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.
PEOPLE WITH SCARS CAN’T WEAR BIKINIS This is what I have believed for the last 21 years of my life and when asked in January why I never wear bikinis, this horrible sentence came out of my mouth. I was shocked – at myself! I had had 15 surgeries, a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in brain and have lived for the last 21 years with a condition called Hydrocephalus yet somehow my scars have always been the hardest part. They make already awkward moments in your adolescence even more uncomfortable – like taking your top off for the first time in front of your boyfriend, and made me feel even more isolated in a world where I felt no one could understand. At age 7, I tried on my first bikini and after receiving a range of reactions from disgust to pity, it soon became easier to hide away and be doomed to a life of tankinis and one-pieces. Why did I believe this? Because over the years, I have learnt that my scars make people uncomfortable. I had become ashamed of my body and soon other people’s disgust became my own and this was allowed to be the case because of one simple reason – I had no one to talk to about it. Well in January, I started to talk about it – all of it, and I want other people to join in on the conversation. Every human has scars, whether there are emotional and physical – they are part of our story and we should be proud of them. About a month ago, I finally faced up to wearing a bikini and although, I love my body thoroughly and have for many years – this was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, yet once it was on, it was one of the most liberating feelings to know that I wasn’t letting two pieces of material stop me from being comfortable in my own body. My belief is that no one should have to feel ashamed of their body, whether you have stretch marks or a C-section scar so… THIS summer, let’s stand up and be proud of our scars and what they represent – a story! Tag a friend below and lets make this the summer of scars! #scarrednotscared
“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.”
RELATED VIDEO: Ariel Winter Defends Showing Off Her Breast Reduction Scars at the SAG AwardsYasmin 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.”