The team at Mental Health News Radio and everythingEHR has been following Matt Joseph Diaz for some time. We’ve been amazed at his journey around body positivity and acceptance.
When Linda Rosenberg, the CEO and President of The National Council for Behavioral Health joined us for a discussion about the “uncomfortable conversations” that must be had, we decided to create a show for our listeners that delved even deeper into the mental health field. We couldn’t think of anyone other than Matt to help us launch our first “after dark” show.
Make no mistake – this is the no holds barred version of Mental Health News Radio. Want to hear the conversations that need to be had in order to heal our collective wounds around body issues? Tune in to this show.
It’s been just over a year since your YouTube video first went viral, what’s changed since then? You shared your story about your body image issues, being over weight, and the extra skin you’ve carried around since losing the weight.
Everything, really. I was so insecure when the video came out, I was terrified of anyone actually SEEING It. Everyone who watched and shared it was just so incredible and so kind that I felt like I had no reason to be ashamed of my body anymore. I started writing and making videos about body image and self worth, and I recently quit my job to pursue that work full time. I got the first of several surgeries to remove the excess skin a little over two months ago.
With so many stories like yours, what do you think made yours catch on?
This is a question I’ve received a lot. So many people have stories similar to mine that people were surprised how big it got— but in reality it’s how common this story is that made it so big in the first place. Once the video went viral I started receiving messages from thousands of people, and not just people who’d lost weight! Women who’d gone through childbirth, physically fit men, the transgender community, conventional model-figure women, all of them reached out to tell me they’d felt the same as I did.
At that point, I realized why I’d gotten so much attention. It wasn’t my story, not really. It was the story of every person who’d ever been insecure about their body and made to feel alone, I was just the one who recorded it.
Oftentimes when people go viral, they tend to have their 15 minutes and fade away, what do you think makes you different?
Growing up as a part of the YouTube community, I know a lot of people who went viral at one point or another. When something like that happens, you’re faced with a decision. You can lean into it and see how much attention you can soak in, or you can try and build something from it. I didn’t know which option I’d choose, until I spoke to a few freshman english classes at a local high school. After I spent a few hours talking to these 14 and 15 year olds about the importance of positive self image, a girl in the first class that day walked up to me in the hallway and told me that she’d take what I said with her and wouldn’t forget it.
From that moment, I knew what I was here to do. To help people, to communicate with them. The path has been crystal clear since.
You got the surgery 2 months ago, how has it affected your confidence?
It’s definitely been a big adjustment to make. The first few weeks were a really tough time— I take a lot of pride in how I craft my appearance, my outfits, my hair. I thrive on being around people because I love getting to know people and experiencing things with them. I was more or less locked in my room for a month, completely unable to do most household tasks on my own let alone put on a decent outfit and walk more than a block from my house.
Waking up in a body that’s unlike the one you went to sleep in creates a strange disconnect in you, one that’s only exacerbated by the inability to do the things that made you feel like you.
That disconnect still hasn’t gone away, in reality. I feel different, and that’s okay because I am different. It was a lesson that came in an unexpected place— we don’t always have to go back to who we used to be before a big change in order to still be valuable.
Why do you think there are so few men in the body positive movement?
I recently wrote an article about this, but I think it stems from toxic masculinity. The patriarchal society we’re in works really hard to try and teach young boys that manliness is defined by being unfeeling, by keeping everything inside because “boys don’t cry.” These lessons extend into adulthood and lead to men being emotionally stunted and fearful of speaking out— lest they be mocked and labeled as weak or “feminine.”
As a 23 year old, how has this all affected your social life?
Well, it definitely isn’t easy to go on Tinder like I used to. Interpersonal relationships and dating are way more complicated— a surprising number of people I come across on dating apps or even just in bars have heard of me or seen my video. It leads to a strange imbalance in getting to know someone, since that person immediately knows the most personal and intimate thing I’ve ever shared with the internet.
People just kind of come up to me and share their most personal stories immediately. I’ve been getting cups off coffee at 6 AM before work and I’ve had a woman walk up to me and start telling me about her c-section. When an artist or a musician blows up, there’s an obvious disconnect between them and the work they do. I am the work I do, so I’m basically “on” 24/7. I don’t mind it though, in fact it’s showed me just how much emotional depth and resilience every human being has. We’ve all gone through hardships and often we forget that the people who walk by us on the street or sit next to us at the bar are living, breathing human being who fall in love and get hurt and make mistakes. I keep that with me all the time, and it’s made me a more compassionate and patient person.
Matt Joseph Diaz is a public speaker and social media activist tackling the issues of body image and self love. Matt has been working in social media since the age of 15, and has a long history of creating online content for entertainment and educational purposes. Matts 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.