American Eagle’s New Campaign Spotlight- An Interview with Gaylyn Henderson
American Eagle’s #AerieREAL campaign recently featured models with different health conditions, and one model, Gaylyn Henderson, showcased her ostomy. We reached out to Gaylyn to ask her a few questions about this campaign and what it signifies for the IBD community.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey with IBD.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1998 and struggled immensely for over a decade due to the severity of my condition. I adapted my life to live while being in excruciating pain some days and in pain most. Crohn’s Disease took my health in every way possible. It distorted my mental and physical health. I became oblivious to the fact my quality of life was gone. Over the course of my life, I’ve had several surgeries, procedures, and multiple hospitalizations, with the overall goal of restoring my health and quality of life. My latest surgery I had a total proctocolectomy leaving me with an ileostomy. I held on as long as I could to my colon because if it didn’t work then what next. I was still striving to be “normal” by clinging to the very thing that was killing me. But it came a time that I had no choice, and it was the best thing that has happened to me. There is absolutely no way I would want to go back other than to do it sooner.
After my surgery, I couldn’t believe that one of the sole reasons I didn’t want an ostomy was because of the stigma. I decided then that I had to do something about it. In mainstream media it’s often referenced as having an ostomy in a negative connotation. It may seem trivial to some but popular cultural beliefs can be very impressionable to others. Society can make a drastic impact on a person’s decision to receive an ostomy and can have a drastic impact on a person living with an ostomy. Even though ostomy is lifesaving surgery many are reluctant to receive them because of the negative stigma. I didn’t want others to suffer unnecessarily as I did because of the negative stigma surrounding having and living with an ostomy. There is little to no positive awareness or programs specifically targeted at increasing self-worth as it relates to living with an ostomy. So, I started Gutless and Glamorous. The mission of Gutless and Glamorous is to empower those living with or contemplating ostomy surgery due to illness or injury and to erase the negative stigmas and misconceptions of living with an ostomy.
How did this opportunity with American Eagle arise?
I have been wearing Aerie for years! I love Aerie and follow them on social media. One day, Aerie posted an open call on their social media to be featured in their new bra campaign. I thought to myself oh this would be pretty cool, but never thought I would actually be chosen. I submitted a video for the open call and I was chosen! To have this opportunity is surreal! I am beyond grateful and thankful to Aerie that they would give someone living with an ostomy, like me, a shot!
What do you think this campaign signifies for the IBD community?
I think it is absolutely a step in the right direction. In mainstream media it’s often referenced as having an ostomy in a negative way. It may seem trivial to some but popular cultural beliefs can be very impressionable to others. Society can make a drastic impact on a person’s decision to receive an ostomy and can have a drastic impact on a person living with an ostomy. Even though ostomy is lifesaving surgery many are reluctant to receive them because of the negative stigma. All of these factors combined makes it that much more significant that Aerie recognized how having a model with an ostomy has the ability to change and save lives!
Did you have any reservations or concerns about modeling for this campaign?
None whatsoever, haha. I was so excited to be doing it. I prayed every day that I would feel well enough to participate.
From what you’ve seen, what has been the response to this campaign?
I am overwhelmed with the support and feedback I am receiving for and about this campaign. From what I have seen it has been overwhelmingly positive feedback. Having the support of an influential brand like American Eagle to promote positive ostomy awareness has already changed lives and I know this because of the feedback I am seeing and receiving!
Do you think that other opportunities will arise for you or for others because of this campaign?
Yes, I think this is only the beginning. American Eagle has opened the door and I believe that inclusiveness for all will be the way of the future!
What advice do you have for others in the community with Crohn’s Disease or an ostomy bag?
Believe in yourself and never give up. I know it is cliché. But it is true. Trust me, I know it gets hard and sometimes IBD sucks, point blank period. Believe in yourself, believe in your journey, and believe that the best is yet to come.