Once upon a time, there was a Milwaukee photographer named Julia Kozerski. At 25, she was classified as morbidly obese. She made healthy lifestyle changes and lost 160 pounds. And lived happily ever after as a weight loss success in her svelter shape, right? Wrong.
Julia Kozerski began documenting her weight-loss journey in one of her first collections of self-portraits titled, “Changing Room”, in which she snapped photos of herself in various dressing rooms to track her transformation. Her second collection, titled ”Half”, is both artistically movingly and beautifully raw. Kozerski is photographed nude, the loose skin resulting from her weight loss on display. Some of the photos are haunting, the captions powerful.
The collection begins with a photo of her clad in her wedding dress that is now several sizes too big. The caption is, “…or for Worse.” She is looking at the camera head-on, her expression stoic. A shot of her naked backside, head tilted back, is titled “Ruins No. 1”. This name is telling.
We exist in a world the sells us the “American Dream of Weight Loss”, wherein we buy into a false concept of how wonderful our lives and our bodies will be if we can shed those unwanted pounds and subscribe to a thin ideal. Reality television abounds with shows featuring weight loss as a competition or even a prominent plot point, and nary a week goes by that I do not see some celeb touting a bill of goods about how much better their lives are now that their bodies are “back” (Jennie Garth, I’m talking to you!).
Another photo in Kozerski’s collection features her lying on a bed gazing at the word “Love” displayed as wall art in her bedroom. It is titled, “Hunger.” This picture was particularly striking to me. We do not become more lovable by morphing our bodies into socially acceptable shapes, and there can be a soul-deep hunger that no amount of “weight-loss” can ever touch. “Absolution” is a head shot of Kozerski with her eyes closed, a tear rolling down her cheek. But what is she absolved from? Society’s oppressive thin ideal?
In the “Artist Statement” that accompanies the collection, Kozerski writes of her weight loss, “My experience contradicts what the media tends to portray. While it easy to celebrate and appreciate the dramatic results of such an endeavor, underneath the layers of clothing and behind closed doors, quite a different reality exists.”
While I am not presuming to know Kozerski’s insinuations by her captions, I am certain that there is something poignant and powerful here. Kozerski does say of the collection: “They serve as reflections of my experience and address and explore my physically and emotionally painful, private struggles with food, obsession, self-control, and self-image. These brutally honest images shed light on the truth of what it is like for me to live life as Half of myself.”
I am so grateful that Kozerski was courageous enough to show the world the private pieces of her journey that don’t ascribe to what the media mirrors. Interior pain is not eradicated by transforming ourselves physically, and often altering our bodies, even if it is in the name of health, can bring about confusion and questions of identity.
The physical manifestations of her transformation speak volumes. They do not align with the perfect package of “Before” and “After” photos we are sold by the weight-loss industry and our culture at large. They are honest and unfiltered and reveal the complex and complicated journey of our relationship with ourselves and our bodies. Thank you, Julia, for your beauty and bravery.