Whether it be Pink’s empowering VMAs acceptance speech or an Instagrammer’s mission to change diet culture, it goes without saying that we welcome any movement that encourages women to resist society’s superficial beauty expectations.
But, as incredible and worthwhile as these examples are, many of the viral body-positive stories that we hear about focus predominantly on weight.
Michelle Elman, a body confidence coach and trained therapist, has a different story to share and has been making headlines through her campaign #scarrednotscared, especially in a recent video which features a powerful message from real women who live with scarring.
At just 20 years old, Elman had already been through 15 life-changing surgeries after suffering a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in her brain and a condition called hydrocephalus in which fluid builds on the brain.
The surgeries were successful, but resulted in scarring that had a lasting effect on Elman’s mental health. Feeling that this was an issue that needed talking about, she started the hashtag #scarrednotscared.
I have a secret... I wear maternity jeans! And no, I'm not pregnant. I do however have a number of scars across my tummy that jeans dig into. The difference between above my scar and below my scar is about an inch, if not more so either I had a perpetual builders bum or I would be in so much physical pain with a belt, it honestly wasn't worth it. So about 4 years ago, I stopped wearing jeans. I wore leggings and at a push, jeggings until January, when it occurred to me that maternity jeans might work. AND THEY DID. When I ordered them, I felt slight shame. After all, I am a size 20 so being confused as a pregnant person is a common occurrence for me that first started happening when I was 13... yes 13! But all that was outweighed (ha...pun) by the fact that I WAS WEARING JEANS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 4 YEARS. Also no one had to know. Or so I thought. I first wore them on a day that I happened to be filming with @bodyposipanda , @amyeloisew, @franhayden and @hopefuleri ... and when you are filming, they often lift up your top slightly to put the microphone on your waistband. Well the camera guy, got a shock. And I had a choice in that moment to feel embarrassed or not care. No prizes for guessing which one I chose. So even though I felt uncomfortable at this stranger realising I was wearing maternity jeans I just joked that they were so comfy and kept my belly warm in winter. Since then, I've not looked back. Forget which part of the store your jeans comes from. If it fits and doesn't hurt you, then that is the BETTER OPTION. Forget the connotations of you "looking pregnant" It works and that's what is important. We give all these labels on clothing way too much importance... shop in all sections, whether it petite, tall, small, men's, women's, maternity or even children's. So yes my jeans come from the maternity section but I'm so happy these jeans exist so my scar doesn't need to be in pain to just wear a pair of jeans! It's the simple things really #ScarredNotScared
A post shared by Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared) on
Since posting a bikini picture of herself in 2015 in a bid to dispel the awkwardness and embarrassment she had previously felt around people seeing her scars, Elman has attracted attention for her positive message and praise for highlighting the struggles that many women face after surgery, taking YouTube and Instagram by storm.
But it’s one of her most recent videos, which features a group of women reciting a poem written by Elman, that’s had us reaching for the tissues and simultaneously bursting into an empowered round of applause.
Entitled, Scars | Spoken Word, the three-minute video delivers an incredibly powerful message, masterfully describing the self-consciousness, denial and anxiety felt by those with scars in a series of hard-hitting verses.
Elman herself opens the video, standing purposefully by the weights section of a gym. Delivering a line each, the camera moves from scene to scene, showcasing a different woman each time, each showing their variously positioned scars.
The poem touches on several issues, including society’s damaging expectations of beauty, celebrity culture and the pressures to be perfect stemming from social media and picture editing apps.
“With the same cut, erasing the beauty of my skin. Or at least what is called beauty in the society that we live in. Even Kylie Jenner has a scar on her thigh, but you’ll never know that, and here is why. Airbrush, Photoshop, Facetune”, Elman writes.
Why are my scars only out in about 10% of my photos? Because I am more than my scars. I wear the same experiences that gave me those scars whether they are on show or not. I still have an invisible illness without my scars being visible. Same thing with my body. I don't think the pictures of me are anymore important than the quotes that I do because I value my brain, my thoughts, my words just as much as my body. Do not confuse my lack of underwear photos as a sign that I'm not totally and completely confident. Here's the thing about confidence and body confidence. You do not ever have to prove. I don't need to be shouting I'm beautiful from the rooftop for you to see my self love and confidence. It exists and my body confidence is exuded by my mere existence. Anyone who has met me will tell you. It shows in little moments - when you take a photo of me and I don't go to "check it" or to take another - when you ask me to jump in the lake and even though I don't have a swimsuit, say hell yeah - when you ask me to come out at the last moment and it takes me 5 minutes to get ready and I don't worry about what to wear - when the conversation of diets come up and I choose not to join in - when you insult me publicly or body shame me and see how I respond I believe in those moments. Ive met a lot of body positive people and when you meet them, they aren't in a bikini, they aren't talking about body positivity the whole time but they do have this quiet confidence when they aren't even trying. So trust me, your body confidence is showing even if you don't always see it. And years from now, your friends will tell you how much you've changed. Or at least, that's what happened to me. #scarrednotscared
A post shared by Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared) on
Elman makes the point that even in films that talk about illness the “actors have no marks, not one single scar, because that would be too realistic, not pretty, no matter who you are”.
Through the voices of five women, the body positive coach gives an insight into how sadly it’s the superficial that troubles her more than anything:
“I’m scarred from surgery that saved my life, but it’s my beauty, the evidence, that causes me strife. Instead of dealing with the PTSD these surgeries left me, I’m struggling with these scars wondering if I’m still pretty. Lines staring back at me like it was some sick game, taunting me every day, looking at my reflection.”
Elman questions: “why do we spend our time worrying about stretch marks, cellulite and scars, when the important thing is that our bodies are ours?
“Ours to own, ours to use, ours to decorate. It’s time that we start teaching girls that their scars don’t define their life. We all have a story, a struggle, a past.”
Ending the video, which you can watch below, on a galvanising note, Elman urges viewers to stop believing the “ridiculous farce” that social media promotes and to join her in being, yes scarred, but not scared of being yourself.
The video resonated strongly with Elman’s followers on YouTube, with one commenter writing, “Well I may have watched this at least 5 times... I have goosebumps and I am crying! I love this so much.”
Another thanked Elman for creating the video, writing, “Michelle! I'm all teared up. Wow, wow, wow. Your poem is absolutely beautiful and the message is too, obviously. <3 Thank you for this.”
On social media, supporters of the campaign have been as equally vocal about the need for the #scarrednotscared message.
One Twitter user wrote of the video, “This is incredibly powerful.”
While another agreed, tweeting, “Really wonderful”.
Women face a perverse pressure to look perfect, but this expectation isn’t limited to weight, hair type or skin colour – it’s multi-faceted and affects every woman differently.
If you don’t have any scars yourself, you may have never considered what a huge part of someone’s life they can be.
We applaud Elman for sharing her story, and hope it inspires many more women to keep reinforcing the message that there should be no pressure to look like anything but you.
Images: Scarred not Scared