Why I Posed For Nearly Naked Photos After Getting A Lower-Body Lift

Photographed by Melody Melamed.
There were moments during this photo shoot when I felt good — actual moments when I thought,­­ Maybe my body isn’t as bad as I think it is. Maybe this woman is right when she keeps telling me I look amazing and that I’m gorgeous. Maybe, for once, I should believe it when someone says this to me.

Those moments were brief and gave way to pure embarrassment, terror, and disbelief about the fact that I was sitting there bra-less, in my underwear, and letting someone photograph me. These photos would be shown to the entire internet and, even worse, to the people who know me. But just the fact that those brief positive moments existed shows I've made great strides in my healing process.

I have been embarrassed by my body for as long as I can remember, and I have been hiding for just as long. For most of my life, I hid behind my weight. I suffered from a severe binge-eating disorder, and at age 19, I weighed over 300 pounds.

At that time, I barely left my house. I was humiliated, and for good reason. As much as I hated myself, society kept telling me that it was valid to keep doing so. I would be shamed at job interviews or even just walking down the street. The worst of it came from a two-year fight with my health insurance company, which did everything it could to keep me from getting help — despite suicide attempts, pre­diabetes, and the beginnings of sleep apnea. To my teenage brain, this translated as I am not worthy.

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Photographed by Melody Melamed
Luckily, I did eventually get help and was given the tools to save my own life, but it took a long time and a lot of missteps.

I used to think that losing weight would be my key to happiness — my cure-all. I learned very quickly that this was not reality. When I think back to when I was at my lowest weight, all I can remember is how much hate and shame I still felt about my body. I blamed it on the excess skin, an awful side effect of extreme weight loss. In some ways, the sagging skin was more humiliating to me than having been a morbidly obese teenager.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
To remove the skin required an expensive and invasive surgery called a lower-body lift. I didn’t care. After everything I had been through, I would do whatever it took to get rid of it. I quickly started to think of the surgery as a cure-all, my new key to happiness.

When I got the lower-body lift and removed the worst of my sagging skin, the skin around my midsection, I remember looking in the mirror and crying. I still didn’t feel good enough. Traumatizing my body­­ — albeit for a surgery I was grateful to have gone through and will never regret, despite any complications I’ve dealt with — wasn’t enough. I saw the skin on my arms, I saw the skin on my legs, and all I could think was: No one will love me; I will always be gross until I get the rest of this removed.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
But then someone did love me. Not just me, but my body. And he loved it just the way it was, skin and all.

And yet that didn’t change the way I felt about myself. No matter how much my husband told me I was beautiful or hot or sexy (words that make me cringe, even when writing them now), I still did not believe him. I thought eye of the beholder, and all of that shit, or he must be out of his goddamned mind.

I continued to hide. I dressed a little more confidently than when I was in my sweatpants-and-giant-T-shirt days, but I still hid my arms and most of my legs. Dresses had to be to the knee, shirts had to be three-quarter-length or worn with a cardigan, and I wouldn't wear a bathing suit unless I was alone with select family members or my husband.

I would suffer all through summer, sweating my fucking ass off, but in my convoluted head, it was better than the alternative­­: being seen.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
The year after I got married, I gained about 50 pounds, and for the life of me, couldn’t lose that weight again. I did everything from going vegan to paleo. I did yoga like it was my fucking job. Then, I made it my job and spent five years working in yoga studios. Nothing. Brief moments of losses, but immediate gains. And each time I gained, it was because I started bingeing again.

Then, my body broke. My pelvis started to go out every month around my period, and left me bedridden for seven days at a time. Yoga got taken away from me. Hiking got taken away from me. Walking, at times, even got taken away from me. I was once again stagnant and didn’t know how to eat without freaking out.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
Then, an intuitive healer I had been working with said to me the thing I needed to hear for years. She told me that all of the restrictions I had been putting on my diet were no longer serving me. While at one time, those restrictions were a way for me to save my own life, they were now only perpetuating the binge-deprivation cycle I had been living in. In order for me to stop, I needed to stop blaming food and putting it into "good" and "bad" categories. I needed to start implementing mindful, affirmative eating practices. And most of all, I needed to start accepting and loving myself and my body as is, without conditions.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
That moment was about five months ago, and despite my progress, doing this shoot after quitting food restrictions made the experience even more terrifying. I may have been more in control than ever, but I felt so powerless. It took a real conscious effort on my part not to do a sugar detox or paleo cleanse for weeks leading up to the shoot. In fact, I even ate an egg sandwich (with cheese, on non-gluten-free bread) that morning.

In my head, everything was stacked up against me: I ate gluten, I ate dairy, I had my period, I had only just started being able to swim­­ — which is the only exercise other than short walks that I am physically capable of doing at the moment.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
All of this was going through my mind as Melody, the photographer, shot me. And despite the fact that I generally have a really hard time crying in front of other people, I lost it. Lost it and kept losing it. I was crying over the fact that I chose to do this, that I chose to make an attempt at loving myself as-is — ­­even with gluten, even with my period, and even with the extra skin still on my arms and legs.

I kept envisioning the cringing faces of the people from my past and in my present who have never really seen me before. And even worse, the horror on my own face when I would inevitably be forced to look at these photos.

My head was filled with all of this, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember why I chose to do the shoot in the first place. Then, Melody would tell me that I’m gorgeous and that I was going to love whatever photo she had just taken. And it would hit me.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
I chose to do this because I was tired of hiding. I chose to do this because as a health coach and blogger, if I really wanted to help my clients and readers heal their relationships with food or their bodies, then I better fucking start healing mine. I chose to do this for the millions of people out there who are hiding and ashamed and humiliated to be living in their own skin. I chose to do this for my future child, a child whom I hope will never have horrible body image because I didn’t heal my own.

I needed this. I was terrified. I was embarrassed. But I needed this.
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Photographed by Melody Melamed
Often, on the path to healing, you have to jump off cliffs. I have been doing this long enough to know that. So here we go. Another cliff, another jump, another outcome unknown.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if these photos being out there will keep me from putting a cardigan on in 100-degree heat. That will probably take time and a lot more effort on my part. After all, there is no such thing as a "cure-all" or a "key" to happiness.

What I do know is that this is a huge start — ridiculously huge. I also know that even just going through the motions of the photo shoot has already helped me start to heal. And really, that is all I can ask for.
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