Our Lady of Losing It

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Janice Taylor doesn’t mind a bit if her readers are on a losing streak. In fact, she’ll do what she can to keep the streak going. Weight is the name, loss is the game.

Sometimes, despite all we know about maintaining a healthy weight, we slip, we slide, we backslide. Sometimes what we need is a kick in the tush and a large dollop of encouragement from someone with our best interests at heart. Enter New York City-based artist Janice Taylor and her fanciful, high-spirited weekly electronic newsletter.

Each Monday throughout the country, e-mail alerts go ding! and a few thousand fortunate subscribers know Our Lady of Weight Loss™ has sent them the latest installment of her Kick in the Tush Club™ newsletter. A weekly reminder for those who want to stay true to their weight loss or health goals, the free newsletter provides a quick hit of facts, recipes, art and inspiration. And Taylor knows from weight loss. Three years ago, she lost more than 50 pounds. It has stayed lost, but in the process of giving it the slip, Taylor found a calling.

Our Lady’s Beginnings

To get to the newsletter, however, we need to backtrack. Way back, as it turns out. “Most newborns initially lose a few ounces,” Taylor says. “Not me. I was the only baby in the hospital nursery to gain weight — and it was uphill from there.” By second grade, Taylor weighed more than 120 pounds. She leveled off in high school at 175 pounds, which she describes succinctly as “Not fun.” For the next 30 years or so, she was on the weight-loss yo-yo, a funhouse ride familiar to dieters everywhere.

A professional artist for many years, Taylor worked as an administrator for a public relations firm in Manhattan and created her artwork on the side. It wasn’t until she combined art with weight loss that a magical alchemy took place, she says.

At the time, she was outgrowing her XXL elastic-band pants, looking at herself in the mirror every morning and starting her day saying, “You look really puffy.” Her back hurt, she wore orthotics in her shoes and she huffed and puffed every time she climbed a set of stairs. Looking in the direction she was heading, she concluded the view wasn’t pretty.

Making Positive Changes — and Art

“So I got behind my fat self and went to one of those group meetings where everyone obsesses about food and weight,” she says. “I weighed in, then joined the group for a lecture. I thought about how far I had to go, tears came to my eyes and I thought, ‘I can’t do this.'”

That’s when she heard The Voice.

“I was too mired in self pity at the time to have come up with anything constructive on my own,” she says. “But this voice said, ‘You’re an artist. Make weight loss an art project.’ My attention shifted back to the meeting, where a member was extolling the virtues of red peppers.

“So I went home and made a collage of a sexy red pepper — the first of the Sexy Vegetable Series,” she says.

As Taylor worked on the vegetable collages, her mind wandered back to childhood — a nostalgia no doubt induced by the heady combination of scissors and Elmer’s glue — when she and her mother made deliveries for her father’s pharmacy. Her favorite stop was the Convent of Our Lady of Snow, whose nuns were kind and didn’t preface their praise with comments about her weight.

“They just said, ‘Aren’t you a pretty little girl, and how good of you to help your mother,’ instead of, ‘What a shame. You have such a pretty face.'”

At the convent’s entrance was a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Snow, an image that became embedded in Taylor’s imagination. Cutting and pasting her vegetable collage, she remembered the statue and thought there must be a patron who could guide, encourage and quiet the self-defeating thoughts of dieters like her.

Janice Taylor welcomes your artwork, comments and recipes. To contact her or to sign up for the Kick in the Tush Club, send an e-mail to info@OurLadyofWeightLoss.com.

Our Lady of Weight Loss is Born

That’s when Our Lady of Weight Loss entered the picture. Taylor started creating Our Lady collages whenever the urge to splurge hit. Eventually, she had transformed 50 pounds of fat into 50 pieces of art. She launched her website (www.OurLady ofWeightLoss.com) in 2003 and the Kick in the Tush Club a year later. She wants to share the newsletter with as many people as possible — no sense going on the journey alone, she says. She’s also working on a book and a series of pieces that will be used for postcards, greeting and prayer cards. She isn’t personally ambitious, she says with a laugh, but Our Lady seems to have taken on a life of her own.

Mostly, Taylor wants people to lighten up about lightening up.

“When I first started this, I thought it would appeal mostly to New Yorkers or to artists,” she says. “I’m amazed that I’m now getting e-mails from people in Kansas, Texas, Georgia. I’m struck by how down on themselves people are about weight. I didn’t hate myself, I just didn’t like the weight. But people are so filled with self-loathing. I’d like to eliminate that.

“Look, it’s just fat cells. That’s all. It isn’t murder or major crime. Just fat cells. And in the weight-loss process, we actually do have control over what we put in our mouths. So that’s the good news. I know we have cravings and needs, but we also have control. I substituted art for eating. You probably have a passion of your own you can substitute. Just get busy and express yourself. Give yourself what you really want: to be who you really are.”

Taylor stresses that the change in her weight represents an alteration in her entire approach to life — and that making the switch was a process, not an event.

“It took a couple of years to change my mind and to change my taste buds. You always hear that health is a way of life. Those words actually mean something to me now. That cake at the market isn’t even a consideration for me now. I walk everywhere I go — about four miles a day — and I routinely walk up and down five flights of stairs.”

For a kid who was completely exercise-phobic — “I had a note to get out of gym class for the entire year, every year I was in school” — the turnaround is remarkable.

“The quick fix diets are only that: quick fixes,” Taylor says. “When you are afforded an opportunity to ease into the new you, you learn about yourself. Weight loss, health, is a spiritual path. It’s about owning your power.”

Kathryn Compton is editor in chief of Herbs for Health.

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