Fighting obesity and “Kiss the bullies!”

Shannon Walton relaxes in her living room in Sheffield, England in 2014.

The persecution was relentless.

When Shannon Walton got to middle school, she started hearing comments about her weight as she walked down the hall: “Oh, look at her.” “It’s thick.”

He went out more to avoid the stress of school, but he couldn’t find rest. Kids would throw balls at him, he said, and then pretend they didn’t do it on purpose.

“Someone once threw a golf ball at my leg, and I’ll never forget it,” said Walton, now 26. “It literally looked like the golf ball was on the leg because there was a white mark and then a huge red bruise around it.”

A 15-year-old Walton is waiting for the school bus. “Preparing the day before the chase,” he recalled years later. “I was there many times and I was bullied and mocked from both sides.”

It was a difficult time for Walton, who was diagnosed with a condition called premature adrenarche in elementary school. This meant that his body began to develop much earlier than his peers. Later in life, she learned she had polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects the body’s ability to use insulin and often causes weight gain.

“I’ve always been overweight, ever since I was very, very young,” said Walton, who lives in Sheffield, England. She remembers that growing up her weight was related to her age. “When I was 14, I was 14 stone (196 kilos),” he said. “When I was 15, I weighed 15 stone (210 kilos). It had a tendency to rise.”

And it didn’t make sense to her.

“I never overeat. I have never been a bike lover. I’ve never been a secret eater,” Walton said. “My mother always cooks fresh food. We have never been a family that had takeout or fast food all the time. So my weight over the years, it’s been a while that I don’t understand why I put on weight”.

Walton takes a selfie with his younger brother, Kieran, and his mother, Lorraine, at their home in Sheffield in 2015. “My family has always been very supportive,” Walton said. “Me, my mother and my brother are like three peas in a pod.”

Walton enjoys his summer vacation in Spain.

Sometime around the age of 14 or 15, Walton said enough was enough. He was sick of people making him feel terrible, and he decided he wasn’t going to let them get him down or stop him from doing what he wanted to do.

“When I was growing up, I could eat at McDonald’s and people would say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t eat that, you’re too fat.’ But then you’d eat a salad and you’d smile at them because you ate a salad and you’re overweight,” he recalled. . “I figured, you can’t win, so I’ll do what I want.”

That transition, and Walton’s journey into womanhood, has been documented by photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith, who grew up overweight and started The Big O, a project that tackles obesity.

The subject “totally took over my teenage years,” Trayler-Smith said. “Being overweight was like I wasn’t enough; I wasn’t a good enough human being. That’s how I felt. So this project has been a kind of challenge from that point of view. Why did I feel that way? How do you get there? If I feel that way, there must be a lot of other people who feel that way.’

This old school book used to belong to photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith, who wrote with the word “fat” as she also struggled with her weight and self-confidence. “I’ve included these images and other archival material from my teenage years to show why I started this work on teenage obesity,” he said. “It’s my story, as well as Shannon’s and 124 million other children around the world.”

This excerpt from Trayler-Smith’s teenage diaries shows how unhappy she was when she was struggling with her weight in the 1990s. “If I don’t lose weight this week, I might kill myself,” she wrote. She hopes that by sharing her story and Walton’s, others dealing with the same issues will know they are not alone.

Over the years, Trayler-Smith has photographed many British teenagers struggling with obesity, bullying and self-confidence.

Walton was the first subject, and his fearlessness inspired a photo book, “Kiss It!”, which they hope to publish soon if they get the final funding they need through the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform.

The name of the book comes from a tattoo Walton got on his back, a message to the bullies who had taunted him for so long.

“To be so raw and real in front of the camera, I think it’s quite unusual,” Trayler-Smith said. “Most people know about the camera, and he wasn’t there and we had this amazing connection. That’s why it made me think that if I’m going to make a book, maybe it should be about a person and really go deeper.”

Walton is ready for a night on the town in 2018. “My weight itself didn’t bother me; it didn’t stop me from doing anything,” she said. “It hasn’t stopped me from going out in town, drinking. It hasn’t stopped me from going out with my friends… I was more concerned about the others.”

Walton has bright red lips tattooed above her back tattoo: “Kiss me!” The initial tattoo was for his bullies and critics over the years, and Walton added lips to emphasize his new attitude towards life.

The book follows Walton through the ups and downs of his teenage years and tries to put the reader in his shoes.

“I think making healthy choices, whether it’s food or everything in your life, starts when you feel good about yourself,” Trayler-Smith said. “And when you’re overweight and you’re told you’re fat and you’re lazy and you’re greedy and there’s a huge stigma around that, that’s not a place where any of us are going to make healthy decisions. , I believe. …

“This project is not about saying it’s okay to be obese. I’m not saying that’s healthy. I’m just saying there is a difference. There’s a balance between body positivity and health, and I think we need to find that balance.”

Walton said her hope has always been to help people understand what it’s like to be overweight.

“It’s not as simple as going to the gym and eating less. Sometimes it’s a medical condition. Sometimes it’s in your genes,” she said. “And also, just because people are fat doesn’t mean they’re miserable.”

Shannon does her make-up at home in Sheffield.

“I remember this photo,” Walton wrote on the project’s 10-year mark. “I was waiting for my friends to meet me before a trip to Meadowhall (a shopping center in Sheffield). I felt very good in my outfit and I was looking forward to a nice day.”

Many of the photos in the book show Walton’s early years, when bullying was particularly bad and he was at one of his lowest points. But from the beginning of the project, Walton stressed to Trayler-Smith how important it was to show the whole picture of her life: the happy moments with friends and family and the moments of empowerment.

“I’m quite a happy, bubbly and chatty person. You usually can’t shut me up,” Walton said. “I think people think that because you’re overweight, you’re miserable. But that’s not always the case.”

It can be hard for Walton to look back at the pictures of himself when he was younger and sad and lacking in confidence, but he appreciates them because they are an accurate portrait of how he looked at the time.

“Then looking at the pictures over the years, I think how much more confident I am and how my life has turned out,” she said.

Walton curled up in bed. “Naked happiness, my room, my space with my form,” Walton wrote. “But also another day in a dark world I lived in. Thinking about the life I want to live and the friends I’ve always wanted.”

“We are all women of all shapes and sizes,” Walton wrote about this photo. “If I want to stand up and dry my hair in my underwear in a public locker room, I will!”

Walton maintained a fitness schedule in 2013. “We’ve all been … writing an exercise or diet chart to ‘stick’, when we put it into practice and execute it for a day or two,” Walton wrote. “For motivation – or to try not to confuse people about weight loss?”

A 16-year-old Walton arrives at his school’s prom night. “One of my favorite photos,” she wrote. “I have been preparing myself for this day for more than a year. Getting to know everyone will mean looking at each other’s dresses and knowing that I won’t be able to hide. This shows the real me, laughing and joking with friends. That’s how I imagined my summer would be and why I had the confidence to go.”

Today, Walton says he is happy with his life and wouldn’t change a thing.

She works in a hospital and will soon qualify as a nursing associate. She is engaged to James, a man she met when she was young and was her first boyfriend. They lost touch for several years before finally getting back together.

He has a personal trainer that he sees once or twice a month, and he goes to the gym whenever he can.

“The personal trainers told me, actually, I’m not eating enough, and what’s happening is because I’m not eating enough, my body is storing all the fat,” Walton said. “So he upped his calorie intake, and I’ve lost 3 stone (42 kilos) since.”

Walton is vacationing in Spain in 2018.

Walton still gets some flak about her weight, usually with people leaving rude comments on social media. But she says hate speech doesn’t bother her anymore, and offers advice to anyone who might be in her life.

“Don’t let other people’s opinions control what you want to do. And don’t let your weight define you as a person,” she said.

Walton has become close friends with Trayler-Smith, who said she would love to continue taking pictures.

“It has been such a privilege to watch her grow into a beautiful young woman,” said Trayler-Smith. “I know he’s still struggling with his weight and doing what he can. But seeing it in a happy place inside is a beautiful thing.’

14 year old Walton in 2010. It was the first photograph Trayler-Smith took of her home in Sheffield.

Walton spends 2020 in his own backyard.

Walton walks in the Peak District National Park on a family outing in 2017.

Help is available if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues. In the United States, call or text 988 Suicide and crisis to contact a trained advisor. International Association for Suicide Prevention and Friends all over the world containing contact information for crisis centers around the world.

She is Abbie Trayler-Smith Fundraising via Kickstarter “Kiss It!” Crowdfunding campaign to produce and publish ends on Thursday.