My name is Matt Joseph Diaz. I've lost 270 pounds since 2009, I'm the subject of a viral video on body image, I'm a body positivity advocate and soon I will be having extensive cosmetic surgery.
For the sake of context, let's take a moment to explain my backstory and where I come from. In 2009, at the young age of 16, I weighed very close to 500 pounds. In June of that year, I became a member of a study at the NYU Medical Center to see how the Lap Band would affect people under the age of 18, and over the next 5 years I'd gone down to less than half my starting weight.
Gaining and losing that much weight led to a lot of excess skin, more than any amount of working out or weight lifting could tighten. Skin and folds and wrinkles covered me from my shoulders to my knees. My body became a deep dark secret; hidden away from my closest friends and even some of the people I'd dated.
Towards the end of 2014, I started to write about body positivity on my Tumblr, mostly because I knew the ins and outs of body shame and I wanted to keep others from having to endure it alone. It began to pick up traction in March of 2015 when, for the first time in six years of losing weight, someone asked about the excess skin from the weight loss.
I posted a video on Tumblr showing my excess skin that over the weeks following would be seen around 50 million times. At the same time, a GoFundMe page created to fund the skin removal surgery raised 57,000 dollars in the 6 days it was open.
In the months since the video went viral, I've grown to love my body a lot more; I guess you could say I've grown more comfortable in my own skin. I've gone shirtless on social media posts, for news interviews and on television, and I've come to develop a sense of care and fondness for my body that I've been trying to instill in others for months.
So the question often arises: "If you claim to love your body, why are you getting surgery to fix it?"
First of all, it's important to remember that I'm not getting my body "fixed" because there's nothing wrong with it. I'm in perfect health, and the idea that I need to be fixed in order to meet certain standards is one of the main issues that the body positivity movement addresses.
People tend to believe that the body positivity movement is about rebelling against the mainstream model body type by saying "to hell with those skinny chicks, real women have curves!" In reality, the body positivity movement understands that people with these mainstream body types ALSO have severe body image issues that are valid and important.
Mainstream beauty standards are a problem; they create intense body image issues for millions of people by idealizing a very specific (and often unrealistic) body type while rarely representing others. This creates a sense of competition among people, feeling the need to bully and put others down in order to boost their own self esteem. The body positivity movement believes that culture should represent and celebrate all body types and the differences inherent in them.
Claiming that someone shouldn't want to change something about their body just because they already love themselves is the same as saying that a person shouldn't strive to be better because they think they're pretty good as they are. Growth and change are essential parts of being human, and that growth shouldn't be stymied by the fact that you're relatively satisfied with who you are.
When people like themselves, they don't proclaim "well, I'm DONE," plant a flag in the ground and stop trying. They continue to seek new ways to better themselves, because self-love is a motivator like few others.
Everyone makes changes to their appearance; hairstyles, fashion choices, tattoos, even cosmetic surgery. Yes, obviously some of these options are more extreme and intensive than others, but at it's core plastic surgery is neither good nor bad, it's simply a tool for change. What matters is context.
For some people, like in the transgender community, plastic surgery can be an option to help them attain the bodies they've always wanted. It can be used to help someone become the person they've yearned to be for ages. On the other hand, if misused, it'll never be enough; some will try and use plastic surgery to buff out every knick and scratch and perceived flaw, even though those flaws tend to characterize and define us.
The difference here is motivation. As such, one of the core beliefs of body positivity is that you should express yourself however you want, as long as those expressions are not based out of shame.
The choices you make to your body are yours and yours alone; they should not be governed by mainstream media, peer pressure or the fear of being shamed if you do not adhere to certain standards. Deciding to dye your hair a wild color, completely change your sense of style or even to undergo breast augmentation are all perfectly fine and wonderful ideas as long as they come from a place of wanting to make yourself happy.
If you make these changes because you want to be better, to love yourself more, it's incredible and should be supported. However if you, left to your own devices, would be perfectly happy with your body outside of fear of judgement, don't make those changes. You will never please those who would judge you, because their only goal is to keep you down.
For the first time in my life, I love the body I'm in. I've accomplished a lot to get here, and after years of hiding away and being ashamed, I'm proud of the person I've come. Now, I want to be even better. I'm going to get rid of the skin that adds unnecessary weight, gets rashes from sweating and used to make me so self conscious.
Explore your body. Change things about it. Make people look at you differently than they used to; just remember that you're doing it for yourself. They do not define you. You define you.
You can find Matt Joseph Diaz through Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook at @MattJosephDiaz.
Go to MattJosephDiaz.com/booking to book him for public speaking at schools, conferences and events!