Michelle Elman, a body positivity advocate, shares her inspirational journey to embracing both her body and her scars.

See more from Michelle: Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | TedX Talk

Hi! I’m Michelle Elman and I’m a body confidence coach, body positive activist, speaker and author of Am I Ugly?. I started in body positivity because I felt there was a need for space in the community for people to talk about scars.

I have had 15 surgeries and growing up, I used to be really insecure about the surgery scars those left behind, predominantly on my stomach and I felt in a movement that is meant to be about every body, mine was still not being represented.

I was already a life coach, and I chose to specialise in body confidence issues and that’s how I really started to learn about the body positivity movement online and how it differs from body confidence in general. Now my following is grown to a size that I would not even be able to believe and I spend my days talking and writing about body positivity!

Tell us about your book Am I Ugly and how it came about

I actually started writing Am I Ugly as a school project for an English assignment where we had to write an autobiography. We were meant to turn in 1000 words and mine ended up being 10,000. At the time, my parents thought I should publish it, with the view that there are so few books written by children and that explaining the hospital experience as a child was unique but I was too insecure about my writing to listen.

It was only when I was 19 and I was lying in a hospital bed, I became preoccupied with the idea of returning to that book and actually updating it and finishing it off. I had worried about the fact that if I died, I wouldn’t have actually accomplished anything with my life other than study so I saw this book as my legacy and a permanent piece of me in this world. It took two years of writing and deleting to finally make me realise I needed to stop deleting.

So I made a rule that I was not allowed to delete anything, no matter how insecure I got!

By this point, I was coaching and I would continue to write in the notes section of my phone anytime I got on the tube. By the end of 6 months, it was 200,000 words and the beginnings of a book. It took another 6 more months to edit it down and form it into an actual book and then finding an agent was the next step!

It’s been a long journey but worth every step!

How do you feel writing your story has helped you face the events that have shaped your life?

I think it really helped me to face the severity of what I went through. I have a tendency to downplay everything and in writing this book, I had to verify a few events – for example the first chapter – and there was so much comfort in knowing this memory I have always had was exactly how I remember it.
It’s given me both the opportunity to reflect and heal.

Would you say writing a book was a way to process your emotions and feelings around those events?

Yes definitely, it was when I first started writing it at 12 years old and again at 19 years old, and then eventually when I sat down and refused to let myself delete any of it. To get it all down on a page, can feel like a massive relief and forced me to think about events and moments which, frankly, I could happily never think about again.

How did you make sure you were taking care of yourself through the writing process, being aware of the feelings that may come up?

When feelings would come up, I actually kept writing. There is a saying that if there are tears in the writer, there are tears in the reader and I kept that saying in the back of my head whilst I kept writing. It felt like therapy to write it all out and go back and think about how I felt through all of it.

Thankfully I had processed a lot of those memories, but when you are writing in such intricate detail, you discover new layers that you need to process.

How did you keep yourself accountable to the deadline?

I actually submitted a fully written manuscript to my publishers so over the last year I’ve only been making small edits and it’s been a relatively relaxed process.

How did your community / friends help you throughout this time?

My community and friends have been beyond supportive. Everyone has been as excited for it as I have been and that means the world.
I also couldn’t thank the people who have bought copies enough!

Is there a stand-out moment for you from the whole process?

After such a long road, actually getting the book deal felt surreal. That first meeting will always stay in my head as being the start of the everything!

For more from Michelle see her website, or get a copy of her book here.