• Sweden edition
 
Swede of the Week
73 Percent Fat - a photo diary on battling obesity

73 Percent Fat - a photo diary on battling obesity

Published: 20 Jun 2013 11:08 GMT+02:00
Updated: 20 Jun 2013 11:08 GMT+02:00

"I am always skinny in my dreams, then I wake up and I’m fat," says Alexander Mahmoud, who says he sees his obesity as the consequences of a psychological disorder.

"I work all the time, so I use the stress as justification to eat more, yet I also eat more when I’m happy," he says.

One day his mother called him and said she had dreamed of him wearing a beautiful suit. He was thin. She said "I’m afraid I’ll die before you lose weight".

He decided it was time to fight. Originally his idea to chronicle that battle was to photograph empty plates. Instead he began following a woman who signed up to the weight loss company Xtravaganza, with ready-made meals and shakes all part of the deal.

A few days in, Mahmoud decided it was time to turn the camera around – on himself.

His flirt with the extreme low-calorie diet company didn’t last long. He said it had all the hallmarks of a cult. In the first part of the project, entitled 73 Percent Fat, Mahmoud shoots the instructors in an almost heavenly light. They are always backlit, angelic, with fervour burning in their eyes. They are thin.

The pictures of himself, however, never have eye contact. They are always dark. Until something snapped and Mahmoud decided to look straight into the lens, part of a process of facing up to himself, he says.

Mahmoud says being fat has become a prism through which he sees everything. He is self-conscious about it when working. Especially as the Nobel Foundation’s official photographer, worried about how tight the space was between the first row and the stage at Stockholm’s Philharmonic Concert Hall during the awards ceremony. It was fine, of course.

IN PICTURES: See more images from Alexander Mahmoud's project 73 Percent Fat, in which he has begun chronicling his fight to get fit and slim down

And it has always been fine, more than fine. He interned in high school for the regional Smålandsposten newspaper, and soon picked up his first assignment for Dagens Nyheter (DN), Sweden's biggest daily. What was meant to be a 10-page spread became 12 pages and the front cover of the culture section. Later on, the photo editor phoned him to offer him a summer substitute position - the dailies receive hundreds of applications for their annual holiday replacement schemes, but Mahmoud was hand-selected.

There is a purity about Mahmoud's journalism that puts him apart from many photographers. A question if he has any idols is met with pregnant silence, as he racks his brains.

"I'm just learning from the other photographers at DN," he says.

He also hates press scrums, and says he was ashamed of the Swedish press for their behaviour in Husby when unrest unfolded in late May. Huddled together in groups, the reporters were anxious, self-aware, and cynical.

"I get it, we need distance, we need to crack jokes to survive, but I was out there every night," Mahmoud says, adding that the kind of media racket surrounding top conflict spots in the world means he sees little difference between covering breaking news and covering a press conference.

READ ALSO: The Local's full coverage of the riot in Husby and the ensuing week of unrest across the suburbs of Stockholm

Unless you decide to break the mold, which he wants to, because he has several long-term projects underway or hibernating in the idea stage. He's a story teller, and making himself the object of that story in 73 Percent Fat has made him understand what responsibility that entails.

That realization is, perhaps, a natural extension of years of self-consciousness, and therefore awareness of his surroundings. His sense of vulnerability made him see more. Mahmoud feels that he himself has been regarded all his life, not only because he was overweight when he was young, but he grew up as a half-Slovenian, half-Egyptian kid in Grimslöv, in the southern Småland region.

"We’re talking about a place where half of the people voted for the Sweden Democrats," he recalls about his childhood home, adding that he never realized that he was darker skinned or heavier until he was about seven.

Bullied, he decided to adopt a clown role in junior high, as a shield, but quickly abandoned it.

"It wasn't for me," he says, before admitting, however, that he now realizes he is too kind because it affords him friends. Like the time he offered a colleague a ride across the country.

"So he won’t remember me as the fatso, he’ll remember me as the guy who did him a favour," Mahmoud says, clearly aware of how self-effacing that kind of generosity can be in the wrong situation.

"I keep thinking about life when I am thin. I worry I won’t be kind anymore, so maybe it’s better to be overweight for the rest of my life... Then I realized that being kind is who I am."

Yet he has never shaken off his self-consciousness, his conviction that others are looking at him.

"I’m very aware of my surroundings, maybe that is why I’m a photographer," he says.

Having turned the camera on himself, Mahmoud says he has a greater understanding of what he asks of the people who let him close – he even photographed in the operating theatre when a man, born in a female body, had his breasts removed as part of gender reassignment surgery.

"I want to tell stories," he says. "This project was a chance to be open with myself, which I want other people to be."

He says the project changed the way he sees himself. He realized that he has taken after the workaholic tendencies of his father, who at age 65 is about to open a fourth restaurant. When The Local asks how many hours Mahmoud works a week, the answer is a high-pitched peal of nervous laughter.

"Working full-time in the summer as a sub is a holiday for me, compared to the rest of the year," he finally responds.

The 73 Percent Fat project also made him examine his relationship to his mother, who is also overweight. He has even blamed her for his weight, but appears to idolize the woman who raised him.

She was there in person when he first gave a public presentation about his project in person. Speaking at the Kontrast Galleri in Stockholm, packed wall-to-wall with guests, his nervousness made speak in a sort of stream of semi-consciousness. He says, a week later, that he remembers nothing of what he said. It was clear at the time that he wanted to be open, but was editing as he spoke, interrupting himself at times and not finishing sentences, yet still tenderly laying himself bare.

At the end, after he had received a warm but polite round of applause, his older sister took to the floor.

"Alex, I just have to add something."

"Ok…" said Alex, fear erasing the smile on his face. Yet the look of trepidation did not in any way deter his sister from speaking to the crowd.

"I’m so proud of my brother, this project made him grew up and become an adult."

The subsequent applause lasted a good five minutes.

Editor's Note: The Local's Swede of the week is someone in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Swede of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

SEE ALSO: A list of The Local's past Swedes of the Week

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

A longer version of the first part of 73 Percent Fat can be seen in the reportage magazine Re:public, available to buy online or in well-stocked news agents.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

970
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN