This woman's powerful 'before and after' photos crush myths about body positivity.

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

A post shared by Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared) on

"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

A post shared by Michelle Elman (@scarrednotscared) on

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.

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."