Who is Matt Diaz?
Being different in a world that thrives on putting people into clearly defined boxes is always difficult. It doesn't matter if it's gender, sexuality or ethnicity, those differences are always made apparent and in many cases are used to make us feel insecure about who we are and where we came from. As a result, everyone trying to find themselves endures a great struggle.
For me, that struggle was weight.
I grew up in the heart of Brooklyn, NY, a studious and socially awkward child from a very young age, leading to a lot of bullying and feeling like an outcast. As a result I locked myself in, focusing on books and video games, and began to put on weight. Unfortunately as it became more and more obvious that I was getting heavy the bullying became more targeted and intense, forming a vicious cycle of weight gain and mocking from others.
By the age of 16, I weighed close to 500 pounds as a result of a sedentary lifestyle and a constant need to see if the new Ben & Jerry's flavors were delicious. (Pro tip: They're always delicious. Those people are geniuses.) After joining a study at the NYU Medical Center to see how the Lap Band would affect people under the age of 18, I committed to living a better life; not just to lose the weight and eat healthier, but to be a more social and healthier human being. After six years, I've lost nearly 270 pounds and I've never felt better.
However, there was a caveat. When you lose more than half your body weight, you're left with quite a bit of excess skin; more than any amount of weight lifting or "all natural body wraps" can possibly fix.
Though I'd accepted that this was just something I'd have to live with, I was still terrified for anyone to see me. I kept it hidden from basically everyone. But after I began to write about self-love and body positivity on my Tumblr, I felt that it was wrong to keep my excess skin hidden away while telling people to love themselves.
Practice what you preach, right?
So on Monday, March 16th, 2015, I uploaded video to my blog where I showed my excess skin and talked about how it was important to love my body because it's mine and it's beautiful.
In the weeks since, articles on the video and the greater issue of body image have been featured on Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan and seen over 50 million times total. I've been featured on Pix 11 News, Inside Edition, The Meredith Vieira show and dozens of other News and Radio stations worldwide. Thousands of messages were sent to me through Facebook, Tumblr and Youtube about their similar experiences, including the transgender community as well as women who've experienced childbirth. These are just two groups of many who've come out to say that I wasn't alone. Excess skin is a specific problem, but body image issues resonate with everyone.
Self love. Body positivity. Bullying prevention: These are messages worth sharing.
Since childhood, my dream has been to travel, to share stories and to inspire people. Taking this discussion into the real world instead of just keeping it online can add new levels of permanence to the message, as well as making it feel more real to those you're speaking to.
I intend to share my story with the world and encourage people to tell their own. Though I've made a lot of progress in loving myself there are still many in the struggle, and they deserve to be told that they're beautiful and that they can accomplish anything.
And maybe, just maybe, it can inspire someone to love others and love themselves.