Photo Essay: Project Face

I’m a self-taught photographer that loves taking portraits of people but hate getting my own photos taken. I know, I’m so original when it comes to that. I’ve struggled with self-image problems for a very long time. At first it was because of my weight and then it was because my parents “gave me the ugly” (brownie points if you get that reference) and then it was because of my teeth. Yes, after 23 years of finding something that I didn’t like about myself and then slowly overcoming it, I finally settled on my teeth. My gap to be precise. Just so you know, I’m not a gap hater. I love them. I think they’re cute and add personality to a person’s face much like a scar or a mole. Just not mine. Overall, I like my teeth. I like how big and white they are. I have a big face with big features, I can’t have those tiny “baby teeth” as my mom calls them. My face is just too big for all that. So I love my teeth, I just hate my gap.

This hatred towards my gap came later in life. I’ve always had a gap, a big gap on top of that, and it never was a sore spot for me. I just saw it as part of me–one of my features such as my skin color of the shape of my nose and I’ve never wanted to change any of those things, so why close my gap. When I was in high school, I developed an abscess and after being hospitalized, I had that tooth removed. Years later, I realized just how much that changed things for me.

In the latter part of my freshman year of college, I noticed my gap was getting bigger. Because I was more socially active in college than I ever was in high school, I was taking a lot of photos and as I flipped through my photos one night, the horror dawned on me. I could see the progression of my teeth spacing out with every image I selected. That’s when I started to dislike my teeth. Leave it to me to go to college, cut off my hair, fall in love with myself and then find something that has always been there, to pick at.

So this photo essay means a lot to me because it’s the first time in a long time that I purposefully took photos so up close and personal, where everyone could see my perceived flaw.

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My Weight Has Always Been A Struggle

My Troubles With My Weight Started When I Was Six

Puberty hit me like a train and I went from a string-bean that use to climb through the railings of my family’s dining room table to a plump little dumpling. As a child, I was a bookworm and was too uncoordinated to ever play any sports so all the normal trappings of childhood that would have helped me lose weight didn’t really apply to me. Plus, I wore glasses and my parents hated replacing them.

As a child, I didn’t overeat but I also didn’t eat a lot of vegetables.  I loved my sweets (still do) particularly cookies and ice cream but my parents never overindulged me although both of them liked to snack after dinner. This is a habit I took with me into adulthood. I find myself craving a dessert after dinner, most nights.

I was always just a plump kid. Never too big for people to worry about my health but never the “right” size either and I was fine with that, for the most part. I didn’t become aware of the fact that I was overweight until I was in middle school. You know, the stage in life where it becomes more apparent that kids like each other in a romantic manner. But even then it wasn’t really a problem. My self-esteem was suffering from other things back then and even though my weight and how people perceived me for it factored into my low self-esteem, it wasn’t the root cause.

In my 8th grade year, I got really sick and lost a lot of weight. I think it was about 20 lbs and that’s when I noticed how much my weight had factored into my social life. Suddenly, people were interested in me. Suddenly, people noticed me. Suddenly, the boy I had a crush on showed interest. Suddenly…

That Was A Wake-Up Call

That was the mentality I went to high school with. My freshman year of high school I worked out every night and maintained my weight loss from the previous school year. Everything was going fine until I was diagnosed with scoliosis. My physical therapist told me to stop working out a) because they were worried about my spine and b) because it was taking my muscles too long to relax during our sessions and I was wasting time and money. So I stopped working out but I didn’t stop eating the way that I had been eating. So the weight started to come back. I went from a size 8 to a size 10 to a size 12 to a size 14.

I remained a 14 for the rest of my high school days. After physical therapy ended, I tried to get back to working out but I didn’t really want to. Eventually, I got back into the groove but I wasn’t doing the right type of workouts. I was doing toning exercises with very little cardio, so I ended up with a very toned solid body shape. Meaning I was a 14 but I didn’t have a whole bunch of flab except for my arms–those things are the devil.

By the time I went to college I noticed that I was losing weight again. I probably dropped down to a 13 but they don’t really make those so I was a loose 14 most of my freshman year. Then my dad died and I ate my feelings and I went from the 13 to a 16 in the span of a summer. Grief will do that.

I stayed a 16 until my junior year. That year, I actually used the school gym and I did a mixture of cardio, resistance training, and toning exercises commonly found within pilates. I went from a 16 to a tight 14 and then during that summer I went to Europe and got down to a 12. Europe was magical. All the traveling, hiking, and walking–plus the food was healthier–Oh my God! Europe was magical!

But All Fairytales Come To An End

Once I got back into the U. S. the weight started coming back. It was a combination of a lot of things. I wasn’t able to workout because I was too busy with classes and work. The food, even though it was home cooked, wasn’t as clean as Europe’s food had been. And I was actually able to afford food again because I was no longer exchanging my dollars for Euros, Swiss Francs, British Pounds, or Icelandic Króna. Those exchange rates really take a bite out of your budget.

But anyway,  before it became apparent that my weight was going back up, I’d started buying new clothes. You see, Europe changed me. It made me realize that I was an adult and that I should start dressing in a more professional manner. So when I got back home, I started buying better clothes. I’m not putting down jeans and T-shirts because those were my go-to clothing choices but they were also a way for me to hide myself and any discomfort I was feeling about my body. So this new found love for myself and comfortableness with my body coupled with the fact that most of my clothes no longer fit me, thanks to my European adventures, led me to redo my wardrobe. I was blissfully unaware that my weight was rising until one day I looked in the mirror and realized my belly was hanging again. And the tightness in my pants wasn’t because I was drying them too long. I was gaining the weight back. My size 14s were hugging just a little too tight once again.

But This Time Around, Things Will Be Different

I turn 22 next month and I’m tired of my weight yo-yoing. Last night I looked at my pictures from Europe and graduation and noticed that I look nothing like what I pictured I would look like at the age of 21. I feel like I don’t look like an adult. I’ve always had a curvy body. The type of body shape that made people wonder if you were a child or an adult but once they looked at your face, they could clearly see that you were a child. Yeah, that was me. Sweaters and hoodies because my father didn’t want unfriendly eyes on me.

But now at 21, I do not FEEL like I look like an adult. I feel that my face is too chubby or my limbs are too full. I feel like if I slimmed down, I would look older. And to look older or more specifically, my age, is what I’m aiming for. I don’t have any health problems in relation to my weight. The weight loss I’m seeking to achieve this summer is purely for aesthetics. I want to be the carefree Black girl that you see on Tumblr, at film festivals, and at the Afropunk festivals. I want to be vibrant and youthful. I want to feel vibrant and youthful and self-assured. I want to look 22 this summer and so I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to get down to a size I’m comfortable with and I’m going to keep my weight steady. This is a promise I’m making to myself and I don’t break my promises because I’m a woman of my word.