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Image courtesy of Saleem Juma.

Modeling is not the easiest to get into. The physical restrictions, the diets, the constant judgment, even the people can be obstacles. Enter Saleem Juma: a type of model who defies the odds and yet handles the regular model complaints with aplomb. He's done shoots for Columbia Sportswear, Siemens Medical, Virginia Mason and Trojan, to name a few...and he has an ostomy bag. 

Tell me a little about yourself and your life. How did you get into modeling?
My name is Saleem Juma and I'm a 23 year old college student who is also a Model/Actor/Blogger/Social Activist/Real Estate Broker/TV Pilot Episode Co-Producer and Budding Novelist. I'm currently a Sophomore at Bellevue College and I also serve on the City of Issaquah Planning Policy Commission. I have worn many hats in my life so far but I've been modeling since I was 18; I kind of fell into modeling accidentally, I come from a Conservative Muslim background [so] things like modeling aren't looked at in a very good light, but I was so sick all the time I couldn't hold down a normal job! Hence, I was seeing a girl back then who was a model and when her agent told me that I had a good look, I decided to try it out.

Once I got my first payment (for a Body Paint Runway Modeling Show), I realized that even though my health was so unstable; this was something I could do at the time to pay bills. 

I actually stopped modeling and acting after my surgery, I figured after I got the bag there was no way anybody would hire me, and I was also diagnosed with extreme social anxiety and chronic depression after my surgery. I ended up starting my own Nightclub/Rave Company while simultaneously getting my Real Estate License. From there I worked 9-5's (Data Analyst, Corporate Admin Assistant/Broker, Buyers Agent) and threw events at nights and on the weekends while also trying to complete my education. 

 I only recently got back into modeling and it was really only to pick up a little extra money, however after my most recent surgery where they had to chop out another 9 cm. of my Small Intestine, while i was in the hospital I swore to God that I would do something to help people who were like me. I figured if I could work up the courage to become a fitness model, I could inspire other people who have Ostomy bags, anxiety and depression (like Jessica Grossman and Blake Bedford) both serious models from Canada and England respectively [and] both have Ostomy Bags. 

What are your goals with modeling and the fashion industry at large? I noticed you were also taking on Law School - what are your goals with a law degree?
[I want to] simply show that no matter what kind of disability you have or whatever difference you have on your body, you can still not only be attractive and work in this industry but succeed in it! I wanted to find a way to make "The Bag" no longer taboo in our society, people don't like to talk about diseases like Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's because they're "gross." I got back into modeling to offset that. It sounds strange but when someone jumps forward into an industry like this and decides they can be attractive and beautiful, other people start to believe it too. The world is simply based on our perception of it! 

Ideally, I'd like to have modeling become my serious career as well as acting, doing movies down in Los Angeles and photoshoots in Paris (building a massive amount of awareness for the cause), however Law is my actual chosen field of study. I plan to go into politics (regardless of how far I make it in the modeling industry) and pass laws that help people who have both physical and mental disabilities and issues. 

"Not all disabilities are obvious or visible! Don't judge us because we "look healthy" to you, sometimes the conditions where there are problems on the inside can be just as painful if not more so than outward and obvious conditions."

How would you say your condition has shaped your life? What do you want people to know about ulcerative colitis and other chronic conditions (and disabilities)?
I hate to say it but my condition has basically shaped my entire life. I was sick all through high school and because of that I was extremely shy and quiet (though also angry at the world and rebellious). I didn't have many friends and I could never really focus on school so my grades were pretty crappy. I couldn't go off to University even if I had the grades too, simply because I was so sick I couldn't live on my own. The anxiety and depression both stem from my original disease of Ulcerative Colitis, and the amount of trauma and pain I experienced every single day of my life when I was sick will always be with me. However instead of keeping me down like it used too, I use it to burn a fire of passion and inspiration within me!

The bag also shapes my life but in a different way. I still have to wake up 2-3 times a night to empty it, regular changes and keeping track of my supplies. Over 30 Emergency Room hospitalizations in the last 3 years for blockages and other issues (like scar tissue) as well as multiple surgeries. It's always somewhere in the back of my mind, no matter what I'm doing; I could be on a roller coaster at an amusement park or climbing a mountain, I still know exactly when I need to go empty my bag. Regardless it's much better than being sick (or dying), it's not the easiest thing in the world to have at 23 but I still love it all the same because it gave me my life back. 

The most important thing I want people to know about chronic disabilities? Not all disabilities are obvious or visible! Don't judge us because we "look healthy" to you, sometimes the conditions where there are problems on the inside can be just as painful if not more so than outward and obvious conditions. I don't say that because I want people to pity us, I want people to understand that we aren't not working because we're lazy, we don't miss school because we're stupid or blow off plans with our friends or romantic interests because we're mean and selfish and don't care about them. I want people to understand the perspective of someone like me who keeps getting berated because "I don't look sick," even though my insides are all twisted around each other and I feel like passing out; but I keep pushing on because that's all we know how to do. That's the absolute most important takeaway from this.

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Image courtesy of Saleem Juma.

Have you discovered any hardships due to your disease in the way of dressing/style/living that you want to mention? Did you feel like you needed to hide the bag at all?
Yes, it can be a lot harder to work out and do active things, because there's much more preparation involved with a bag. I also am told I "shouldn't do" certain things like boxing or heavy weight lifting. It can also be a little complex with the combination of serious anxiety issues and having to use the restroom multiple times in class (it makes you feel judged); that's really just one example. Most other things 'normal' people take for granted, I have to think twice and make sure it won’t affect me negatively and make sure I’ve prepared for all outcomes correctly.

I don't ever try to hide my bag now (matter of fact this is the disclaimer I put on my online dating profiles: I have a bag attached to my stomach, I've been through a lot and I'm lucky to even be alive right now. If that's not your thing I totally get it, but say so before we waste each other's time. I've also uploaded a picture so before you judge me for shirtless pictures just remember it's because I'm being honest about what I look like.)

I certainly used to hide it when I first got surgery because I was ashamed and I thought I was no longer attractive; but then I realized that I was whatever I decided I was. The moment I started “owning” the fact that I had a bag I rarely had problems.

You can find out more about Saleem Juma's journey on his Facebook page, or check out his gofundme for more of his story.

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