Content Note: Some images in this post may be considered NSFW
This is a guest post by Laurie and Debbie. Debbie Notkin is a body image activist, a feminist science fiction advocate, and a publishing professional. She is chair of the motherboard of the Tiptree Award and was one of the two guests of honor at WisCon in May 2012. Laurie is a photographer whose photos make up the books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (edited and text by Debbie Notkin) and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (edited by Debbie Notkin, text by Debbie Notkin and Richard F. Dutcher). Her photographs have been exhibited in many cities, including New York, Tokyo, Kyoto, Toronto, Boston, London, Shanghai and San Francisco. Her solo exhibition “Meditations on the Body” at the National Museum of Art in Osaka featured 100 photographs. Her most recent project is Women of Japan, clothed portraits of women from many cultures and backgrounds. Laurie and Debbie blog together at Body Impolitic, talking about body image, photography, art and related issues. This post originally appeared on Body Impolitic.
Laurie and Debbie say:
Julia Kozerski lost 160 pounds, exactly the way that fat people are encouraged to. She changed her diet, she built in exercise, she stayed constant. Her goal was to change her body, and she succeeded. She went from weighing 338 (fat women can always tell you the exact number) to about 180. She’s also a photographer, and she has documented the experience extensively.
It’s the wonder-and-dream story of most fat women in America and the western world. But it’s not a whole story. Here’s a full frontal nude of how she looks now.
“Everything starts sagging, and you’ve got stretch marks, and clothes fit differently, you’re kind of panicking, and you’re saying, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Because this shirt doesn’t look right,'” she says. “I was very, very – I don’t want to say depressed, but I would get really down on myself about, like, ‘I’m not doing this correctly,’ or, ‘This isn’t what it’s supposed to look like.'”
As Alexandra Symonds at New York Magazine says:
After all that work, it can be a disappointing blow to discover that bodies that have lost 50-plus pounds simply don’t look like bodies that have maintained a steady weight since reaching adulthood. (While cosmetic surgeries like those detailed here can treat loose skin, stretch marks, and sagginess, they’re also expensive, invasive, and mostly absent from the fairy-tale weight loss success stories we see depicted so often.)…
“It’s a fantasy, that when we lose weight, everything wrong in our lives is going to be right — that means our relationships are going to be right, we’re going to feel completely differently about ourselves,” says Geneen Roth, a New York Times bestselling author of books on eating who also leads retreats and workshops, and who herself lost between 60 and 70 pounds in her late twenties. “People are shocked to find out that this thing that they’ve been longing for and waiting for and working for is not what they thought it was.”
It should go without saying that Kozerski is remarkably brave to put these images out, and not everyone wants to see them or hear about her experience:
Even when talking about her weight loss, Kozerski says there’s no room to share the full experience – like when she went on a popular talk show to share her story. “They’re putting me in Spanx, and I’m like, ‘This is not what I want to talk about; this is not at all how I want to come out,'” she says. “I would rather put it all out there.”
So she’s not just brave; she’s also speaking truth to power. The diet industry (not to mention the weight-loss surgery industry) does not want women (or anyone) to know that they won’t emerge from the surgery with the bodies they see in advertisements. They absolutely don’t want people to know that choosing to lose large amounts of weight is choosing, in effect, voluntary disfigurement. (ETA: by the same kinds of cultural standards that equate fat and ugliness. Since many or perhaps most people striving for major weight loss are striving for conventional beauty, this is something they should have a right to know.) The weight-loss brigade doesn’t want people to know that as long as the weight stays off, the newly-skinnier person will always have to figure out what to do with the volume of the sagging skin. Spandex stops being a fashion statement and becomes a necessity. As Symonds says, “While cosmetic surgeries like those detailed here can treat loose skin, stretch marks, and sagginess, they’re also expensive, invasive, and mostly absent from the fairy-tale weight loss success stories we see depicted so often.”
Sure, if you lose a lot of weight and keep it off, some things will probably improve. For sure, the world will treat you better, especially when your loose skin is held back by Spandex or removed by costly cosmetic surgery. And some worlds may open up to you. Symonds–trying very hard to write a pro-weight-loss article and tell the truth at the same time–says: “Julia Kozerski waxes poetic about farmers’ markets and bike rides.”
But how many women in this time and place, this culture where smooth, unwrinkled skin is valued almost as much as thin bodies, would really choose the weight loss if they knew what they were choosing?
Thanks to our friend Lizzy for the NY Magazine link.