Michelle Elman, a 22-year-old life coach based in London, is bringing an under recognized body taboo to the surface of social media. Elman bravely shared her scars in a body positive Instagram post that went viral last year. On March 9, she unveiled a powerful follow-up video campaign "Scarred Not Scared" on RedFlag.org.
The "Scarred Not Scared" video was released to celebrate Women's History Month. In the short, Elman, who has had 15 surgeries — including for a punctured intestine and brain tumor — over the course of her life, shares her journey from shame to self-love and asks other women and one man to open up about their scars.
"I always had the idea to launch it with my story and then film other people's stories and share them," she told ATTN:.
Each person included in the video describes how they got their scars and learned to embrace them.
"I went through years of bullying at school," Jessika Morgan, who suffered from a skin condition growing up, recounted. "Parents especially, when I had the spots they would think I was dirty."
Brittney Hiller was born with pulmonary atresia, a heart disease, according to the video, and got her scar from a life-saving surgery shortly after she was born.
Hiller reclaimed her scar and called it her "life saving zipper."
Sophia Lazaridis, another woman featured in the project, explained that she got her scar from a surgery after her leg was crushed between two cars.
Afterwards, she fell into a depression and developed an eating disorder.
"lt's showing how people are processing it differently. Everyone has a slightly different story," Elman told ATTN:. Some like Yasmin Ibrahim are still processing their trauma and scars. She expanded:
"[Yasmin Ibrahim] had only been out of cancer less that a year when we started filming. And she had us all crying in the middle of Hyde Park. I didn't know until the camera was on that it was less than a year. And I was like "how are you talking about this less than a year out, because I haven't been able to talk about any of this until 20 years later. I was like "that's so brave of you.""
The psychology of scars.
"I have a background in psychology, so it's all about human psychology for me," Elman told ATTN:. She continued:
"I think what really surprised me was [when] I realized that a lot of the reasons growing up I hated my body, and all of that, [sic] was actually because it's a physical reminder of a time when your body was limited and didn't do what you wanted. When I went into hospital, I tended to be bedridden, I couldn't move, and it's such a strange feeling, to be trapped in your body. "
She also chose to include a male friend, Theo Sunley, in "Scarred Not Scared" to illustrate the difference between how scars impact men and women.
"Being a guy, having a scar is quite a manly thing," Sunley says in the video.
"The funny thing is, he was like, 'I don't care about my scar,'" Elman told ATTN:.
"My life literally revolved around my scar, I hated it, I wouldn't do things if it was showing," she confessed. "And I was like, that you'd not be affected by it, is that a gender thing? Is that because society places more of an emphasis on beauty when it comes to girls, or is because yours happened a lot later? It happened it him when he was like 19."
"Scarred Not Scared" evolved out of Elman's viral Instagram post.
Last year, Elman posted a picture of herself in a bikini that went viral on Instagram.
She told ATTN: that she got the idea for the initial post after she started her life coaching business, Mindset for Life.
"I found that the clients I was attracting were confidence related, self esteem related clients, and many with body insecurities," Elman said. "I had just gone traveling, and one of my friends said to me, if you're coaching about that, why don't you wear a bikini?"
"When I thought about it, I remembered I did actually wear a bikini when I was younger, and that was the only time I wore one. I think I was about seven, and I went into a changing room to try one on for the first time, and I came out and there was this mother standing there, with such pity, I burst out crying," Elman told ATTN:. "But once she said that I realized, I'm not the same person. That was many years ago. So that summer, I decided to wear a bikini for the first time."
She received an outpouring of support on Instagram.
She's spreading the message in schools and on social media.
"I'm always going to be sharing these stories," Elman told ATTN:. Most recently, she's been speaking about self esteem, self love and body positivity at schools.
"This campaign has kind of thrown me into a world where I started to realize how younger generations have it a lot worse than I do, and I'm what? Five years older than the girls in school?" she said. "I'm not that much older, but they went through a completely different childhood in terms of social media."
Elman also hopes that the project will engage with people without scars, who might not understand these experiences otherwise. "What I realized with 'Scarred Not Scared' very early on was I wanted to make this a bigger conversation that not just included people with scars." she told ATTN:. "By making a big conversation, we're including the people who give you funny looks on the beach and say those insensitive comments."