Scarred Not Scared: A Sit-Down With Michelle Elman

It's a warm and sticky day in London during Wimbledon fortnight. I've jumped on the District line and braved the tennis goers, a sacrifice I wouldn't make for many. Sat in the gorgeous Lillie Langtry in West Brompton, I'm eating a rather posh grilled cheese sandwich opposite body positive activist (and columnist for The Unedit) Michelle Elman, the woman behind the Scarred Not Scared campaign, and across from us, there's a camera crew shooting a take of the campaign video.

Michelle spoke exclusively with The Unedit about Scarred Not Scared, her inspiration behind it and what's next for her and the campaign.

The Unedit: So what's Scarred Not Scared all about?
Michelle Elman: It's about teaching people to embrace their scars, both emotional and physical ones, as well as their body.

TU: Tell us a bit about your journey with your scars.
ME: I grew up being completely unaware that scars made me different until I wore a bikini for the first time. When I did, I was greeted with stares, whispers and looks of pity, so at ten years old, I decided that hiding them would be the solution. It was only when I was 18 that I realised that hiding wasn't the answer and would become a problem in my dating life. It was the first time in my life that I started talking about not only my scars, but the story behind them, and bit by bit, I started justifying my scars less and less. At 21, I started training as a life coach and wanted to specialise in body confidence. I mentioned this to a friend and she asked me - pretty bluntly - how I was going to give advice to people who want to wear a bikini for the first time when I'd never worn one. So that summer, I wore a bikini for the first time, and Scarred Not Scared was born.

TU: What inspired you to do the new campaign video the way that you did?
ME: I wanted to do something a little more creative and give people who might not be as comfortable sharing their full story a chance to be involved. The poem itself was hugely therapeutic for me to write and I wanted to heavily focus on the media's part in our preconceptions around scars.

TU: What's your favourite part of the poem and why?
ME: 'Even in movies it's always the sideline / A story about love but they have cancer as a byline / Yet even those actors don't have a single mark, not a single scar / Because that would be too realistic, not pretty, no matter who you are.' I love this line because it's not something that's spoken about enough. People want to use illness and pain as a heart-wrenching and inspirational element of a movie without considering the people who do face this as a reality. I think it's their duty to at least portray it accurately.

TU: What do you want people to take away from Scarred Not Scared and the new campaign?
ME: I want them to see all these women, who are proud of their scars and that it is possible to be proud. But most importantly, it's for people to know that they aren't - and never were - alone.

TU: How do you find that body positivity has impacted the way that you personally feel about your scars?
ME: I had come to terms with my scars before I found body positivity and I think personally for me, it needed to be that way around. Coming to terms with your scars is about something so much more than the scars themselves; it's about accepting the event(s) that occurred to create the scar - so in my case, my surgeries - as well as my past in hospital. Also it's just about stopping caring about what other people think.

TU: On the same note, how does running a campaign like Scarred Not Scared help you on a day-to-day basis?
ME: It's always really uplifting to have a community where you feel understood, welcomed and embraced for being the person you are, and having the freedom to be authentic with what you want to say and how you want to say it.

TU: What was it like working with other women with scars on set?
ME: It was wonderful. Every single person in the video is someone who has an extremely interesting story, and hearing those on the day just reinvigorated me and reminded me why I'm doing this. It's also just incredibly lovely to meet people in real life, who have followed you online, so that was an extra bonus of the day!

TU: What's your advice to those who may be shy or hold negative feelings towards their scars?
ME: You don't have to start by loving the appearance of your scar, but start by respecting it as a part of you and a part of your journey.

TU: What do you think is the main cause for the stigma or 'ugliness' that surrounds scars?
ME: It starts from childhood definitely. There are cartoon characters like Scar in Lion King - the bad guy - and then as you get older, Dr Evil in Austin Powers, and so on. They have scars on their faces. Scars are seen as a masculine thing or something that makes you tough. It's viewed as unfeminine, when actually, women are just as tough, and that's something that I wanted the women in the video to demonstrate.

TU: Similarly, what do you think it'll take for people to start looking at scars differently to how society does now?
ME: I think it's all about starting to see scars. It took me until I was 21 to finally see someone else with a scar outside of the hospital setting. I feel that was what led to me feeling isolated in my body struggles because I'd never seen someone who looked like me. I believe that this is such an integral part because it's a lot easier to see beauty in another person's scar than your own. Especially for me, seeing that woman - who happened to be in a bikini - I didn't question her beauty when I saw her scar, it just made her more beautiful. So that's what I aimed for myself: to finally get to the point where I could think the same thing about my scar.

TU: What's next for Scarred Not Scared?
ME: I'll be giving a TED talk in November all about this topic!

You can see the latest #ScarredNotScared campaign video here:


Founder and Editor of The Unedit