15/11/2017 03:45 GMT | Updated 15/11/2017 03:46 GMT

My Scarred Body Reflects My Life And I Love That

Bit-by-bit, I started talking about both my surgeries, my scars and my ongoing condition and the more I discussed it, the more I realised I wasn't alone. It was in 2014, I discovered body positivity and found no-one talking about scars so I set up my own social media campaign #ScarredNotScared.

Michelle Elman

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I've been in and out of hospital my entire life and I have the scars to show for it. I've had 15 surgeries, a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain and a condition called Hydrocephalus that I still live with to this day. The scars are largely on my stomach and they are a physical reminder of those times in my life. I've now learnt to be proud of them but it wasn't always that way - it was the reaction from other people that I have had to learn to confront.

michelle elman

It started as young as 10-years-old when I wore a bikini for the first time and was met with looks of shock and pity. Since that moment, I thought the solution was to hide my scars and just never discuss my past, but that stopped being an option. All throughout school, my friends always knew about my surgeries and scars because whenever I was hospitalised, it would be explained to them but when I was about to head off to university, I realised for the first time I would have to explain it myself. Since I had started dating, I also realised simply hiding my scars was not the solution either as taking my top off for the first time in front of someone I was dating, would become an issue I would have to confront.

Bit-by-bit, I started talking about both my surgeries, my scars and my ongoing condition and the more I discussed it, the more I realised I wasn't alone. It was in 2014, I discovered body positivity and found no-one talking about scars so I set up my own social media campaign #ScarredNotScared. Now my Instagram platform @ScarredNotScared has grown to almost 75k followers, I am even more passionate about making sure people with scars don't feel alone. There are 23 million people in the world with a scar and people only feel alone, because no one is talking about it.

michelle elman

My own journey with body confidence started with a simple decision to stop vocalising the negative thoughts about myself inside my head. I realised they didn't help and even worse than that, they drew attention to my greatest insecurities. Around my scars specifically, I knew that I couldn't change them so the only other alternative was to accept them. At 18, it didn't come from a place of wanting to love them, but instead just being so exhausted from hating them. My original goal was simply apathy towards - they existed and this was my body. I believe that's where you start. You don't go from loathing your body to loving your body overnight and I certainly didn't. Six years later, I would definitely say I love my body now.

I realised that for me, coming to terms with my past and the stories behind the scar was a large part of accepting the scars themselves. These scars were always physical reminders of the worst things that had ever happened to me but once I started processing all my emotions behind those events, the scars didn't seem as much of a problem. The next step was dealing with other people's opinions of my body. What I realised through all of this was that once you love your own body, other people's comments rarely affect anymore. Of course, there are down days when it gets to you but that's a reflection of it being the wrong time and not an indication of my confidence. I used to worry so much about what other people thought and what someone would say but now I frankly couldn't care less, whether it's a troll on my accounts or a stranger on the beach, my opinion means more and these people are usually strangers - people who don't know me or know anything about my life and have simply made assumptions based on my appearance, and that in itself is narrow-minded.

michelle elman

Now that I work as a body confidence coach and am a body positive activist online, and have a collective following of over 110k followers both on @ScarredNotScared and my other body positive account @BodyPositiveMemes. I see messages everyday of people who are going through similar struggle - providing even more evidence that you are never alone.

Do I ever have insecure days? Yes but insecure days about my body - no. People think by having confidence, you abolish all insecurities. That isn't how it works. Confidence is a muscle and it's context dependent. I have body confidence but that doesn't mean I don't have insecurities about other areas of my life. More recently, I have been speaking about my insecurity around public speaking and I've been sharing it because I want to show that it's human to have worries or fear. The point is to not let that dictate what you choose to do. Whatever your insecurity is about, whether it's wearing a bikini for the first time or speaking in front of a crowd, the solution is not to avoid it. The solution is to face it and address it.

The question I get most is "How can I be confident like you?" and my first piece of advice for anyone is believe that loving your body is an option for you, with your body exactly how it is. You do not need to change your body to love yourself. Regardless of what you look like, your body deserves your love and respect.

My outlook on life now is that we are here to be so much more than simply beautiful bodies. My body reflects my life and I love that.

This is what I hope the videos I create for Scarred Not Scared reflect that:

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