Last summer, Michelle Elman posted a photo on social media of herself in a bikini, showcasing the scars that came as the result of the 15 surgeries she had over the course of her life.
Elman had been self-conscious about her scars for as long as she could remember, but decided at 21 she was tired of hiding them. The photo she posted soon went viral, and other people began posting their own photos using Elman’s #scarrednotscared hashtag.
“I believe sharing these stories brings awareness to body positivity and gives visibility to the conversation of scars,” she tells PEOPLE. “For the individual sharing, this is usually an empowering process, where they are supported and praised for their bravery in being vocal and vulnerable.”
Sophia Lazaridis – one of the people who shares her scar story – has a large scar on back of her right leg caused by an accident in which her leg was crushed between two cars.
“There’d be a few times when had try to wear a skirt or shorts, and people would stare,” Lazaridis shared in the video. “It just highlighted to me that I wasn’t normal, I was abnormal, and it led to a great depression, and eventually I developed anorexia.”
However, the incident also helped her gain new appreciation for her legs.
“Before my accident, I hated my legs and I was very self-conscious,” she said. “When I got the scar on my leg, I felt stupid for ever hating my legs. I learned a lesson – you shouldn’t take what you have for granted.”
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Yasmin Ibrahim has a scar across her torso that came from the removal of a cancerous tumor.
“In August of 2012, I was diagnosed with lymphoma,” she said. “The news of cancer is shocking. The instant reaction is, ‘Am I going to die?’ The second is, ‘I have a daughter. How is she going to cope?’ ”
Sharing the story of her scar has helped her feel more connected to a larger community.
“You’re never alone,” said Ibrahim. “And then you realize you’ve got this second chance at life. I’ve learned to love myself. I’ve learned to be present.”
Theo Sunley said he learned to embrace a scar on his forearm caused by a motorcycle accident.
“I was self-conscious about it, but if you can be okay with what you look like, who you are, then that’s a lot more powerful,” he said.
Elman posted the video on Wednesday, and the responses have already been overwhelming.
“With each message, there is usually a mention of a specific individual in the video and how they connected with one person’s story,” she tells PEOPLE. “I think that’s what the beauty is in it. In telling more than just my story, we are able to give more people a voice.”