22 February 2016
Psychology graduate, Michelle Elman (BSc 2014), started her own life-coaching company, Mindset for Life, in order to address body confidence and self-esteem – issues which have affected her personally, along with countless people worldwide. She also launched the social media campaign #ScarredNotScared, sparking conversations about body image across various platforms. Here, Michelle tells her story.
For the majority of my childhood, I struggled with my body image – largely because of problems with my health. I've had a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain and a condition called hydrocephalus. All of the resulting scars had a huge impact on my self-esteem.
When you are having surgery at a young age, it can be very alarming to wake up and discover your body being altered – especially considering the pressure many young people feel to have a 'bikini body'. It’s easy to feel isolated.
When I wore a bikini for the first time, people looked at me with pity and shock. It made me feel so insecure and 'different'. I wanted to discuss this experience openly because I realised that this wasn't just something that had happened to me: it's happened in some way to every single person with a scar.
Talking about these experiences was always difficult for me, but I realised that if I wanted to study psychology (as I'd wanted to since the age of 11) and work with people therapeutically, I would need to embrace my own past.
I founded Mindset for Life following my experiences in hospital. Once I began coaching my Mindset for Life clients, I saw how sharing my own personal story was helpful to others. It was then that I decided to launch #ScarredNotScared in order to try to make the conversation about body image and self-esteem a bigger one.
The aim of both Mindset for Life and #ScarredNotScared is to empower people to live their life to the fullest without feeling like their appearance is holding them back.
I've seen it often: people will delay pursuing things they aspire towards because they feel that they are not yet the 'perfect weight', or that their appearance isn't all that they'd want it to be. I'm trying to reinforce the idea that the way your body looks shouldn't impact your quality of life or stop you from making progress towards your goals.
I also focus on scars in particular, because they're rarely ever talked about. When they are, we treat them like a taboo, like we should be ashamed or embarrassed. The story behind any scar is usually a painful one and I firmly believe that the scar itself shouldn't be adding to that pain!
I started volunteering with BeatBullying during my third year at the University, after I came out of hospital. It was an enlightening experience. It really opened my eyes to how many people are struggling constantly, battling with their own self-esteem.
It also helped me see that, in the age of the internet and social media, bullying is no longer confined to schools and workplaces. This particular aspect of the problem made me realise just how crucial it is to start making changes on these platforms and to start building a positive community of love and support.
As it happens, social media has actually been one of my biggest catalysts for success. It's been integral to my business and my movement. #ScarredNotScared started on Instagram, and that's where the majority of celebrities, newspapers and websites found out about my work and my campaigning.
Sharing the movement via social media not only helps to raise awareness, it also enables me to interact personally with individuals who have been through medical experiences similar to my own.
I've received hundreds of messages of support from people, both with scars and without. Many of the people getting in touch tell me that they feel inspired to confidently wear a bikini for the first time, and many more say more generally that the campaign has motivated them to start their own journey towards body confidence.
The key theme of the feedback is that people everywhere are feeling a little less alone, and feeling heartened that the conversation about body confidence and self-esteem is coming into the spotlight.
I'd sum up a lot of my work with one phrase: you don't have to hate your body to change it, and you don't have to change it to love it.
Find out more about Mindset for Life.