Michelle Elman is something of a scar expert. She's got her own, yes, from 15 surgeries tied to a "brain tumor, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a brain cyst, and a condition called hydrocephalus." But she's also an expert in body positivity, using her own experiences to create Mindset for Life and help countless folks overcome their own struggles with body image.
This inspiring human recently utilized her expertise to conduct several touching, sensitive interviews with other thoughtful humans about their scars, compiled in a video called "Scarred Not Scared."
"I went through years of bullying at school," said one woman, left with scars all over her body from a bout of "spots" that started to appear when she was six. "Parents especially... when I had the spots, they would be like, they would think I was dirty. I'm not dirty, I just have spots. I still wash. I probably wash more than anybody without spots does."
It seems like the subjects of the video were able to completely open up, likely because Elman has been in their position—albeit even more publicly. Here's one of the photos she shared nearly a year ago, which went viral.
Part of the comment on that photo explains her journey towards accepting her body:
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.
A particularly interesting part of the video is when a man with scarring on his arm explains how different it can feel to be a man with scar than a woman: "One reason it's hard for me to empathize with everyone with scars is that, being a guy, having... a scar is a quite manly thing, and so I don't really mind it. In fact quite a few people have said, you know, 'That's quite cool.'"
That's in contrast to a comment on Elman's viral Instagram photo that she told BuzzFeed about, in which someone said "Are you going to do any more campaigning about your weight?" Elman told BuzzFeed, "I didn't even mention the word 'weight' in any of my Instagram posts. People see what they want to see."
Of course, there are men with different experiences and different feelings towards their scars, but this particular comment—"a scar is a quite manly thing"—seems to highlight the special difficulty of dealing with the issue as a woman.
If anyone needs help dealing with body issues related to scars, a good place to start might be Elman's website, Mindset for Life.