In today's social media era, women are sharing their personal health stories more than ever before — partly to help spread awareness and find comfort in like minded communities, but also to fight the stigma against whatever it is they're battling.
Whether it's mental illness, chronic illness or cancer, you're pretty likely to find a viral post about it somewhere on the Internet — and that's a beautiful thing. Women across the world are sharing their stories in order to help others in similar situations. Women are realizing that showcasing their "imperfections" is an important part of raising awareness.
Take Paige More, for example. In January, she underwent a preventative double mastectomy because at 21 years old, she was at high risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.
She created a "previvor" (pre-survior) Instagram account dedicated to her mastectomy scars and healing process — and to create a community for other women going through the same thing.
"The thing that has surprised me most is how sexy I feel," More said. "My decision to take action made me feel incredibly powerful and strong—and that's so sexy to me. When I look at my scars, I think they're pretty badass. I grabbed control of my life. I went from being a worrier to a warrior."
Click through to see the powerful stories behind other women's personal medical stories.
Last May, Aimee Rouski shared three selfies to Facebook in a post that went viral. "I have Crohn's disease," she wrote. "It's a serious incurable illness that nearly killed me, not just a stomach ache like most people seem to think."
In the post, Rouski went on to describe Crohn's disease, which wreaks havoc on the digestive system. She revealed that she underwent surgery, which basically rerouted her small intestine through a hold in her abdomen, called a stoma, and covered it with a colostopy bag.
"My Crohns has left me with a permanent ileostomy, no large intestine, colon, rectum, anus, or inner thigh muscles as they were used for plastic surgery on my wounds," Rouski said.
Rouski shared three pictures. The first, a photo of her colostomy bag. The second, a photo of the scars on her thighs, where her muscles were removed and "used for plastic surgery on my [abdominal] wounds." The third, a full-length selfie everyone is used to seeing on social media. "See, you can’t tell that I have a stoma so don’t worry about it!," she captioned the photo.
The post has received almost 100K reactions, 22K shares and over 14K comments from people praising her brave actions.
Judy Cloud posted an entire Facebook photo album dedicated to her basal cell carcinoma surgery. The photos show the graphic scabbing after her fourth, and most invasive, skin cancer surgery.
"This is skin cancer," Cloud wrote. "This is the result of using tanning beds when I was younger. This is the result of having numerous sunburns as a child and teen, and not being religious about applying sunscreen, and staying out in the sun far too long as a teen and into my 20’s and even early 30’s."
"I hear too many people say that they feel better about how they look after they go to a tanning bed or after they bake in the sun for hours on end. Look at the pictures. This could be you. Anyone can get skin cancer, even people who have darker skin tones. It is a misconception that only fair-skinned people can get skin cancer. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate."
Tawny Dzierzek shared her own battle with skin cancer. Dzierzek posted a selfie of her blistering and sore-covered face while undergoing skin cancer treatment.
"If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go!" she wrote in the viral post.
"This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. You only get one skin and you should take care of it. Learn from other people's mistakes. Don't let tanning prevent you from seeing your children grow up. That's my biggest fear now that I have a two year old little boy of my own."
Mags Murphy posted a viral series of selfies of her face during a similar skin cancer treatment as Dzierzek's. Murphy posted a new photo during each day of her treatment, describing the painful side effects in great detail. Throughout the course of 24 days of treatment, she described her face as itchy, swollen, painful, stinging, burning and throbbing.
"I'm sharing this to try and raise awareness to sun damage and using high factor sun lotion," Murphy wrote. "I heard all the warnings years ago and closed my eyes and ears to it all maybe someone will open their eyes to this if it's closer to home."
If one more person calls me brave I think Imma flip my shit. That's the problem with "equality". We don't see ourselves as equals. We only see differences. If someone without vitiligo has confidence they aren't deemed "brave". I'm a confident normal ass human, not some being who "must be so brave to go outside looking like that" looking like what, myself? Because I don't look like you it's so incredible to be confident? I don't want to look like you, I'm gorgeous???
A post shared by ♔Don Pablo♔ (@winnieharlow) on
You may recognize Winnie Harlow as a member of Beyoncé's power squad. But even before she was besties with Yoncé, Harlow was the face of vitiligo, a condition that kills pigmentation in skin cells. She's been open about the stigma that her disorder brings, including the childhood bullying she faced.
She's also tired of being described as "brave."
"If one more person calls me brave I think Imma flip my s---," Harlow wrote on Instagram. "That's the problem with 'equality'. We don't see ourselves as equals. We only see differences. If someone without vitiligo has confidence they aren't deemed 'brave'. [...] Because I don't look like you it's so incredible to be confident? I don't want to look like you, I'm gorgeous."
Amber Smith proves that's it's equally important to talk about mental health as any other condition. Smith posted two photos to Facebook that has since received over 40K shares. In one photo she's in full makeup and posing playfully for the camera. In the other photo she's covering her makeup-free face after a panic attack with tears in her eyes.
"Top picture: What I showcase to the world via social media. Dressed up, make up done, filters galore. The 'normal' side to me," she wrote.
"Bottom picture: Taken tonight shortly after suffering from a panic attack because of my anxiety. Also the 'normal' side to me that most people don't see."
"I'm so sick of the fact that it's 2016 and there is still so much stigma around mental health," Smith continued. "It disgusts me that so many people are so uneducated and judgemental over the topic."
"F--- all of you small minded people that think that because I physically look 'fine' that I'm not battling a monster inside my head every single day."
"To anyone who is going through the same, please do not suffer in silence. There is so much support around - Don't be scared to ask for help."
"This is why I can't stress enough that it costs nothing to be nice to others. Don't bully others, don't put others down and the hardest one of them all (as we have all done it at some point) don't judge another person. We're all human regardless of age, race, religion, wealth, job. So build one another up instead of breaking each other down."
Have you taken comfort in posts like these? Share your thoughts in the comments below.