A stunning brunette has become an internet sensation after bravely posting a bikini snap online which exposed her colostomy bags.
The photo - which shows the first time Bethany Townsend, 23, dared to bare after being fitted with two colostomy bags - has now been viewed be over an incredible nine million people.
Bethany, a make-up artist from Worcester, has been so overwhelmed by the response that she now feels confident enough to pursue her dream career of becoming a model.
"I didn't expect this kind of reaction at all,” she said.
"The photo has been seen by millions of people and it's had 190,000 likes and over 10,000 comments on Facebook - it's just gone ballistic.
"I'm just so glad that it's brought about more awareness of Crohn's disease and it's made me feel so much more confident about the colostomy bags.
"If I can inspire or help other people in my position to feel a little more comfortable in their own skin then I'm really happy.
"When I first had the bags fitted I was devastated - the reaction to this photo has really helped me accept them."
Bethany was fitted with her colostomy bags after suffering from Crohn's disease since the age of three.
Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system, affecting the sufferer's ability to digest food, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste.
In extreme situations, like Bethany's, it becomes necessary to remove the damaged section of the intestine and bring the healthy part out as a stoma - known as a colostomy.
After almost dying when her bowel ruptured in 2010, Bethany woke from a life-saving operation to find she had been fitted with two colostomy bags.
Series of surgeries
"Growing up I'd had various surgeries to try and combat the Crohn's,” she said.
"I'd go in and have sections of my intestine cut out, but I'd only be in remission for a couple of weeks before it came back again.
"Then four years ago I woke up in the morning and couldn't move because I was in so much agony.
"I had to break a glass on the floor to alert my mum who called an ambulance.
"When the paramedics came they lifted up my top to see that my surgery scar had split open.
"I was rushed to intensive care where they doctors told me family I would need more surgery as my intestines had become infected and inflamed again.
"I had no idea when I woke up that I would have the bags.
"When I first woke up and my mum told me about them I was just relieved as I'd thought I was going to die.
"When I came out of hospital and everything finally sunk in, I remember going upstairs into my bedroom and just bursting into tears.
"I'd known a colostomy bag might have been an option but it was always something that I had wanted to avoid.
"I had a really good cry that day, and since then I haven't shed another tear - I've just got on with it I suppose."
‘More to me than the bags’
It was only after Bethany met and married her husband, Ian, 33, and jetted off to Mexico last Christmas that she finally felt ready to embrace the colostomy bags.
"When I met Ian I showed him my bags straight away, but he didn't bat an eyelid - I actually felt like I was over-reacting.
"He taught me that there was more to me than the bags and would always encourage me to show off my figure.
"I wasn't sure but in Mexico I finally realised he was right, and decided to wear my bikini.
"At first I was nervous and worried that people would stare but it was fine.
"I realised that the colostomy bags didn't control me or define who I am.
"The staff at the hotel asked me about the bags on the last day of the holiday, but rather than being offended I was glad because it meant I could talk to them about Crohn's and tell them what it is.
"Ian's always been my rock and supported me no matter what, we've had a tough few years but I know he'll always be there for me."
But it wasn't until six months after their dream holiday in Mexico that Bethany finally felt ready to share her colostomy bags with the world.
"When you're on holiday you're in a bit of a bubble and it's much different to when you're back at home,” she said.
"I'd posted a few pictures to Instagram and Facebook but only my friends could see them. But after looking on the internet I saw a few other pictures of girls like me showing off their bags so I thought why not.
"I decided to get in touch with Crohn's and Colitis UK Facebook group to see if they would let me post something on their page.
"I sent them the picture and my information, and it all blew up from there."
Hoping for a cure
Bethany still suffers with her Crohn's disease and hopes ones day for a cure.
"Doctors had hoped that the colostomy bags would put an end to the Crohn's but four weeks later it was back,” she said.
"I then underwent a stem cell transplant but unfortunately I caught MRSA of the skin and the blood and it nearly killed me twice.
"Since then my Crohn's has still been extremely active, I've lost more weight and now I'm waiting for the NHS to fund a drug that hasn't really been available in the UK.
"If this doesn't work a bowel transplant is an option as I can't have any more of my intestine out as I haven't got much left.
"But I'm still really hopeful and after everything I've been through I know I'm a strong person."
Bethany is now considering getting back into modelling - a career she gave up on after she was fitted with the bags.
"I feel confident enough now to put myself out there and pursue modelling again,” she said.
"I did a little bit of work here and there before I had the colostomy bags, but once I had them fitted I thought that was the end of the dream.
"I'm looking forward to chasing my goals, and I know now that nothing can hold me back.
"I won't let the Crohn's control me anymore."
Photo credit: Caters News Agency