Matt Diaz has worked extremely hard to lose 270 pounds over the past six years.
But his proudest moment came in March 2015 when he decided to film himself with his shirt off to prove an important point about body positivity and self-love.
Matt had lap-band surgery in 2009 at age 16.
Here's Matt at 16 years old and 497 pounds versus recently after his surgery — at 22 years old and 220 pounds.
Through the course of his weight-loss journey, Matt became passionate about promoting body positivity for people of all shapes and sizes.
To stay motivated, he started sharing his journey on social media, posting before-and-after photos, answering questions and giving support to followers, and even sharing his meals and favorite workouts. Six years later, Matt is down over 270 pounds and is a very active voice in the online body-positivity movement.
But in all his years of sharing his story, the one thing he's never done is showed what his body looks like after 200+ pounds of weight loss. So he uploaded the video above to show his followers his true self.
Shortly after he posted the video online, originally to Tumblr, it quickly went viral and garnered thousands of shares and comments from people around the web. I was one of the thousands touched by the video, so I reached out to Matt to find out more about what motivated him and what he hopes others can take away from his story. Here's what he had to say:
Why was it so important for you to post this video?
"I'm a really big advocate for self-love and body positivity. I think it's important that we learn to love the bodies we're in, even if we don't necessarily like every little thing about them. However, in the time I'd been writing and talking about it, I'd never actually shown my excess skin to anyone. It felt dishonest somehow, to others and to myself. I couldn't tell others that I wanted them to love themselves and keep myself hidden away and ashamed of my skin."
"I know what it feels like to hate your body, and to be depressed about it, and I never want anyone to feel that way again. So, if making myself vulnerable can help one person, why not?"
— Matt Diaz
What's the response been like? Anything particularly unexpected?
"I think that putting any opinion on the Internet will garner a certain amount of negativity and cynicism, but I haven't seen anything like that at all. I've read every comment and message since the video has gone up, literally thousands, and they're all so thoughtful.
A really surprising side-effect were the number of transgender people who've thanked me saying that they understood my struggle, even though their body-related insecurity grew from different roots. I'd never even begun to [think] of what that must be like, and the fact that my message could help even though my problems began somewhere else is really incredible."
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for someone who's struggling to love their body?
"I know it's difficult, especially when you're starting out. I want you to remember that you are not the problem, certain aspects of society are the problem. You'll constantly be told that you're too heavy or too tall to be attractive, or you're not masculine or feminine enough, or that your skin isn't the right tone or your hair isn't the right color, and these people are always always always wrong.
Luckily, we're slowly starting to see these ideas get phased out by modernity. Plus-sized, unretouched models are getting more attention in major brands, more attention is being put on the alternative scene for high fashion, it's becoming clear that these negative ideas are not going to last, though it's going to take a while."
"Understand that to love yourself is to contest the negative things that were put into your head. Every smile, tattoo, bathing suit, and crop top is a small revolution. Tell yourself you're beautiful every day, and I promise you will be."
— Matt Diaz
Matt's story is a personal one, but it's one we can all learn from.
I think the most important thing to take away here is that self-love takes time and is different for everyone no matter what they look like. It's also worth noting that for Matt, losing weight was an important part of his journey, but that might not be the case for everyone. Even so, our society has such incredibly high and unrealistic body standards that even many of those who do work to lose weight end up feeling uncomfortable or being shamed for not having "perfect bodies" once they've lost weight.
There's no such thing as a "perfect body" because everyone is different, which is what makes us beautiful and great! I'm glad there are people like Matt in the world who are not only willing to share their stories but also to inspire others by showing that body confidence comes in all shapes and sizes, and that everyone deserves to feel good about who they are. Here's hoping Matt's inspiring words can help others begin to love and accept themselves, no matter where they're at in their journey.