Life Coach and Author Michelle Elman joins I am. I have to talk about body confidence, resilience and the value she places on honesty over toxic positivity
As a life coach, body confidence speaker and author Michelle Elman has a book and a Ted Talk under her belt, as well as being the Founder of Scarred Not Scared - a campaign that launched five years ago, encouraging everyone to embrace their bodies - including scars and other signs of surgeries.
“I saw this conversation of body positivity growing,” Michelle shares “And I still didn't see a body that looked like mine. I was like, isn't it ironic that they keep saying every body is beautiful? So if my body is beautiful, then why am I not seeing it?
“And because I was in a confident place with my own body, I thought well, why not me? I could create space in this conversation.”
Michelle did just that, after posting a photograph of herself wearing a bikini and by sharing the struggles she had encountered with her body in the past - after fifteen surgeries, a brain tumour, punctured intestine, cyst in the brain and living with a condition called hydrocephalus.
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PEOPLE WITH SCARS CAN’T WEAR BIKINIS This is what I have believed for the last 21 years of my life and when asked in January why I never wear bikinis, this horrible sentence came out of my mouth. I was shocked - at myself! I had had 15 surgeries, a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in brain and have lived for the last 21 years with a condition called Hydrocephalus yet somehow my scars have always been the hardest part. They make already awkward moments in your adolescence even more uncomfortable - like taking your top off for the first time in front of your boyfriend, and made me feel even more isolated in a world where I felt no one could understand. At age 7, I tried on my first bikini and after receiving a range of reactions from disgust to pity, it soon became easier to hide away and be doomed to a life of tankinis and one-pieces. Why did I believe this? Because over the years, I have learnt that my scars make people uncomfortable. I had become ashamed of my body and soon other people’s disgust became my own and this was allowed to be the case because of one simple reason - I had no one to talk to about it. Well in January, I started to talk about it - all of it, and I want other people to join in on the conversation. Every human has scars, whether there are emotional and physical - they are part of our story and we should be proud of them. About a month ago, I finally faced up to wearing a bikini and although, I love my body thoroughly and have for many years - this was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, yet once it was on, it was one of the most liberating feelings to know that I wasn’t letting two pieces of material stop me from being comfortable in my own body. My belief is that no one should have to feel ashamed of their body, whether you have stretch marks or a C-section scar so... THIS summer, let’s stand up and be proud of our scars and what they represent - a story! Tag a friend below and lets make this the summer of scars! #scarrednotscared
The bikini image went viral, as did the message behind it and Michelle became an advocate for discussing body confidence in all its forms.
This, and a desire to tell the story of her childhood experiences with illness and the way it has shaped and driven her, led to her becoming an author. Her book Am I Ugly? she says, is one of her proudest achievements although she originally struggled to use the term ‘author’ for herself. This has changed now; “I am an author” is at the top of the list of discussion points for this podcast episode, and rightly so.
Conversations around strength and resilience are central to the discussion and Michelle reflects upon how resilient her body is, something she also covered in her phenomenal Ted Talk, explaining how she had died momentarily as a child. “I literally took on death at 11 and won. And I didn’t think I was strong enough?!”
However, in the style Michelle’s followers know and love her for, she shares that she will always choose honesty over positivity. “There's this whole good vibes only tribe - mind over matter - all of those phrases they just really annoy me. I think all of that comes under the umbrella of ‘toxic positivity’.
“There's nothing worse than when you're crying someone saying; ‘Just smile, it's all going to be okay!’ You just need that person to sit with you at that moment. That’s the best thing a friend ever did for me - and I think that's way more beautiful than trying to force someone into positivity.
“My therapist says it's like putting ice cream on top of shit, because it really is like pretending you're happy. What's that going to do other than suppress all your other emotions? I'm a really big believer in that there are no negative emotions. Every emotion is trying to tell you something. So anger tends to tell you your boundaries have been crossed. Sadness means that you're grieving something. You need to feel that.”
I think she'd say ‘thank you’ because essentially I'm doing all the hard work now.
When asked what she hopes her future self in ten years time would say to her now, Michelle smiles; “I think she'd say ‘thank you’ because essentially I'm doing all the hard work now. I've been doing all the hard work for the last five years so it gets easier and easier.
“It gets harder sometimes. But obviously in order for me to get to the level I want to get to in life, the things I want to do with my life, I need to peel that onion and all the layers underneath. Everything I'm doing now is so I won't even need to think about it in ten years.”