Michelle Wells helps others build self-esteem through fashion

Once weighing nearly 300 pounds, Michelle Wells has been on a long journey of self discovery. She lost more than 166 pounds, left an abusive relationship and started a nonprofit to help others like herself build more confidence and bigger social networks aimed at helping them become independent. Her nonprofit, Love Me Like a Princess, has scheduled a fashion show at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 at Villa Milano Banquet and Conference Center in North Columbus.

What do you hope to achieve with United Through Fashion on Sept. 13? Our goal is to educate the community about the challenges that survivors of domestic violence are faced with after leaving. This event will show just how many nonprofits and businesses pulled together to help survivors of domestic violence. LMLAP is about collaboration and empowering survivors. Education, housing and transportation are critical for the success and we need donations to continue [to] expand. Our major goal is bringing self-supporting transitional housing to Central Ohio. We have some major announcements to make at the show regarding local support.

What types of fashion do you plan to display at the show? This fashion show will be a mix of used and new clothing. The clothes that have been donated are from a high-end consignment store and two boutiques, one in Dublin and another in Colorado. The models will be dressed in business casual and full business attire. The reason why we chose second-hand clothes is because most women who are leaving violent relationships run. Clothes are the last thing on their minds. Dress for Success in Columbus plays a huge part in providing clothing for these women and it was a huge part of my success, as a survivor. They made me feel worthy and beautiful through fashion.

What is your vision for the nonprofit? Love Me Like A Princess was created not only to help survivors empower themselves through a holistic approach and connecting them throughout the community, but to help them discover their passion and dreams. We listen to what they love and we network throughout the United States and Canada to open doors. This helps them with becoming independent, while giving them peer interaction. The number one vision I have is to begin a national, transitional housing network.

How has starting the nonprofit changed your life? Love Me Like a Princess has helped my recovery through reconnecting me with social skills. These are skills that most people take for granted. I was extremely shy and had little confidence. I was so angry at the world for the pain I suffered. I was so upset and kept wondering why others didn't save me. I felt like no one cared about me. Being the CEO and founder of LMLAP has placed a fire inside of me. The connections I have made through the nonprofit are mind-blowing. I went from low confidence to sitting in meetings with CEOs of major corporations, connecting with sound and stage engineers from famous bands across the nation, and meeting some of the most courageous survivors around the world. The nonprofit helped me focus to possibilities, instead of being focused on the past.

You've talked about weighing nearly 300 pounds several years ago, as you were still in the midst of an abusive relationship. You also suffered from some major health challenges at the time. How were you able to gain control over your weight and your health? Gaining control over a major weight problem was not easy but, looking back, it helped me build a foundation of structure. I was told by my physician that I would not live past my 40s due to all the health issues from being obese. I had just watched my mother pass away from cancer. I was so scared and I was just not ready to die at that time in my life. I didn't realize I was being abused. I remember pleading with my ex-husband so that I could join a gym. I ended up winning six months of personal training through a radio station. They took 10 people who had to lose 100 pounds or more. Not only did I get six months training, I won the challenge. I found out that under all the weight, I was a person who loved fitness. The more I worked out and the cleaner I was in food choices, I became happier. The doctor took me off all of my medications. No matter how bad the abuse became, the gym gave me structure, endorphins and lengthened my life. I even competed in a bodybuilding competition. For me, it was not about winning a trophy. I completed something for the first time in my life!

Has establishing Love Me Like a Princess become a full-time job for you? Do you have other employees? Currently, I work a part-time job, and I donate all of my work to LMLAP. All who are involved volunteer their time to empower these survivors. Volunteers range from business owners to students from a local college. … I work around the clock providing services to clients. Many years ago, I wrote two letters and had them placed in the Wailing Wall in Israel. The first one said “Dear God, please save my life and make me healthy and strong.” The second one, “Dear God, if you save my life, I promise I will fight for these women.” I even contacted the Rabbis who watch over the wall and asked if they would pray for me, they said “yes.” I am at the point where more and more women are coming to me and I need to make this a full-time position and add some staff. This is a critical need in the community.