Why I bared my stoma on Naked Attraction

29 December 2020

Channel 4's Naked Attraction celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes. Mark appeared on the show as new way to challenge his confidence and become truly comfortable with his stoma bag as a single man.

“Half-year results for the six months ended 30 June 2009... The Group has continued to perform well”.

It was good news about a company in my stock portfolio that I could just-about read, pressing my phone almost against my nose, because reading this was more important than finding my glasses. I’d just come out of recovery after the second surgery in one year and I felt… excited. Not like after the last surgery when they’d re-connected two parts of my colon and I woke feeling horrific: in pain, and so, so cold. This time, with no colon left and a stoma created, I felt great! I wanted to find out if my recently purchased shares were going to go up today and I wanted to get out of hospital as soon as I could to get on with my new life. Looking back, I think the morphine accounted for 90% of these good vibes but they were also justified; this really was the beginning of a new lease of life.

For the next 10 years the illness that had held me back all my adult life would no longer have such a hold on me.

Living with Crohn's

Not that there weren’t any downsides; looking down and seeing a clear colostomy bag with the little blood-red nubbin of my intestine poking out of my stomach, I felt different, I felt ugly, and I felt ashamed. It wasn’t until seven years later that I had to face the psychological impact of this body-altering surgery. For seven years I’d done my best to hide my disability from friends and family but now I was recently single for the first time and I’d never shown a new person my bag. I had no idea how to talk about it, being open and vulnerable, to new girls that entered my life.

I joined several ostomy support groups online, and one day saw a post asking for real people with a stoma to be models for an ostomy clothing company called White Rose Collection. It felt like a great way to get out of my comfort zone and meet some other ‘ostomates’. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and got a taste for getting my kit off; over the next few years I modelled for an ostomy charity calendar, an underwear catwalk show and joined the London Naked Bike Ride.

But after all this, my biggest fear was still revealing myself to an intimate partner.

Over the next few years, as well as getting my kit off, I continued to push myself out of my comfort zone by trying skiing, speed dating, a sky dive, solo travel and, the scariest of all, dating. It was difficult to balance when to tell a potential partner about my illness; too early and it wasn’t appropriate, but too late and I could ruin a sexy mood a serious conversation. I decided to get a tattoo, one that was just about visible above the unbuttoned collar of my “date shirt” (a white, floral number that I also wore during recording of Naked Attraction). When girls asked about the tattoo on a date, I could tell them about the surgery and make sure they didn’t get a surprise if we got naked later that evening.

I was searching for new scary things to do when I saw the advert for applications to Naked Attraction. My friends loved the show and loved hearing about these crazy adventures that I got myself into so I was excited to send in the application form, along with a picture of me hiking in Yosemite with my shirt off, so that I could tell them about this humorous new challenge. 

I didn’t think much more about it, until, in January, I got a call from the casting team asking me to do an audition.

I was due to fly to Thailand the next day to start a few months training in kickboxing, so I agreed to do the interview via Skype. Knowing that I’d have to get naked for the audition, I treated myself to a private room on Thailand’s “Elephant Island” over a cheap bed in an 8-person hostel dorm. The casting agents were lovely and made sure I was as comfortable with the interview process as possible.

I was delighted when, a few weeks later, they let me know that I was going to be the picker, guaranteed a date, and my show would be filmed in March 2020. On 16th March I flew into Kuala Lumpur for a few days of sightseeing, before scheduling an onward flight back to London but a strange new virus had been spreading around Asia and on 18th March the whole of Malaysia was in total lockdown. Filming of the show was postponed as well, but travel was no longer possible, so I flew back home anyway to spend the summer keeping in shape for my appearance on the show.

It’s important to me that, if i have to have a bag on my stomach, the rest of my body is as fit and attractive as possible. 

Finally, filming took place in September and the day really flew by, I was so anxious about saying the right thing on national TV that I didn’t really stop to enjoy meeting the six naked females in front of me. The two girls who were going to see me naked were already naked themselves so, when it was my turn to strip, it felt almost normal, and I derived confidence from my physique. All in all the most cringy part of the show wasn’t getting naked at all, it was accidentally alienating all Northerners by voting off the Northern girl because of her accent. Truth is, I just didn’t fancy her!

The week the show aired I’d only told a few close friends that I would be featuring but I was overwhelmed by the breadth of people who saw it and reached out - from old school friends I hadn’t spoken to in fifteen years, to the Facebook groups and the ostomy charity that had supported me in the early days. It was a great boost for my body-confidence.

Apart from one or two negative remarks on Twitter the feedback and support has been brilliant and many ostomates congratulated me on raising awareness.

Even though (spoiler alert!) things didn’t work out with my date, going on Naked Attraction was a great experience and I recommend everyone works on pushing through their fears to become a more confident version of themselves.

On to the next challenge!

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