Recently an article showed up in my news feed about Bethany Townsend, a young aspiring model with Crohn’s disease who posed in a bikini with her colostomy bag in full view. According to the Huffington Post, Townsend’s original Facebook post garnered over 200,000 likes and 13,000 comments, many calling Townsend “an inspiration” or “brave.” Don’t get me wrong: Townsend is very brave for being confident enough to show off her body with a disability. I commend her wholeheartedly for sharing her photos and her story in hopes of helping others, and for putting herself out there in what can be a very harsh and demanding profession. I hope her photo helps other people with Crohn’s disease and other illnesses or disabilities realize that a disability doesn’t preclude being beautiful or desirable. That said, I think the media still has a long way to go when it comes to representing women with disabilities, and minority women in general. I know models aren’t typically held up as paragons of realism, but I can’t help thinking that Townsend is not as revolutionary as many hail her to be. Apart from her colostomy bag, all her features appear conventionally attractive by Western standards. She is very thin (though this is likely due to her illness), with long hair, brightly painted nails, and eye-catching tattoos. Her bag hardly is overshadowed by all her other features. This seems especially unrealistic to me, given that the vast majority of people with disabilities or illnesses look nothing like Townsend. It’s admirable that Townsend attracted such a large audience, but I wonder if her photo doesn’t also contribute to holding women with disabilities to yet another unreachable standard. The message seems to be: “You can have a disability and be beautiful, as long as you’re attractive enough that the disability doesn’t matter.” I am absolutely not blaming Townsend for this, merely pointing out a bigger societal problem with the way the media handles beauty and disability. Too often I hear young women called “too pretty to be so sick” or “very pretty for a girl in a wheelchair” and I think the world needs to realize that pretty and sick are not mutually exclusive. I hope that Townsend gets the awareness for Crohn’s that she deserves, but I don’t want people to forget that Townsend does not look like the average person with Crohn’s. Nor do I think she is especially “inspiring.” That word is often tossed around in discussions of disability, yet it seems to appear most often when people with disabilities aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. It’s completely common for a model to pose in a bikini, regardless of disability, or for a wheelchair user to enjoy playing sports. It is as if the very existence of people with disabilities going out in public deserves special recognition. By holding Townsend up as inspiring, the media sends the message that people with disabilities are somehow deserving of special attention just for existing, not because they are truly doing great things. If people with disabilities are so inspiring for living everyday lives, the assumption that follows is then that it is the “norm” for them to live unfulfilling lives or to be ashamed of themselves, which is highly problematic. Today’s young people with disabilities need more realistic role models. We need models not only with bags but with scars, chairs, crutches, canes, walkers, pumps, long hair, short hair, no hair, and with countless other features that make us unique. We need to show girls and women that sickness and disability are not detriments to beauty, and can even enhance it. Instead of being “pretty for a sick girl,” sick girls can just be pretty. References: Goldberg, Eleanor. “Aspiring Model With Crohn’s Disease Isn’t Afraid To Show Colostomy Bags In Bikini Photo.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 July 2014. Web. 06 July 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/01/colostomy-bag-model-picture_n_5548863.html>.