Michelle Elman is a 23-year-old body-confidence coach from London - but she hasn't always been in love with her own appearance. After all, it wasn't easy for her to accept the scars from her 15 surgeries, procedures to treat a brain tumor, punctured intestine, obstructed bowel, brain cyst, and a condition called hydrocephalus, where fluid fills the brain.
However, Michelle's self-esteem really began to plummet at age 11, when she became keenly aware of her size: Michelle was hospitalized for three months during which she couldn't eat regular food. In the six months of recovery that followed, she couldn't exercise but went back to eating real foods, a transition that led her weight to balloon. It didn't help that her last bout of surgeries had left her with a scar at the bottom of her stomach. "[It] made it look like I had a fat roll," she says.
As a preteen, Michelle couldn't help but notice she'd become the "fat friend," the one who couldn't fit into the clothes of her slimmer friends or join them on shopping trips to stores that only carried straight sizes. However, by age 15, Michelle proved she was wise beyond her years when she realized that dwelling on her weight was counterproductive - it would neither make her happy nor more comfortable in her skin. So she began making an effort to reroute negative thoughts and soon found those thoughts crossing her mind less often. She started speaking openly about her scars and that helped too.
Although she'd outgrown most of her size insecurities by the end of her teens, an incident last year made her feel just as bad as she did back in the day: Michelle developed a crush on a guy who used to like her friend, but when the pal found out, her response suggested Michelle was unworthy of the man's affection simply due to her weight.
Michelle dropped the friend for obvious reasons: Anyone who suggests your size makes you unworthy or unable doesn't deserve your friendship. "Body positivity at its best is not caring about what your body looks like and not letting your body be the reason to stop you from living your life," Michelle says.
It's why, when other friends recently asked her to join on a spontaneous mission to jump off a dock into freezing cold water, she didn't hesitate to say yes - and to peel off her shirt and jump right in:
"I was all, 'Hell yeah!'" she wrote in the caption of her photos, which reveal the belly-baring bra-pant combo she wore that day. Her caption points out that she used to be the girl who'd only partake in this kind of thing with reluctance, then spend the entire outing trying to cover up her body and hide the evidence - no pictures!
"The fact that I know many girls, fat or skinny, would miss out on opportunities like this is what fuels my body positivity," she wrote in her caption. "Body positivity isn't about being able to take underwear selfies, it's about not letting your underwear or your swimsuit be the reason you aren't taking part."
Michelle goes on to point out that the right people to hang with won't ever make you feel like the "fat friend." "I don't look at these pictures and see me as the odd one out," she wrote. "I look at the pictures and see the memories and the three bodies that we had fun in!"
It's proof her squad isn't just brave AF - but made up of A+ friends.
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