Last weekend, my friend Amy shared an interesting article with the Ostomy Toronto Facebook page, which has now circulated amongst various IBD and Ostomy groups. To sum up the story, Cincinnati police will be showing at-risk youth photographs of gunshot survivors who are now paralyzed or require colostomy bags. The hope is that the photos will illustrate the difficulties of life after surviving a shooting, and that in turn will convince some would-be hoodlums to put down their weapons. One of my favourite bits from the article is this:
Lt. Joe Richardson said the teens will see gruesome photos of gunshot survivors from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“You’re not killed, but you’re walking around with a colostomy bag and that’s just not the way to get a girl’s attention by limping down Warsaw Avenue with a colostomy bag,” said Richardson.
Yeah it’s not the politically correct thing to say, but he’s not exactly wrong. Anyway, as should have been expected, the article and the initiative have stirred the IBD and ostomy communities, with folks both with and without ostomies expressing their outrage with the negative portrayal of ostomies. It sparked the hashtag #right2remainsexy on Facebook and Twitter, which encouraged ostomates to flaunt their appliance and hawtness.
While it’s nice to see people mobilize to spread awareness about ostomies – and more importantly, the wretched diseases that led to their creation – I think much of the reaction has contained unwarranted vitriol. I have an ileostomy, and I have no problem with the Cincinnati police’s initiative. Here’s why.
First, we’re taking about selective imagery aimed at a specific audience. The images of colostomy bags come from people who have been shot, not people who required ostomy bags due to illness. That’s an important difference because it shows the real difficulties of life after surviving a shooting; it’s not just a matter of having a scar.
Second, it might not be such a bad idea to frame the issue of violence and its implications in terms of vanity. Image matters to young people, thugs and teenyboppers alike, and if teenagers decide to leave a life of crime because they don’t want what they perceive as an ugly bag hanging off them for the rest of their lives, fantastic. Safer streets are safer streets.
Third, a few people have equated the photos in this campaign to cigarette warning pictures, implying that the former will be just as ineffective as the latter (presuming cigarette warning images are ineffective, I’m not really sure how effective they are). To that I would argue that the imagery is different because it usually takes years, sometimes decades, for the nasty illnesses on cigarette packages to come to fruition. In a life of crime, you could be paralyzed or in need of an ostomy tomorrow; the imagery used here by the Cincinnati police provokes greater urgency.
Lastly, and most importantly, the kids targeted in this campaign have a genuine choice on their hands, unlike most people who have had ostomy bags forced on them because of one of a number of ravenous diseases. If you had no need for an ostomy bag, wouldn’t you want to keep it that way? No one with a properly functioning brain and properly functioning bowels would choose to have an ostomy. No one.
It’s great so many ostomates are happy and proud of their bags and all that they can do with them, but it’s worth remembering that they feel that way because before the bags they suffered from a disease that made life horrid. These at-risk youngsters, should they continue on their violent paths, would be trading lives of relative good health for ones full of unnecessary difficulties. If some photos of colostomy bags keep them healthy and law-abiding, so be it.
One more note. The photos on display in this initiative also include those of paralyzed people, and so far I’ve heard no one come to their defence. So what’s the deal here? People with ostomy bags are still sexy, but people in wheelchairs aren’t? Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Good luck with your project, Cincinnati District 3 police.
Image via Dig Dang!