I have a very vivid memory of lying in a bathtub, sobbing, shortly after losing 100 pounds. I was on my side, and the loose flesh of my stomach clumped and gathered at the bottom of the tub. My breasts hung like wrinkly sacks encasing small rubber balls. Standing up, a frowny face of drooping skin hung over my belly button, and another drooped over the top of my pubic bone. I was the thinnest I'd ever been in my life.
According to the media narrative, losing weight is one of the worthiest tasks you can undertake, and if you do so valiantly, with the proper amounts of self-control and hard work, your reward at the end will be the beautiful body you've always wanted. You'll burst through some sort of construction paper, or perhaps be photographed in your giant pants. People will stare at you with envy. Confetti will fall.
So imagine my suprise when my post weight-loss body looked worse than what I'd started out with. Everything sagged and hung from me like a melting ice cream cone, creating the overall effect that I was wearing an ill-fitting human suit.
I was 20. I'd been led to believe that if I ate less and exercised more, I would eventually be rewarded with the body of a 20-year-old, the body I believed I had earned.
Starting in December 2009, Julia lost over 160 pounds from her starting weight of 338, classified medically as "morbidly obese." Of her photographs featuring her body in its thinner state, she says: "While I genuinely believed that my hard work and dedication would transform me into that 'perfect' person of my dreams, the reality of what has resulted is quite the opposite. My experience contradicts what the media tends to portray."
Sometimes people tell you that losing weight won't make you happier. In my case, that wasn't true. I was elated, overjoyed after I lost 100 pounds. It effectively changed my entire reality. People were nicer to me. I went from being the recipient of rude comments on the street to reaping the benefits of a society set up to punish fat people. According to all the research about obesity, employment and income, I had just brightened my future prospects. I felt like I had gone undercover into someone else's life, and that life was disturbingly, unfairly better.
But I soon realized that despite what I read in online weight-loss forums or saw in the toned post-baby abs of the celebrities in US Weekly, the skin wasn't going to eventually "bounce back," even with the hours of daily exercise I was putting in. I grew depressed. Although I'd been miserable at 260 pounds, after I'd lost the weight, I found myself wondering what was worse: to be fat, or to be living in this strange, droopy car-wreck of a body.
Fat at least was normal, expected. I had no point of reference for a body that looked like mine. And even as exercise gradually helped me feel more at home in my own body, and proud of what it could do, I started to feel that even such a significant weight loss wasn't good enough. I wrote in my journal:
"I'm thinner than I've ever been in my life right now but I still feel so, so fat. I feel fat and I also feel ugly, like I don't even know how people can stand to look at my face. For awhile, the more weight I lost, the better I felt, confident and attractive. But now I feel hideous, deformed, like I could never lose enough weight to look good, and even if I did, my face would still be ugly."
And later: "When I was at my biggest, I thought everyone under a certain size was 'thin,' and now that I'm under that size, all I see are the girls who are thinner. Instead of seeing my progress, I see the imperfections. And now I spend my time worrying that even if my body is perfect, my face will never be pretty enough."
Thank God I no longer obsess over my perceived attractiveness the way I did in college. But the journey to self-acceptance is ongoing, though for the most part I live comfortably with my stretchmarks and loose skin. I don't have much choice, unless I decide to have surgery some day. I will never have a flat stomach, free from angry red stretchmarks. For many of us, this is what the "accomplishment" of weight loss actually looks like.
That's why work like Julia Kozerski's inspires me, and what I try to do in some small part on this website by posting honest pictures of my parts, straight on, in direct lighting, no attempts to change their appearance through tricks or angles. This is what I wanted to do with the Real Girl Belly Project. I am not a photographer or an artist, but I want to confront you with my fat, with my loose skin, with the red lines criss-crossing my flesh. I want to say:
Here's a body. A human body. This is what it looks like. And?
Check out the rest of Julia Kozerski's "Half" series here.