I am really excited to introduce my new blog series, How Do I Look? I have been blogging about rosacea for over 6 years and my passion for skin positivity (and the wider discussion around visible differences) is slowly breaking through to the mainstream conversation. I wanted to talk to exciting and interesting people, who are sharing their stories and experiences to help and inspire others.
We are starting with the fantastic and wise Michelle Elman. You may know her from the viral photo that sparked her Scarred Not Scared campaign, when she posted a photo of herself in a bikini with the title ‘People With Scars Can’t Wear Bikinis’. Michelle had 15 surgeries in the space of 20 years and shares beautiful and honest images along with advice that inspires her followers to embrace themselves, in every way. She is also a trained body confidence coach, so when I say she is wise… she is really wise!
Tell me a little bit about you and your scars…
“I grew up not realising my body was different to anyone else’s and even when I noticed differences, I never recognised them as ugly or unattractive until I was taught to hate my scars. In many other ways, I had skin that a lot of people were envious of. I’ve always had comments on how my colouring means I look like I have a natural glow, I tan easily and used to be able to sleep without removing my makeup or washing my face and my skin would still be clear (although that all quickly changed in university!).
So in every other aspect, my skin was the way I wanted it to be and so my scars were – what I saw as – the unfortunate thing that ruined my beauty. What I had not realised though is all those ideas around beauty, from the tanned skin to the clear skin, are all constructs that have been created and we’ve been taught that one is better than another.”
What are the common misconceptions, comments, or questions that you get about your scars?
“For the most part now, because I have quite a “don’t care what you think” attitude around it, the main questions and comments are simply out of intrigue and curiosity and, whilst I don’t mind answering those questions in my job, I don’t always want to be having a conversation that essentially is about my worst trauma when I’m lying on a beach. The most common misconception is people think my scars are simply fat rolls but to be honest, I don’t care what they look like to you, because whether they are scars or fat rolls, I should be allowed to love my body no matter what it looks like or how my body changes.”
You’re such a great spokesperson for body positivity and loving yourself, what first inspired you to talk so publicly about your scars? How was it received?
“It was the fact I didn’t see a single person with a scar outside of a hospital setting until I was 21. I didn’t see anyone in magazines or in the media or even in real life and I saw this conversation of body positivity starting and it frustrated me that in a movement that says “all bodies are beautiful”, my body was still not being seen. So since I was confident about my own body, I asked why I couldn’t be the person to do it and that’s how ‘Scarred Not Scared‘ was born.”
How does your skin make you feel on a day to day basis?
“One of the best things about being body positive is that I don’t think about my body, whether that be my skin or anything else and so my appearance is not responsible for any of the feelings I have in a day – positive or negative. I have greater things to think about (and feel!) than what I look like.”
What are your thoughts on the media visibility of different body types and – more specifically – scars?
“We have seen improvement but only in certain areas and it’s not enough. There is a lot of stigma that still needs to be removed around scarring and visible differences.”
The conversation around body positivity and visible differences has opened up on social media in recent years. How do you think this is impacting the influencer landscape and diversity within it?
“Without social media, I don’t think this conversation would have even been started because people with visible differences weren’t even allowed to get their foot in the door. I think Katie Piper definitely helped break through a lot of ceilings and created a lot of opportunities for others with visible differences and I’m so inspired by her because she’s proof that one person can create so much change in an entire landscape.”
You have a very positive online presence, but I also know that you are very good at setting boundaries online (and in person) – do you have any tips on how you deal with bad moments or bad days?
“My good boundaries online and in person took a lot of learning and in my bad moments/days I make sure to be even stricter with not only my boundaries with other people but with myself. What people don’t realise is that to maintain such a good body image, you have to have quite a strong self discipline with your thoughts and especially when I’m in a negative headspace, I actively choose to dismiss thoughts that are not helpful to me and always flip the thoughts that are not serving me.”
I’m really intrigued about your work as a body confidence coach – what are some common themes or issues that you see with clients or people who come to you for advice?
“The main thing I see is that if you aren’t happy with your life, it becomes really easy to use your body as an excuse for all your goals not getting accomplished or the reason you are unhappy. I believe the physical insecurities we have are a manifestation of emotional issues and so once you resolve your feelings or belief around a certain appearance, then the problem disappears. Ultimately, there is someone in the world living with the exact thing you hate about your body and loving their body so it’s not the characteristic that’s the problem, it’s the mentality.”
What are your top tips for body confidence and self love?
“That you are a great candidate for body confidence and self love and that you don’t need to do anything to change your body in order to qualify.”
Thank you so, so much to Michelle for being incredibly honest and open with her responses. After talking to her I feel inspired to be kinder to (and about) myself.
So, how can you get more Michelle in your life?
- Follow her on instagram HERE and also on her Body Positive Memes instagram account HERE.
- Buy her wonderful book – ‘Am I Ugly?’ – HERE (affiliate link)
- Watch her incredible TedX talk – ‘Have You Hated Your Body Enough Today?’ – HERE.
Let me know what you think about this interview and the concept of my new blog series. I have so many incredible interviewees lined up and I can’t wait to introduce you to them all.
Read the other posts in my How Do I Look? series here:
- SOFIA talking about her acne;
- NATALIE talking about vitiligo;
- SUSIE on her Telogen Effluvium (hair loss);
- AMY on her port wine stain birthmark;
- GEMMA on psoriasis;
- AMARA on eczema;
- GRACE on her scars;
- JUDY on her sensitive skin;
- SHANKAR on his Vitiligo;
- P. on their Acne Conglobata;
- and SOPHIE on her Trichotillomania.
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