We pick our clothes — our clothes don't rule us. But as obvious as that sounds, how we look in our clothes can ruin our days, make us question our worth and make us fundamentally uncomfortable with who we are.
Michelle Elman, a 21-year-old Brit, is one of the countless women who have experienced this clothing struggle. Living with a condition called hydrocephalus, Elman has endured "15 surgeries, a brain tumor, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in brain," as she wrote in a Huffington Post U.K. blog, all of which has left her with scars on her chest and stomach.
"I wasn't letting two pieces of material stop me from being comfortable in my own body."
As she says in the Instagram caption, a lifetime of self-consciousness over scars meant she never allowed herself to wear a bikini. Putting one on this year, she writes, "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."
She's not alone in her bikini insecurities. Certain clothing, and swimsuits in particular, have the power to reign over and intimidate us; a 2012 Shape survey found 82% of women feel pressured to "shape up" for bikini season, and 60% diet ahead of wearing a swimsuit in the summer. Polls on when our bodies are no longer fit for certain clothing items don't help (age 47 for bikinis, in case you were wondering).
Bikinis may be an intimidating item, given slender women almost always model them and that "bikini body" has become synonymous with "thin." But clothing doesn't have age limits, nor do certain outfits have body limitations.
Elman's been working to send this message prior to her viral Instagram. She penned an essay in May in the Huffington Post U.K. called "Am I Ugly?"
10,000 women every month Google the words "Am I ugly?" and after the week I have been having, I am not surprised why. ... Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape and what's worse is that they let this define their happiness and more importantly who they are as a human. As a fat person with spots on her face and scars all over her body, I am proud of who I am as a person. I believe I am a good person.
All the positive responses to the essay prompted Elman to start a series of videos in which she addresses followers directly with body-positive messages and advice, including "How to tell a boy about your scars."
Now that her latest photo has gone viral, she'll have an even bigger platform to send the message — about not feeling ashamed for having scars, for weighing more than others, for being "different" or for daring to wear a two-piece swimsuit.