By Katie Marshall
Matt Joseph Diaz is a public speaker and social media activist tackling the issues of body image and self-love. You may remember him from the viral video he made about the result of his -270 lb weight loss: excess skin, and a lot of doubt. Matt turned this moment into an opportunity to spread a positive message about how people look at their bodies and their lives.
Matt’s videos have accrued over 120 million views in countries all over the world as well as being featured in People, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Upworthy and numerous other news websites. He now spend a lot of his time traveling and speaking on self love at conferences, colleges and public events. Matt Joseph Diaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.
1. What is the most liberating thought you’ve ever had?
“Wow. I guess I don’t have to let others define my worth based on my looks or how [people] perceive me.”
2. What did it liberate you from?
So much of my young life was dedicated to trying to be what others wanted me to. During my entire weight loss process in my most formative years, I was above all else concerned about being liked. This is by no means a unique situation for teenagers, but it occupied so much of my mental space and drove me to make decisions I otherwise wouldn’t. That thought liberated me from caring more about other’s views of me than about my view of myself.
3. What does it mean to live a good life?
I’ve never been a Boy Scout (I can’t really pull off a neckerchief) but the Boy Scouts have a rule that I’ve always found interesting. Robert Baden-Powell, the creator of the scouting movement, said to “try and leave this world a little better than you found it,” and I believe that’s the definition of a good life.
I don’t know where we end up after all of this is done, but we all have an impact on the world during that time. I think the best thing we can do with our years on the Earth is to pour happiness and care into the lives of those around us and every human being we come across. We can try and make the world a more welcoming and beautiful place for those who comes after us. We can leave the world a little better than we found it.
4. What illusion have you suffered from the most?
“If you can just get skinny, everything else will work itself out.” We have a tendency to fixate on our biggest and most daunting problems. We make them the center of our focus, and a art of us believe that if we can work out that singular issue, the rest of our lives will fall right into place. I made myself believe that my weight was the cause of all my problems, and if I could just drop down and “look normal” then girls would like me, I’d make friends and things would just work themselves out. I didn’t want to have to look inward and realize that my issues were about how I saw my own worth, not numbers on a scale.
5. If you could go back and whisper in the ear of your 16-year-old self, what is the one thing you would tell them?
Adventure. Please please please go out and adventure. I know people are intimidating, and I know the world can seem like an impossible place, but every human being you meet and every crazy experience you have is another story, and some day all you’ll have are the stories.
6. What does love feel like? (Real love, not hormonal love or I-like-the-idea-of-you-so-I’m-on-a-high love).
I think real love is a readjustment of everything you thought you knew. It’s a sharpie marker that goes back into your memories from before you knew this person and scribbles their face in there, because you can’t remember your life before they were in it. It’s knowing someone exists and feeling a dull ache in the center of your being that pulls you toward them, no matter how far they are from you. Real love is looking at that person and thinking “not only am I crazy about them, I don’t understand how everyone in the world isn’t crazy about them.”
7. What does your daily routine look like?
I work two jobs, in a sense. I have a day-to-day job at a design and print studio in Manhattan, but after my office hours are done I spend hours working on my different social media channels, answering emails and writing posts on body image. I probably work around 15 hours a day total, if you count all the plans for my videos and the time I spend working on public speaking events. If I can squeeze in some time for reading or the gym, that’s nice too.
8. What is your favorite thing to look at?
In the neighborhood where I grew up, near the Brooklyn Public Library, there’s a fountain in the center of the plaza. It’s where my parents took their wedding photos. Since I was a child, it’s been the most comforting and calming place I can go when I need to clear my thoughts. I had my first kiss with my first love there. I went there to call my friends after I’d learned our best friend passed away. Watching the water move surrounded by the whizzing of cars, something about it just relaxes me.
9. Describe your perfect weekend.
A couple of cases of beer, my closest friends and a lot of loud music. I’m a man of simple tastes.
10. What do you worry about the most?
Time is something we can’t conquer. Human beings can combat illness, fight off death and escape the food chain altogether; but time still escapes us. Days pass by so quickly, and we never really have time to get anything done. I worry about running out of time, about things moving forward before I’m able to do everything I need to in this world.
12. What makes you cry?
Mostly the ends of Pixar movies and videos of deaf babies getting cochlear implants and hearing for the first time.
13. What do you doodle on the sides of your papers?
Those weird superman “S” things that everyone learned how to do in like 3rd grade.
14. What is the most serendipitous thing that has ever happened to you?
I get really bad anxiety about going through TSA at the airport. My lap band shows up on the full body scanners, so I often deal with the hassle of getting patted down by whoever is working security. The last time I went to JFK, the woman at TSA stopped me after walking through the body scanner.
I offhandedly said “Oh, that’s probably my lap band. It shows up all the time.”
She responded with “Lap band, huh? How much weight have you lost?”
I said “About 270 pounds since 2009.”
She looked at me for a long time and said “…Wait. Did you dye your hair?”
When I nodded, she freaked out and called her colleague over to take a photo of us. She’d seen my video and told me about how she knew what I dealt with. She gave me a huge hug, directed me toward my bag and told me to have a lovely day.
15. How did your biggest struggles become the pathways to your greatest success?
I spent every day hiding my body from the world as best I could. I treated my body image issues like a secret, and they were personal and close that nobody had really seen what I looked like without my clothes on. So when I finally decided to show everyone, the impact it made was massive. My closest friends and even my older brother called me and told me they had no idea I’d felt that way. Once I realized that I should believe in myself and love myself for every bit of who I am, I was inspired to dedicate my time to making sure nobody was ever forced to feel like I did at my worst.
16. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Stretch. Social media is constantly making my phone buzz and go off, so before I go about looking at the comments that went off while I was sleeping, I get up and have a nice long stretch before anything else.
17. What do you wish you had more of in your life?
Time to unwind, really. I’m a huge TV and Video Game dork. I’m trying to burn through all of X-Files for the first time as well as catching up with some games I haven’t had the chance to play through yet, but there’s just not enough free hours in the day anymore!
18. What do you find to be the most genuinely beautiful thing in the world?
Once, my friends and I went to this little cabin in upstate New York, an hour or so outside of Oneonta. The spot was situated on this huge hill, nobody around for miles. We spent the weekend drinking beer and blasting rock music, ending our last night with each of our friends trying to finish their own 30 pack before sunrise. At 5 in the morning, only my best friend Sean and I were still up. We decided to finish our last beers sitting on a fence down the hill as we watched the sunrise. We sat there, lukewarm beers in our hands, watching the sun rise over the foggy field on the last night we had in our summer house. That feeling of triumph, of conquering an arbitrary goal we set for ourselves, of being young and stupid and slightly reckless with people we love, that’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
19. If you could be free of one thought or fear, what would it be?
I’m not sure if this counts as a cop-out but I don’t think I’d get rid of any of my thoughts, honestly. I’ve had bad experiences and I deal with a lot of anxiety and mental health issues, but those things define me. Each of those thoughts helps build the person I am, and I rather like the person I am these days. Our fears and our bad thoughts are as much a part of us as the beautiful and wonderful things.
20. If you had the chance to tell every single person in the world just one thing, what would it be?
I’d like to take a line from a poem I wrote that I quote often in everything I work on.
“Adore who you are, regardless of size
And fuck anybody who says otherwise.
If you’re tall or short, if you’re fat or thin,
You deserve to love the body you’re in.”