In StyleLikeU's October 19 episode of the What's Underneath Project — an empowering series of videos run by mother and daughter team Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum meant to celebrate body diversity — Canadian model Elly Mayday is talking all things self-love. Mayday explains how an unwaveringly body positive attitude reinforced her mental armor during her devastating battle with ovarian cancer, helping her fight against disturbing instances of medical weight discrimination.
As a plus-size pinup star who lost her hair during chemotherapy, it would be completely understandable if Mayday's body confidence was left dented or her self-esteem knocked. But as she sheds her clothing and wipes away her makeup, the model seems defiantly proud, describing how her body has brought her "through hell and back."
Diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer while working as a flight attendant at the age of 25, Mayday recalled her struggle with diagnosis and treatment in the emotional video, which ultimately led to her undergoing a full hysterectomy. At the point of diagnosis, Mayday had approximately 30,000 Instagram followers. Instead of putting her modeling career on hold and stepping out of the public eye, however, Mayday chose to work alongside Forever Yours Lingerie to raise awareness of ovarian cancer and further instill the body positivity she'd found in others.
From her fight for a proper diagnosis in the doctor's office to the loyal support and unfortunate backlash from her Instagram followers and the media, as well as her unwavering dedication to promoting healthy body image, Elly Mayday's StyleLikeU interview makes for eye-opening, poignant viewing. Here are some of the most memorable moments.
1. How She Used Modeling To Rebuild Confidence In Women Who Deviate From Aspirational Standards Of Beauty
Right from the start of her career as a pinup model, Elly Mayday used her rising success to champion body positivity in the best possible way. "When I started modeling, it was about spreading my confidence around to girls and saying, 'Look, yeah, I'm bigger; I'm a size 14, and I'm OK with that.'" She continued, "I want to see girls my size be OK with themselves and be happy."
2. Her Resilience In The Face Of Her Doctor's Weight Discrimination Probably Saved Her Life
When she first started to experience recurrent lower back pain, Mayday instantly knew something was wrong, and went to the doctor's. However, she recalls that her doctor automatically assumed her problem was weight-related. She was 185 pounds at the time. Instead of being sent straight for a CT scan, she was simply told to "work out her core." She told the camera, "It was like, You don't feel good because you're overweight, but that wasn't my problem, and they didn't take the second step to figure out what the problem was [...] I felt really stupid [...] Just going to the emergency room, and people would be like, What do you want me to do for you?"
This weight discrimination only added fuel to Mayday's fire and made her even more hellbent on getting concrete answers. "It was like, How dare you think that I'm not aware of my own body enough to go in there and tell you that there's something wrong, and you not do anything for me?" Five days later, they diagnosed her with ovarian cancer. Mayday mused, "I find it funny, because people say, 'Thank God they caught it.' They didn't catch it at all — I did. If I hadn't caught it, I'd be dead. For sure."
3. Her Refusal To Bow Out Of The Public Eye At Her Most Vulnerable Made Her A Worldwide Inspiration
Mayday's caring, altruistic attitude didn't disappear even after such a serious diagnosis. The model wanted to ensure her personal journey could continue to help and guide the women around her. "People don't understand what you're going through — that's why I was so public about it, because it gave me the opportunity to help people. It gave me a reason to wake up; to post a photo and get this positive feedback — girls saying, 'You make me feel so beautiful.'"
With such a large following on both Instagram and Facebook, it was important to Mayday that her pain boost the confidence of women also experiencing the trauma of early baldness — be it those battling with conditions such as Alopecia or Trichotillomania. She spoke of the amazingly positive feedback she received through comments like, "I see you up there with your scars, and your bald head, and you look stunning. That makes me feel stunning, too."
4. Her Inspiring Methods Of Making The Best Of Her Condition
Mayday proudly recalled: "I dyed my hair teal for the ovarian cancer ribbon, so people would ask me, 'Why's your hair teal?' I'd say, 'Oh — because I have ovarian cancer, I'm fighting it right now.'"
Mayday also spoke of the regular no-makeup selfies she'd post of herself both at home and awaiting surgery, highlighting the raw reality of her daily struggle. Even in her darkest hours, Mayday still prioritized her family and friends over all else. "I remember writing like crazy before going into my op because I wanted to make sure that everyone I knew knew that I loved them — and I feared not being able to tell them that. That's the scariest thing — people not knowing how you feel about them."
5. Her Diagnosis Showed Her The Best And Worst Sides Of Social Media
The Canadian model received thousands of messages of unwavering support from her followers throughout her cancer battle. However, broadcasting her fight in the public domain also led to some disturbingly ignorant and malicious backlash. Mayday recalled, "People would be like, 'Oh, I'm not following you anymore. That's how it gets: You get a little more famous, and you lose all the weight.' I was like, 'Are you f*cking kidding me!?'"
She continued, "I felt like the people who first started following my page were following this bodacious curvy blonde bombshell–type chick, and then I am this bald, scarred, thin girl." Despite the backlash, however, Mayday never stopped proclaiming body positivity.
6. The Renewed Confidence Battling Cancer Ultimately Gave Her
Dealing with all of this gave Mayday what she deems a "warrior mentality." She said, "I really realized that your glow comes from within. I'll always be me, no matter what — whatever weight I am. I just want to be healthy."
She recalled, "I was sitting, waiting to go into a musical, and this guy is like, 'You're in New York by yourself? Aren't you scared?' I'm like, 'I had stage three cancer, what can I be scared of?'"
Despite her harrowing journey, Mayday feels she has emerged on the other side a stronger, more powerful human being. "You give power to someone, when you give them a voice; and when you say it's OK to speak up and be proud of yourself. It's OK to be proud of this scar."
The video ended with Mayday musing, "I would choose this body again, even if it had cancer — because it's mine, and I'm happy with it."
Images: Courtesy StyleLikeU