Michelle Elman, a body positivity coach, helps people who are struggling to find confidence in their own skin.
After persevering through numerous medical conditions and surgeries in her own life, Elman realized a few years ago that body positivity wasn't just about size or weight. Things like scars, birthmarks, and anything else that makes us feel different of self-conscious have to be a part of the conversation, and she tries to make the movement accessible to everyone.
Sharing her own journey has been one of her most effective teaching tools.
In May, she shared a post on Instagram of herself trying on a dress she bought five years ago in order to prove a powerful point.
In the first photo, from 2012 — when she was a size 12, she says — she's wearing a size 14 dress. In the new photo, she's wearing the same dress, though she says she normally wears a size 20.
The dress still fit.
NUMBERS DON'T MEAN ANYTHING. I found a dress in my cupboard the other day that I had since I was in sixth form. The dress is a size 14. I bought it 5 years ago when I was a size 12. Now, I'm a size 20. And yet, I still fit it. Which just proves that NUMBERS DON'T MEAN ANYTHING. So are you really going to let a change a dress size dictate your day? Are you really going to let an increase in a number affect your mood? Same dress. Still comfortable. Still beautiful. (In fact, I think I look better and happier now!) A higher dress size doesn't mean: - you are less beautiful - you are less worthy - you are less lovable - you are a worse human - you are a bad person - you are a different person AND it doesn't even mean you have a bigger body. You could go up a dress size by simply changing stores... (or countries). You can change dress sizes because of the time of the day or simply due to whether you are on your period or not. If you look at your cupboard and you find it harder and harder to find something to wear because of a change in clothing size, I have a great solution for you... throw out all clothes that don't fit. Looking at your wardrobe shouldn't be something that makes you feel insecure and sad so make sure everything in your wardrobe fits! Numbers don't matter. Not the number on the back of your jeans, on the scale or even the number in your bank account. You are not a number. #OneTakeBeauty #BodyPositivity EDIT: For anyone saying I'm lying about my size. Check my stories
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"NUMBERS DON'T MEAN ANYTHING," she wrote in the post. "So are you really going to let a change [in] dress size dictate your day? Are you really going to let an increase in a number affect your mood?"
"A higher dress size doesn't mean: — you are less beautiful — you are less worthy — you are less lovable — you are a worse human — you are a bad person — you are a different person AND it doesn't even mean you have a bigger body."
The viral photo inspired thousands of people. While a huge majority of the comments were positive, there was still something bugging Elman about the response.
Not everyone was getting the right message.
"Since the creation of this account, I have always been told I'm beautiful 'for my size' and I never wanted to talk about it because I thought I was being pedantic but eventually decided to speak my mind about it," she says in an email.
She decided to create a follow-up post to set a few things straight about what body positivity really means.
In the second post, she took a different approach to the "before and after" shots we see so often on Instagram. People loved it.
Picking up on a few of the comments from yesterday's post. "You look good for a size 20" - This is not a compliment. It's like saying that an older woman looks good "for her age". Who says size 20 women can't look good? Who says older women can't look good? It's ALSO an insult to all my other size 20 babes. When you say I look good for a size 20, it usually means I look skinnier than a size 20 which still sends the message: thin = good, fat = bad. "You are lying, you aren't a size 20" - I am a U.K. Size 20. It is a fact that changes depending on which store but the majority of my clothes are size 20. That is a fact. This assumption that I'm lying is contingent on your perception of what a size 20 looks like. This perpetuates the idea that fat equals ugly or unattractive which is most definitely DOES NOT! "You distorted camera angles + edited it to look skinnier" - It was not a preprepared photo that I planned from 5 years ago so yes different angles but it's the only photo I had in the dress. The photo from 2012 had a filter because another person took that photo. The one from 2017 is not edited/filtered in anyway. These assumptions are based on the fact I have something to hide. NOT HIDING. Right here telling you my dress size. "You aren't even fat. You should stop invalidating the struggles of actual fat women and taking away from the movement" - I don't know what you deem as "actual fat" but both my weight + my dress size indicates I am. I use the word fat because it's not an insult. When you tell me I'm not allowed to use a word that describes me, when I experience the marginalisation of anyone in my size, that invalidates MY experience of being fat-bodied. In terms of taking away from the movement, you'll be hard pushed to find another mixed-race, not able-bodied, fat scarred woman talking about chronic illness and chronic pain and THAT representation matters. In summary, if people tell you they are a certain size, believe them. They are the ones picking out their clothes! You can be the same dress size + look bigger/smaller as shown in the two photos above! Whatever your size, you look good for your size 😉 #scarrednotscared #onetakebeauty
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In the caption, Elman addresses a couple of things well-meaning people got wrong about the message she was trying to spread. Some commenters said she looked "skinnier" in the 2017 photo which, though meant as a compliment, just reinforces that being skinny is somehow better.
Others said she wasn't fat enough, to which Elman could only scoff.
"If people tell you they are a certain size, believe them," she wrote.
"People think that body positivity is about trying to convince people that bigger bodies are attractive, either physically or sexually," she says.
But that's totally missing the point of what her work is all about.
"If you are still relating your love for your body to society's perception of beauty," she says, "then you are still reliant on someone else's opinion. Body positivity is about saying that you are more than a body and your self-worth is not reliant on your beauty."
Her second post is currently sitting at over 26,500 likes on Instagram — a clear sign that this is a message many of us desperately needed to hear.