I first started feeling insecure about my stomach and my weight was when I was little. I just remember we had an assembly at school. I was probably in 2nd or 3rd grade and my mom asked me if I could try to suck my tummy in and I was really confused. She said it would just make me look nicer if I sucked my tummy in and it just kind of spiraled from there. From kids calling me fat and making comments about my weight. You know, it just built as I got older and I would always look at other people who were skinnier who didn’t have a big tummy. I just thought they were so much prettier and how I would always get so sad when I tried to buy clothes and nothing would fit me except larges or whatever would fit me.
Leah Schretenthaler is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the ‘ Body Weight Project’. To see Leah ’s body of work, click on any image.
“Choosing to go into this certain profession because it was something always interesting to me. And then always having this perceived image because you’re in that profession you have to have the perfect smile. So I am doing all this stuff to get to that point to have the perfect smile. After I get the braces off I will have more work done so I can have more work done to get things to look how I want them to look. Just have to go through the ugly part to get to the pretty stuff.” “What do you think is wrong with your smile?” “I have a gap over here and I am not missing a tooth. My back teeth are fused to the bone and we have to figure out how to get it done. But I have all the resources available to me.”
“It’s actually a funny story, my sister threatened me, my life, she said you can go on weight watchers with me and I’ll pay for it, but if you go on with me and you don’t lose any weight and you just take it as a joke, I will kill you. I don’t think she was serious, but it was then that like something inside kicked in and, because before then I didn’t pay attention, I just, was really heavy, and I didn’t look twice in the mirror, I ate what I want I didn’t care. After I started losing weight, something inside of me kicked in, and then I started looking at myself in the mirror. At first it was disgust because I was really big, but as I been losing weight it’s just kinda midsection, the weight never really came off so I had saw something always just kind of in the back of my head that I look not good. I try to work out and run all the time but some of it hasn’t gone away.”
“It started when I was really, really young. I went from chewing my fingernails to chewing the skin around my, fingernail. From that there were just a ton of people that would tell me to stop, friends and family really everybody. When I was in grade school I remember one kid thought I was flipping him off. I was chewing on my middle finger and I didn’t mean to do it. I was an innocent child and have never done that to anybody. I was just picked on in grade school for it, bullied. It was dealing with people noticing it and being grossed out or ‘why are you doing it,’ ‘that’s gross,’ and ‘why are your fingers bloody’. It was almost me revolting against them ‘I can do what I want’ and then I don’t have control over it because it is a habit. It is something I have lived with since I was 7 or 8. Even with teaching, I did it a lot when I was student teaching because I was nervous a lot. And the kids know that. There was one girl that noticed it and she said ‘what are you do….’ But then she stopped. She didn’t want to mention it because she could tell I got freaked out. Then there was a high schooler recently who is socially awkward. He thought it would be funny because he noticed that I chew my fingers and said it really loud, ‘Do you chew your fingers? You do don’t you!’ I just walked away . ‘Well you didn’t say no.’ And the next day his friend notice me doing it and he yelled at his friend ‘yeah she does and it is so gross!’ High schoolers can be mean. In high school I went to an all girls Catholic high school and of course they are grossed out. There was a girl that I went to grade school with and her insecurity were her legs because she had warts all over her legs. I would sit next to her in class and she would hear me clicking because of my teeth when I would chew on my skin and she would be like ‘Stop. Can you control that?’ And I don’t know if I can stop so it is really hard to deal with it.”
“My insecurity is my stomach and my legs. I always feel like my legs do not ever fit that perfect pair of jeans. You have to get a bigger waist to even pull it over your legs. And my stomach just because everyone’s wants to not have to suck it in all the time. I always pull it up to see it flatter that it actually is.”
I grew up hating different parts of my body. My weight and appearance fluctuated during my late high school years to well after college. In high school I was teased for my large breasts. In college I was scolded by instructors and coaches for my “RBF” (resting bitch face). For many years I thought I was along with carrying these burdens about my body. It was not until when I met my now husband where I shared with him my burdens, he also shared with me his. Each human has a part of them that they carry a little heavier than the rest of them. This body weight is hidden or disguised from people who we may pass on the street. The Body Weight Project shares not only the body part, but the story the person has with it.
“Well the way I got it was I was a little kid and I was playing by the stove and I guess there was hot water there and it got on my back. I was around 2 when it happened and I don’t remember most of the incident. When I was growing up I didn’t like showing off my back. I wouldn’t really get teased about it because most people don’t know about it because I didn’t show it off. As I grow older it kind of has made me see that it’s what makes me. It defines me. Nobody else has it. I don’t like it that much but it is apart of me. Just accept it and move on.”
“When I was in 5th grade, I fractured my left shoulder and when I got out of the sling it, the doctors told me it wasn’t going to be as strong. So as growing up to present, it doesn’t look, my left arm doesn’t look as big as what my right arm does and has a little bit different shape to it, so what I plan to do about it is just work out more, and try to get it to match as evenly as I can.”
I was always really tall as a kid. One of the harshest nicknames I remember was being called a giraffe clown, and so being called a giraffe can kind of get this feeling that you have a ginormous neck. So I always just thought that my neck was really long and just kind of gross. I would try long hair always have the hair down, I don’t like having my hair up, and if it is up it has to be a certain way. That’s one of the ways I hide it, no turtlenecks, because then you can tell that I have a really long neck, because my entire neck is not covered, and then I don’t wear necklaces and I make sure that I pose certain ways so that you can’t see how long it is. No head tilted to the side photos where you can tell that it’s really long and extended.
My insecurity was my nipples, and also like the pronunciation of them. With my breasts throughout my life I’ve been ridiculed for them or people have like felt the need that it was like right for them to make comments about them. If they were pronounced, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing shirts that showed them at all. I felt like it was always an inappropriate or I was always told it was inappropriate to have them seen or to be a point of attention whether or not I had drawn attention to them or not and it was just the way they are. My experience was a recent one. I was in New York City and I had worn a dress that was not completely opaque, and I didn’t wear a bra, and as I started my day really excited for the different activities, I had another student comment on how my areolas were clearly visible and I felt very insecure and shameful about it when I had left feeling great and comfortable with myself. I had experienced this sort of being put down, they were inappropriate they shouldn’t have been seen, I should be hiding them, shouldn’t have to force people to see that. It wasn’t until I had somebody else, not much later that day, tell me that they loved my look. That kind of restored my confidence and made me think that I should have that confidence about myself all the time and I shouldn’t let people tear me down because I loved my look too. Something as simple as my body ruining my look just doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
“Basically they are just small and I can’t get them to grow. I work on them but it doesn’t seem to help.” “When do you feel the most insecure about them?” “When I wear short socks. I am dead serious. I will wear longer socks to cover up more of my legs. Do you ever see me wear socks like these? I hate wearing short socks. I threw most of them away. I only have two pairs left. I do not like wearing them anymore. It is kind of sad. It is kind of a big thing for me. I just try to think that it is not a big deal so that helps. There are other things in the world that I should be worried about instead of my calf size.”
All images and text © Leah Schretenthaler
By Leah Schretenthaler