Meet Michelle Elman, a woman intent on promoting body positivity.
Body-shaming has become all too common in recent years, not helped by a near-constant striving for perfection on social media.
But there’s one word that people often use to describe someone else’s looks that particularly irks body confidence coach Michelle Elman: ugly.
“Growing up I asked myself the question ‘am I ugly?’ all the time,” she tells Stylist.co.uk. “I had 15 surgeries before the age of 19. I’ve had a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain and I live with a condition called hydrocephalus, which has left me with scars all over my body.”
As a result of multiple surgeries, Elman was left questioning her own appearance due to the scars on her body, and subsequently her confidence suffered.
“When I was 10 years old I wore a bikini for the first time, and when I came out [wearing it] I was met with looks of shock, pity and horror,” Elman explains. “I was really insecure about the scars, especially the ones on my stomach.”
She continues: “My confidence, especially around my scars, has been a really long journey. It has taken many conversations to finally get to the point where I felt comfortable with them.”
But Elman isn’t the only person who has felt this way. According to Google, people ask the search engine ‘am I ugly?’ 10,000 times every month.
“I think there’s a huge pressure on society to be perfect and to be beautiful,” says Elman. “And I think the word ‘ugly’ has so much power because we’re still defining women by their beauty.
“Why does our beauty matter? We’re more than our beauty, and you’re more than your body.”
With recent studies showing that when women have a negative or poor body image, they also tend to take part in riskier behaviours, including substance abuse, there’s never been a more vitally important time to appreciate women who don’t conform to restrictive societal expectations.
“In society there’s this message that you need to be beautiful in order to be listened to and that’s so wrong,” says Elman, who’ll be speaking at Stylist Live this year. “How we define perfection and beauty changes all the time, so you’ll never be able to attain it anyway because in 10 years it’ll be something completely different.
“To anyone who thinks that they’re ugly, stop letting other people define you.”
Check out our video above for more, and make sure to pop along to Stylist Live this weekend.