Accredited life coach and activist Michelle Elman brings a whole new meaning to #NoFilter on Instagram. The British beauty puts her scars on display on the social media platform to bring awareness to the marks that are often overlooked in the body positivity movement.
Michelle, 23, has undergone 15 surgeries since the age of one, with her most recent taking place last September. She has endured a lot in her life, including a brain tumor, an obstructed bowel, and a cyst in her brain — but she's choosing to use her body to end the stigma around scars once and for all.
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I've never done one of these photos cause I hate to draw a comparison. To me, these 2 images aren't comparable. The overwhelming thing I see in the photo on the left is fear. I was terrified. Back in 2013, I didn't know what body positivity was, but I was defs body positive. I loved my body + that's what made that time so much harder. How can a body that love me do this to me AGAIN? My body wasn't doing anything TO me, it was trying to save me. Both versions of me are me doing the best I can, with the knowledge I had and the resources I had available to me. And my confidence would have never wavered if I had realised that my health doesn't dictate my worth. One version of me is not better because she is healthier, or is more able, or is capable of walking. Inspirational? Here is my issue. This was the 2nd most painful time in hospital + I still struggle to talk about the time that tops this. I cry when I think about the pain I went through. I was far from the perfect patient, I yelled, I screamed, there were times at 19 years old, I refused to surface from under my duvet. "Inspirational" seems to take away from all of that. "Inspirational" makes me feel that I'm not allowed those emotions. "Inspirational" makes me feel like I did it for the praise, not because I HAD NO FUCKING CHOICE. "Inspirational" makes me feel like you don't understand the gravity of the situation. How truly shit it is to lie in a bed all day everyday for 6 weeks, torn away from your life, without food or water passing your lips once. Then I think about it + it's not the word I take problem with. It's how it was used against me in hospital to force me to be happy + grateful. It's the fact that no ONE word can summarise it. No one word is enough to explain how I feel about this time in my life. This time in my life, like every other hospitalisation ruins me. It wrecks the life I've been building since the last time + frankly I'm never going to be ok about it. It's left me with scars that are far deeper than any smiley face on my tummy. I am not a survivor. I am not a success story. I'm just a woman with a shitty past that really still fucking hurts to think about. #ScarredNotScared
"I couldn't see anyone even talking about scars so I decided to start talking about my own experiences," she told Life & Style exclusively. She went on to launch her campaign, Scarred Not Scared, in 2015 and revealed her scars in a bikini for the first time. Her main goal: to help women not feel alone.
"There are 23 million people with a scar in the world so it's not the minority, it's just never seen," she explained. "The main misconception around scars comes from the cartoons we see growing up or even movies where characters like Doctor Evil in Austin Powers has a scar across their face — it perpetuates the idea that scars are ugly and that's what I hope will change with seeing more people embracing their scars."
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When I found body positivity, no one talked about scars. It was 2014 and I couldn't find a single account or even a post about it. There were multiple of hashtags about fat, but not a single one for scars. That's why I started #ScarredNotScared cause frankly every time I commented about it on someone's page, my comment was either ignored or deleted. It frustrated me that marks in relation to weight were always discussed, mainly stretch marks and cellulite but never scars. I remember being 17, about to go to university, and googled "how to tell new friends about your scars", "how to tell new friends about your surgeries". *nothing* I remember being 15, having never kissed anyone and ALREADY worrying how I was going to tell someone when I took my top off for the first time. I went to google "how to tell a boy about your scars" *nothing* Most of you have grown up believing you have body issues that no one else has, but in the last 10 years, if you wanted to, you could've searched hard enough on the internet to find just one person with the same problem. I couldn't. It made me wonder if I was imagining it. Was I making a big deal out of nothing? It took me until 21 to see a person with a scar outside of a hospital setting. With all this info, you would believe, Scarred bodies are the minority right? No, we aren't. Do you know how many people go into hospital each year? It could be that scar on your finger from cleaning a knife too quickly or a scar on your knee from falling over when dancing too vigorously, (Both might or might not be personal examples) but we all have scars. If anything, Scarred Not Scared has proved that to me. Yours might not be as big a conversation as mine but the likelihood is you HAVE had a conversation about it, even if it's being asked out of curiosity "oo what's that from?" "What happened?" We all aren't that different. We all have bodies painted with marks and scars from this human experience we call life. So I hate to say it but even if you didn't know it… YOU ARE SCARRED NOT SCARED TOO! #ScarredNotScared • Bikini by @curvykate
That's not to say living with scars doesn't present its own set of challenges — especially when it comes to relationships. "My dating life was the first time I had to confront my issues around my scars. When I am dressed, you can't see most of my scars so it was when I had to take my top off for the first time, I had to start having a conversation around my scars," she admitted. "I've definitely had a range of reactions to my scars in my dating life but ultimately I see it as a system to weed out the guys I wouldn't want to be with anyway — my scars are just a mechanism for me to find out early."
With over 60,000 thousand followers and growing, Michelle hopes to use her social media presence to teach women to appreciate their bodies and not let insecurities win. "The first piece of advice I give to any client is that body confidence is an option for you and you don't need to change your body in any way to achieve it," Michelle said. "I also hope they see how liberating it is to not live life hating yourself every day and that it will encourage them to start being more compassionate to themselves on a daily basis."