Be Proud: An Interview with Michelle Elman
Michelle Elman is an award-winning body-positive activist that has cultivated a substantial social media following on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Elman struggled with body positivity for much of her life until she came to the realization that her body was actually fighting for her, not against her. From then on, Elman began to establish a more loving relationship with her body and wanted to help other people feel at peace with their body as well.
Elman started the Scarred Not Scared campaign in 2015 to share the love for scars and the bodies that they are a part of. She shared her personal experiences from her 15 surgeries and encouraged others to share the stories behind their scars. Elman went viral several times over the next couple of years and has started an international conversation on scars and self-love. Her newly released book, “Am I Ugly?,” is a memoir about her life and journey with body positivity.
Sarah Jacobson: Did you have a sort of “a-ha” moment where you realized you needed to start loving yourself more? What did that look like for you?
Michelle Elman: The moment I realised it was when I was about to start volunteering for a self-esteem charity and one of my friends who had known me for four years, said “how can you help people with self-esteem? You’ve never lacked confidence.” Whilst I wouldn’t have said I loved my body at that point, it made me realise that by not talking about my body negatively, others had assumed confidence.
SJ: When you started the Scarred not Scared campaign in 2015, what was the main goal you hoped to accomplish?
ME: I wanted scars and illness to be included in the conversation of body positivity and I wanted the conversation to be bigger than the people who had scars. Every person with a scar has a story when they were stared at, whispered about, or someone made an unkind remark about their scar; so it wasn’t the people with a scar who needed the conversation, it was the people without one.
SJ: At TEDxCoventGardenWomen in 2017, you talked about how you learned to love your body for all that it could do. What steps do you think people can take to help them appreciate their bodies and feel more comfortable in their own skin?
ME: I think it starts with bringing an end to this self-deprecating humour and vocalising every negative opinion we have about ourselves. When you say it before the bully, you actually just let the bully inside, and we need to stop giving as much time and energy to the negative thoughts. Just because you think it doesn’t mean it is true.
SJ: How do you think we can help girls feel more positive about their bodies at young ages when they are most vulnerable to self hate?
ME: We need to start having conversations about diet culture and the fear of fat younger. We all have this embedded fear of fat from living in this society and we need to address it head on in order to let go of that fear.
SJ: In your upcoming book, “Am I Ugly?,” are there any topics that you feel you really poured your heart and soul into?
ME: The whole book. It is a memoir and my life story, and in order to be able to write this book, I had to do so much processing around events that I frankly never wanted to ever think about again. I discuss things that I rarely talk about online from disordered eating to moments like when I died when I was 11. It is the real, raw side of living in hospital and going through all my surgeries and also the realistic journey to body confidence. It isn’t a switch that flicks one day. It is a bunch of tiny moments that build up and in my book, I was able to portray that.
SJ: What is a mantra that you live by everyday?
ME: I don’t know if it’s a mantra, but everyday, I focus on my behaviours and actions being ones I would be proud of.