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.
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.
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