Updated: Aug 1, 2021
“ “Please take off all your clothes and stand over against the wall,” she said, turning away to position the camera and set the lights. "
I rang the buzzer of an upper east side townhouse and a “click” unfastened the latch. I walked into a large living space, past a wooden desk and into an open area behind a camera on a tripod. A pretty girl, in her early 20’s, came into the room and picked up a clipboard. ”Christopher Hawley?” she asked, and I nodded in shyness. “Please take off all your clothes and stand over against the wall,” she said, turning away to position the camera and set the lights. I kicked off my shoes and pulled off my pants, leg by leg, then my underwear, my head down. I lifted my shirt, reluctantly, over my head, the lights so bright now that I couldn’t see her anymore behind them. I reached down, involuntarily, to cover myself, out of habit and from being put in this awkward position. ”Keep your hands down at your side and turn when I tell you, so I can get all of the area,” said the now invisible girl. When you lose one hundred pounds or more, your skin sags where it was once filled out with fat, and although it has some natural resilience, it is never the same. In September of 1983, after six teenage years of severe self-abuse that had gone silently unacknowledged and unchecked, I began to walk, run, bike and discover the movement of my body. By 1987, I graduated from college, unchained from paralyzing depression and 150 pounds lighter. But now, instead of hiding my massive flesh under loose t-shirts, I had the constant anxiety of having sagging handfuls of renegade skin inside and over the waist of my size 31 jeans, down from size 44. My spirit, which was opening to possibilities and experiences I had once given up hoping for, which was longing to celebrate this biggest success of my life, closed every time I breathed. Each day when I awoke, I would reach down and feel my sloppy middle, hesitant to stand up to the full, uncomfortable effect. When I dressed, sat in a chair, or walked to my classes, it was there. It took me years to be able to ask a surgeon for help, secretly hoping it would just go away on its own, my shame growing exponentially. I borrowed money against my 401k and from friends. I lost another ten pounds just to be ready. The doctor himself seemed very kind and discreet, and his nurse even kinder. So when I stepped into that townhouse to have my pre-surgery photos taken, being stripped naked with lights on me became an unexpected snapshot of my nightmare. When the strobes went off, I froze, too embarrassed to move. No one had ever seen me naked in full light. Now there were photographs of my lifetime struggle, the leftover remains from someone who had degraded a sweet, naive little boy who was willing to please an adult who lured him into his madness. I had covered myself with flesh to hide from puberty and from being touched, and now this was where I stood, raw. Later that week, I would be completely cut in half over six hours of surgery, a 32-inch scar replacing what would add up to six buckets of discarded skin. My scars for life. It would take another fifteen years for me to see the slashes around my middle as my warrior paint, my survival brand. It will take the rest of my life to understand why they have to be mine. It will take all the love in the world for the pain to finally go away.