. Don’t think for a second that anyone would get an *ostomy just so they could pose for photos with it and get famous. I know nobody with an *ostomy thinks that, and I’m pretty sure any back-butt who thinks that is just an idiot. So as tempting as it might be in the heat of the moment to think Bethany had it easy, there’s absolutely no part of what led to her standing there with that bag on her stomach that was easy.
Publicity about one facet of *ostomy life doesn’t happen at the expense of another facet. I might as well argue that the duellin’ bikini baggers here are stealing the attention from my humble paperback (and e-book for the Kindle crowds, *cough cough*). But that’s stupid. We’re all part of the same community and any and all help is help for all. Any positive attention and myth-busting is only going to benefit us. All of us.
Jessica Grossman and Bethany Townsend have very similar stories, it’s true. Far more similar to one another’s than my own story is to theirs (for all that I am a handsome motherfucker and do you see either of these ladies in spandex? Because if you do, links in the comments please.). Besides, my book is more intended to either a) help people to avoid getting an *ostomy in the first place, or b) help people to get through the process of adapting to one. Seriously, the more people who know this is a Thing, the better it is for me and the more chance I might have to save someone from bowel cancer one day. Because short of holding onto Mrs. Hatboy’s ankle when the Rapture comes, the only way I’m getting into Heaven is by saying “I saved someone from bowel cancer”.
 Just kidding.
I still object to the criticisms of Jessica’s blog post, though. She’s a leader, yes, but that doesn’t mean she’s completely independent and should do everything flawlessly and selflessly, all the time. Far from it. It’s a human failing to think our leaders aren’t human. And Jessica is very young, and has done amazing things. Yes, she’s also said her share of silly stuff and done her share of self-service and boasting. If anyone has reason to, it’s her.
Her blog post was a cry for help and support and encouragement. If you feel it was a petulant stamp of the foot that called for some tough love, that’s your call to make. I don’t agree.
So yeah. It’s a bum-out (I know, I know, bum joke) that someone went viral and got the fleeting attention of millions of browsers. It’s amazing that someone worked hard for half a decade and got the lasting attention of six thousand people trying to survive with *ostomies. Here’s me with the relentless attention of a half-dozen peanut-gallery-loiterers. It’s all a process. It’s all a spectrum.
Don’t be sad about what someone else managed to do. Be pleased for them. You’re not failing because of them – worst case scenario, you’re failing because of a whole lot of stuff. Best case scenario, you’re not failing at all so keep your chin up.
A viral bikini photo will be forgotten in a couple of months. It’s mostly forgotten already. It’s our duty to make sure that it isn’t, no matter how much pride we need to swallow in the process. It’s up to us to take a positive and worldwide response to an *ostomy story, and ride the fuck out of that bandwagon. Never mind who built the bandwagon. That’s not the point of bandwagons.