Invisible illness Belfast mum achieves modelling dream despite crippling medical condition
Brave Belfast beauty reveals her lifelong struggle with chronic pain and how she's found confidence to live modelling dream
Kirsty Smiley is battling an invisible illness to follow her modelling dream.
The Belfast mum of one has struggled since childhood with a chronic pain condition which has cost her jobs and even driven her to contemplate suicide.
But she’s decided to shrug off her embarrassment at a condition which affects her toilet habits and talk openly about the disorder which has blighted her life.
To celebrate her newfound confidence, Kirsty is taking up her place as a finalist in Miss Bikini Ireland after pulling out for the last three years.
The 24-year-old, who’s a dancer and fire breather alongside her daytime office job, says 2020 will be her year to step out of the shadows of her condition, a rectal prolapse which has caused a defecation disorder.
Kirsty, who has built up a career as a successful freelance model, has also successfully hidden the condition from all but the people closest to her.
It causes regular bouts of crippling pain, which worsened after the birth of her daughter Ruby Mae when Kirsty was 17.
“At school I always had bowel issues so I’d go to the disabled toilets so no one could hear me crying in pain,” she says.
“I was afraid someone would find out what was happening and make fun of me, because when you’re that age it’s all about appearances and what you look like.
“When I was at school and living at home, I could hide it, but when I started having boyfriends and being in other people’s houses it was harder to hide the pain.
“I look normal but inside I know it’s not normal to feel like this.”
After giving birth, Kirsty’s health deteriorated and doctors think the prolapse causes her agonising pain because it’s pressing on the organs in her lower abdomen.
“I used to get up every day and want to end myself.
“I used to think Ruby Mae would be better off with another mother because I was in so much pain all the time.”
She was investigated for endometriosis, underwent exploratory keyhole surgery and given a colonoscopy, all while taking strong painkillers which barely made a difference, and is now also treated as a chronic pain patient.
Kirsty has pursued dancing and fire breathing as part of the Sapphire Entertainment team and done runway and photographic modelling and PR work for big brand names like Boots and Specsavers. She looks after her health by walking for miles every week, eating small portions of food and dancing at every opportunity.
She has struggled to hold down steady jobs to support Ruby Mae as her condition required sick leave, but in March she secured a clerical job and has been able to work from home since Covid hit.
It’s given her a sense of normality and boosted her confidence to enter Miss Bikini Ireland, a prospect which has always seemed too frightening in previous years.
“This is the fourth year I’ve entered, and I’ve always pulled out before. I actually did this year too, I was just so scared again, but because I haven’t been getting so many attacks, I emailed them and asked if my place was still available and it is.”
The competition will involve a series of workshops and photoshoots, with a €15,000 prize package and the chance to compete in Swimsuit USA for the winner.
Kirsty has paid tribute to photographer Shirley O’Neill for her encouragement to take her modelling a step further, and the team at Sapphire which has been hugely supportive.
She says her newfound attitude and confidence have pushed her beyond the embarrassment she’s always felt about her condition.
“I never in a million years thought I would have the balls to do this,” she says.
“I’m totally prepared and I’m ready to do. It has given me such a positive outlook on life.
“I have got this attitude now that I don’t care what people think, and if I didn’t have that attitude I’d probably cry.
“Because this is an invisible illness, I don’t tell people about it.
“I don’t talk about it because of the embarrassment.
“But now that I’m doing the bikini competition I want to go in and be me. I don’t want to hide anything.
“I have done that so many times, when I have gone to do something and left it because my condition has side-tracked me.”
Kirsty also hopes that by speaking out she will help other people who have health conditions which cause them embarrassment, following in the footsteps of stars like Brian Kennedy who has talked openly about his battle with rectal cancer.
“It’s not an easy thing to talk about. There are a handful of people I’ve spoken to about my condition and sometimes it’s not something they want to hear, or you want to do. You feel like you’re backed into a corner.
“But you are not on your own. Other people have this condition too, and there are people with conditions like constipation and IBS.
“I’m going to fight and I’m going to get my dream,” she says.