Laura Jane: I wanted to know a little bit about what you’re doing right now. You’re doing body positive coaching, you have your Youtube series. What else are you working on?
Michelle: I’m a life coach by profession so I do coaching and I also do public speaking. I might occasionally go on the radio and tv to provide my expert opinion. It’s weird calling myself an expert, but that’s what they call it. And then I do my social media, my Youtube videos, and mainly my Instagram. I also write pieces for publications. And that is pretty much the accumulation of my job. It’s been a bit busy.
LJ: So much going on! Let’s go back to the beginning. Can you tell me in broad strokes a little bit more about your childhood and when you first started thinking about having a body?
M: Definitely. I grew up like everyone else, not really being aware of my body. When you’re not aware of your body, you’re also not aware of your scars. So I never thought I was any different. The moment for me was somewhere between the age of 7 and 10. I was shopping for a bikini. I lived in Hong Kong so it was really warm and everyone’s birthday was always a pool party. Being in the pool, being in swimsuits was part of your everyday life. I had noticed in the last few birthday parties that all my friends had started swapping from one-pieces to bikinis. So my mom and I went to the store and I remember picking out this beautiful bikini. I came running out of the changing room and there was a mother and daughter standing there and they stared at me with what I now know as a look of pity but at that age you don’t know what pity looks like. You just know that it’s not a very nice feeling. I remember asking my mom why they were staring she just said ‘Oh, I don’t know’ and kind of let it go.
I kind of knew it had to do with my scars from how they were looking. I wore the bikini the next day to this birthday party and when I came outside I realized I had never explained all my surgeries to my friends. Some knew I had surgeries, some didn’t. And so I walked out and those who knew me weren’t surprised and the girls who didn’t know me were whispering. I just ran inside and went home.
That was kind of the moment I realized that I had a body and that I had a very different body. I didn’t want to talk about it at that age. My mom kept asking why I was crying, why I was upset and I just didn’t want to talk about it. My solution was that I never want to feel this way ever again so I’m just never gonna talk about it. I didn’t wear a bikini until I was 21.
LJ: Can you tell me more about your scars? I can only imagine what it was like to have so many surgeries at a young age.
M: I was eleven-years-old when I had my worst surgeries. I had surgeries before that but my scars that are the worse and the deepest and the ones that created fat rolls are the one I got when I was 11. When I had those scars, especially the largest one across the bottom of my stomach, I became really aware that my stomach looked fat in a t-shirt, even though I wasn’t fat. I was tiny, I lost around 20 kilos in the space of 3 months and as a 12-year-old child, that’s a dramatic difference.
I started gaining weight when I came out of hospital because, while I was in hospital for three months I couldn’t really eat and then your body goes into starvation mode. So you pile on weight really quickly afterwards. And I wasn’t allowed to exercise for six months afterwards. I remember I couldn’t play games in PE and a lot of my friends said things like, ‘Oh, I’m so jealous that you get out of the exercise.” But I remember this one girl sat next to me and said “Aren’t you worried you’re going to get fat?” And it honestly was something that never occurred to me. That would be the last of your thoughts when you’ve just had five life threatening surgeries. But it was something that ended up haunting me for the next five years as my weight continued to increase and increase.
LJ: I imagine that your body felt different after have so many surgeries.
M: The metabolism that I was used too had completely gone and I couldn’t just eat. I had lost control of my body completely. And my body didn’t look like the body I was used too, my body didn’t act like the body I was used too. My body started limiting me.
But then I had this huge moment when I saw one of my friends talking about her body. You know how you always have that friend who you think is the most beautiful person in the world. Well I remember when we walked by our reflection in a door and she said “Fuck, I’ve got fat.” And I just looked at her and said, “You think you’re fat?” The funny thing is the first thing I went to go do when she said she looked fat is that I looked at her body when I would have never looked at her body liked that. I cared too much about my own body to examine hers. My eyes jumped to their thighs to check whether those thighs were big or not. And I realized that when we complain about our bodies, it actually brings more attention to the thing that you don’t want people to pay attention too. So I kind of made this decision at fifteen that I wasn’t going to complain about my body anymore.
I just stopped saying negative things about myself. It wasn’t just one simple decision, it took years to phase that out, but it was the conscious decision to be to stop talking badly about myself. Then I guess because I wasn’t talking about it, people started assuming I was confident. And I really liked the fact that people assumed I was confident because i really wasn’t confident. And the crazy thing was, I started being more confident.