By Joe Roberts @JROBERTSJOURNO
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Videographer / director: Colin Weatherby
Producer: Joe Roberts, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Jennifer Williams, of Los Angeles, has struggled with Lipedema – which causes an abnormal build-up of fat on her thighs – since she was around 10 years old.
But it was only in the last few years that the 44-year-old actually learned what condition she had and began showing off her figure in Instagram shots.
Jennifer, who works in the medical field, told Barcroft TV: “When I was sad and in what I call my ‘lost state’, I really didn't want to be who I was and I really didn't care about myself.
“I am the happiest now than I ever have been in my life. I think a lot of self-acceptance and learning about it has helped me embrace it.
“You can be beautiful at all sizes, no matter what your shape is. There are so many people trying to shame me saying I look like melted yogurt, I’m ugly, I shouldn’t be promoting obesity.
“I don’t think I’m promoting obesity. I’m just promoting self-love and self-acceptance.”
Jennifer’s big transformation only began when she started an Instagram account in 2017 and learned about the condition which had caused her to have enlarged thighs since she was a girl.
“I started following other women and saw people with my legs,” she explained. “They started talking about Lipedema and I started doing research.”
Jennifer found out about a conference being held in April this year by the Fat Disorders Research Society, and decided to attend.
It was there she was finally diagnosed with Lipedema, after decades of no answers.
“It felt like such an inclusion,” she said. “Like finally, there's other people like me, I’m not just a freak by myself with my legs huge and every part of my body smaller.”
Prior to her diagnosis, Jennifer had gone through years of searching for answers as to why her body shape was so different to others.
She said: “Some doctors will say ‘you’re just fat, lose weight.’ But what they don’t realize is I have lost weight. I have lost 150 pounds since 2016 and I still have large thighs.
“They think it’s cellulite but it’s not, it’s the Lipedema fat. And the Lipedema fat is not able to be burned by diet and exercise. It’s not going anywhere.”
Getting a diagnosis and turning her life around was a long time coming for Jennifer, who experienced bullying as a child and developed severe depression as an adult.
“It was extremely difficult as a child,” she said. “Not fitting in, going to pool parties and not being able to put on a bathing suit.
“I always wore a shirt or I would go in the water and have someone bring me a towel before I got out of the water so nobody had to see my legs or my body. It was a nightmare.”
As she got older, she continued to encounter difficulties, even after getting married.
She continued: ”I had got married and pregnant with my daughter so I dropped out of school. It wasn’t going to work and I moved back home to California in 2000.”
After leaving her husband and becoming a single mum to three young children, Jennifer started to have panic attacks and couldn’t work.
She was placed on antidepressants and pain medicine but became addicted, which quickly made things worse.
She said: “At the time there wasn’t the big narcotic blow-up that there is now and the doctors were just giving out pain medication.
“It was 2009 when I went to an outpatient rehab to get off the pain medicine. The withdrawals were horrible and at that time they put me on more psychiatric medicine for depression.
“Within a year I had gained over 100 pounds and that was after my bypass surgery.”
But just when Jennifer was at her lowest, she found the courage to overcome her issues and make a major change in her life.
“Something clicked in 2016,” she said. “Enough was enough and New Year’s day I decided from that point, everything I gave to the universe was going to come back.
“I think I was just tired of being unhappy. I was tired of being depressed. I wanted to be how I was before I had kids and just have a drive for life because I was tired of just wanting to die.”
Jennifer credits social media with introducing her to others with a similar body shape and helping her turn her life around.
She now regularly models in revealing clothing on her Instagram profile ‘@statuesque_babydoll’ and has made contact with a range of other women who also suffer from Lipedema.
She said: “Everything I wear now is completely different from what I wore when I was heavier and when I was younger.
“I didn’t want to stand out in any way. I always covered my arms, covered my legs. Just wore basic stretchy black bottoms and a t-shirt.
“But now I’ve got like four or five bikinis. I’ve accepted everything and learned to accept myself and seen everybody on social media accept me too.
“It’s given me such self confidence that I feel like I can wear anything and show anything.”
Jennifer even recently organized a meetup and photoshoot in her hometown of Los Angeles for women who have Lipedema and another condition that causes swelling, Lymphedema.
A group of seven women, including well-known Lymphedema warrior Cara Cruz, gathered to celebrate their curves.
Attendee Lasha Lane said: “I was on Jennifer’s Instagram page when I found out that there was a name for the condition that we had.
“There are a lot of women living in this country who don’t know that they have Lipedema. They don’t think they can have it. They just assume that it’s something that they have to live with all their life.
“But it’s nice to know that there is a name for it.”
Jennifer said: “I had a great turn out of people. We’re able to really relate to each other, get a lot of information, talk to each other, form some good friendships and bonds.
“We’re only given one life. And it’s our own life. It’s not anybody else’s so it’s important to have fun and live what you want otherwise it’s their sadness that’s involved. And I was tired of being sad. And I know a lot of other people are too.”