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Shell, from Thistle Hill, models specialist underwear for Vanilla Blush, to prove ostomy won't define her

After she was diagnosed with a life-changing illness 11 years ago, Shell Lawes never thought she would be modelling underwear.

The 32-year-old, of Bluebell Close, Thistle Hill, was told she had ulcerative colitis, a painful condition affecting the colon and rectum, in 2006.

The diagnosis came after falling ill more than a year previously and resulted in her having surgery in 2015 to create a stoma, a stomach opening which bypasses the bowel.

Shell Lawes
Shell Lawes

She now has to wear an ostomy bag, which attaches to the stoma and can take some time to get used to and manage, particularly when it comes to choosing what to wear.

Specialist underwear manufacturer Vanilla Blush caters for those with ostomy bags and hernias and, in November, Shell was one of six women and two men chosen to model its lingerie range.

She said: “It was my first time modelling and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

“It ended up being a very empowering thing for me. I was kind of saying, ‘this is who I am and who I want to be’."

“When I saw the photos I never imagined they’d look like I wanted them to. I felt like I had myself back for the first time since I’ve been ill.”

Vanilla Blush make lingerie and swimwear for both men and women which, according to Shell, makes customers “feel sexy as well as comfortable” and gives an alternative to “traditional medical” underwear.

The company’s products include special features such as pouches, so ostomy bags don’t touch the skin, and even an intimate range, for those who like to keep their bags secure in the bedroom.

Mum-of-two Shell also runs the Sheppey Ostomy and IBD Group, which she set up after noticing a lack of information about her condition and contact with others in the same situation.

She said: “I was handed a leaflet about a Medway group when I left the hospital and asked if there was nothing closer.

The Vanilla Blush models
The Vanilla Blush models

“I was told there was a group on the Island that was no longer around, so I made it my goal to start it again.”

The group meets monthly in the Thistle Hill Community Centre and is planning to introduce evening meetings.

Shell, who had to give up work two years ago due to her illness, wants people to realise that having a stoma “isn’t just for old people” and hopes to educate others.

She added: “Having a stoma doesn’t mean your life is over."

“It will define you but you can choose how it defines you.”

The photos, taken in Manchester, already appear on product descriptions on the Vanilla Blush website and will be used for future promotional material.

You can see the range at vblush.com or go along to the next meeting of her support group on Thursday, February 2, from 10am until noon.

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