SHARE
COPY LINK
SWEDE OF THE WEEK

PHOTOGRAPHY

73 Percent Fat – a photo diary on battling obesity

As one of Sweden's most talented up-and-coming photojournalists, Alexander Mahmoud, 22, faces his toughest challenge yet. Not only losing weight, but photographing himself along the way. Our Swede of the Week tells us about the warts-and-all project 73 Percent Fat.

73 Percent Fat - a photo diary on battling obesity

“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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

WINTER

Ten photos that show Sweden is a perfect winter wonderland

We're now well into winter, and these photos are all the proof you need that Sweden is the most incredible place to spend the season. Be prepared for snow, lots of snow.

Ten photos that show Sweden is a perfect winter wonderland
Winter is long in Sweden, so we're lucky that it's at least beautiful to look at. Photo: Per Pixel Peterson/imagebank.sweden.se

Winter in Södermalm

With temperatures just above freezing point, Stockholm will have to do without a white Christmas this year. Fortunately, there are still photos like this where Södermalm is covered under a thick white blanket.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Stockholm In Pictures ?? (@stockholmfoto) on Dec 22, 2019 at 12:45am PST

Sled dogs

When the first snow falls the dogs are allowed to go out again. In some areas, the sled or snowmobile is the fastest way of transportation. This video shows a journey through winter wonderland. It doesn't get any more wintery than this.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Derpy Goose (@si_it_is_moi) on Dec 20, 2019 at 12:29pm PST

Northern Lights

The long, clear nights of winter provide the perfect circumstances to see the Northern Lights. This photo of the natural phenomenon was taken in Jämtland.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Linnea (@mattssons.foto) on Dec 22, 2019 at 5:10am PST

Winter lights

Further south, you might be unlikely to see the Aurora but a light spectacle of a different kind awaits. In the darker months, Swedish houses are transformed into richly decorated light shows. The centerpiece of this spectacle is the central Christmas tree. In this photo, you see the Östersund Christmas tree.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Visit Östersund (@visitostersund) on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:03am PST

Winter in Lapland

The far north of Sweden is blanketed in snow from October to April. The vast forests such as here in the Arvidsjaur area of ​​Lapland make for beautiful photos.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Taigapic Photography (@taigapic) on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:14pm PST

Swedish red-painted houses

The traditional red wooden houses, such as this one in Norrbotten's County, are a perfect place to spend a cosy winter's day.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Rin Rinrada (@dineysweet) on Dec 22, 2019 at 5:28pm PST

Kiruna

The northernmost town in Sweden is Kiruna. Here the sun does not rise above the horizon for several weeks of winter. The beautiful Church of Kiruna is an important meeting place for locals during Christmas time.
 

 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Camp Ripan (@campripan) on Dec 22, 2019 at 11:30am PST

Swedish wildlife

In addition to bears, wolves and moose, reindeers are the kings of Swedish nature. These two were photographed in a snowstorm near Tjautjas in Lapland.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Magnus Winbjork Photo (@winbjorkphoto) on Dec 23, 2019 at 12:39am PST

Building a snowman

The vast amounts of snow give an opportunity to make snowballs, snow lanterns and of course snowmen. A lot of time has undoubtedly been spent in building this giant.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by En gård i lappländska skogen (@hogdagarden) on Dec 22, 2019 at 6:00am PST

The Ice Hotel

Every year in Jukkasjärvi in ​​the north of Sweden a colossal hotel made entirely of ice is built. A night in this unique hotel should surely be on the bucket list of any winter-lover.
 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Hand Luggage Only (@handluggageonly) on Sep 20, 2019 at 9:54am PDT

SHOW COMMENTS