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A ‘Diary’ of heavy issues

Regardless of weight or gender, The Diary of a Fat Girl has a remarkable ability to draw any viewer into the mind of Emily Winton, whose battle with weight became the focus of her solo exhibition.

“Whether male, female, skinny or fat, almost all people can relate to the issues that I face on a daily basis,” Winton said.

Upon first entering the William and Nancy Oliver Art Gallery, the viewer is struck by a life-size paper doll offering a stereotypical (and literal) two-dimensional first impression of Winton. It’s the very same superficial glimpse that anybody passing Winton on the street would get. Surrounding the paper doll hang Winton’s innermost thoughts — powerful sets of photographs that envelop the viewer in the continual war she wages against her body.

The sound of heavy, labored breathing from Winton’s “Catch My Breath” video creates a tense atmosphere, much like the increasing beat of a drum before the big fight scene in a movie. As the panting intensifies, anxiety builds.

The first series of photographs, “Fat Cam,” catches Winton in the act of binging at her refrigerator. A whole pizza, containers of ice cream and Cool Whip, and bags of potato chips surround Winton as she makes furtive glances in all directions in fear of getting caught. The images showcase the guilt Winton associates with overeating, and viewers can identify with Winton’s personal struggle with temptation. Giving in to pounds of preservative-laden foods marks a temporary surrender on her behalf.

In direct retaliation, the vibrant action shots along the eastern wall titled “Fat to Fit” denote Winton’s active role in her battle. Each photograph features Winton’s body blurred in motion against a vividly colored and crisp background. The constant movement shows a strong sense of determination – a will to fight against her hunger.

Juxtaposed with the hopeful images of Winton exercising are other series further depicting the psychological struggles of being overweight. “Addiction” shows Winton stealing bites from neighbor’s plates at a restaurant, while “Poolside Manor” displays Winton’s self-consciousness as she tries to conceal her stomach while at the pool. By showing the mundane aspects of her day, such as swimming or having lunch with friends, Winton captures seemingly candid shots revealing her inner torment.

“The Diary of a Fat Girl is also about a movement toward awareness in our lives: an awareness of self, an awareness of suffering and an awareness of the progression of an underlying problem,” Winton said.

Quite possibly the most powerful series in the exhibit is “Sea of Fat,” featuring Winton bound and drowning in a sea of reds, yellows and purples. The bold colors immediately attract the viewer’s attention, but they have not been arbitrarily chosen.

“The water is red and yellow because those colors represent hunger and are often used in ad campaigns such as McDonald’s or Wendy’s to trigger that feeling. Purple, although known to symbolize royalty, also symbolizes depression, which colors myself in these pictures,” Winton said.

Although the series’ abstract quality makes its meaning the least blatant, “Sea of Fat” serves as a startling wake-up call to the strength of one’s vices as Winton’s desire to consume nearly consumes her.

The final series, titled “Classic American Beauty,” features Winton recreating traditional photographs of a delicate, nude woman partially covered in cloth. The same warmth and delicateness still exists, yet they call for acceptance of a standard of beauty far beyond that of Hollywood’s size-two-only status quo. The series marks Winton’s ultimate victory in her battle with her self-image.

“The Classic American Beauty series shows that my work is going toward a new direction: being proud of my weight and more accepting of myself and my body,” Winton said. “It was my attempt at placing myself in history.”

Throughout the exhibit Winton exposes herself both physically and mentally and allows the viewer to connect with her struggles and empathize with her situation. But in the end this battle isn’t just Winton’s or any other overweight person’s — anyone can identify with the desire to feel accepted by society and oneself.

The Diary of a Fat Girl will run in the William and Nancy Oliver Art Gallery, located between the Contemporary Art Museum and the Fine Arts Hall, until Friday, with a closing reception from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.