HEALTH Beauty the Chrysalis Project

Chrysalis, noun: the protected stage of development of the butterfly in which metamorphosis takes place.

Introduction: Heather Spataro, 32, grew up in Muskegon and works as a professional makeup artist in Grand Rapids. She is five foot one and at her heaviest weighed 282 pounds. She now weighs 151 and is still losing.

One year ago I took back my life. It was scary and thrilling and I had no idea what to expect but I knew if I didn’t do something, I would have ended up sad and much more miserable than I already was. I didn’t tell many people over the past year due to my shame but have gradually gotten over that fear and feel it is my duty to share my story with others.

Like many who struggle with self-image and health issues due to being morbidly obese, I thought gastric bypass surgery was the only option left because I obviously had no self-control. I figured people would think I took the easy way out. But what I found is it isn’t always about having self- control and it is most certainly not the easy way out.

A year ago I underwent a procedure called Plication. It is a form of gastric weight loss surgery. It takes a stretched out, abnormally large stomach and folds it in on itself two or three times to make the stomach the size it is supposed to be for your body. Nothing was cut out of me or bypassed. Dr. Gluck, whose Muskegon clinic is “Life without Limits” discovered that my stomach was two times larger than an adult man’s stomach should be and with an excessively large stomach, I put more unnecessary food in my body than what was needed because it took longer to get full…thus all the extra food I was consuming turned to fat.

That genetic abnormality was a huge factor in my weight gain but was hardly the only reason. Gaining weight is a slippery slope. I was more depressed and unhappy with my life than I had previously admitted to myself or others. To fill gaps of loneliness, depression and boredom, I ate. And as I got bigger I got more depressed and the vicious cycle of weight gain and the struggle of dieting began.

For 11 years I was considered morbidly obese. It’s difficult for me to think about. For many who friended me during those years it was normal but to my family and friends who have always known me…they knew it wasn’t me. Yet sadly…it was my reality. I recently went to my grandfather’s funeral where I saw all of my family for the first time since my surgery and the most commonly uttered comment besides “you look great” was “You’re back” or “you look so happy”.

So I took control of my life. The surgery has positively and drastically affected every single aspect of my life.

And Dr. Gluck’s clinic not only takes you through the surgery but provides nutritionists, nurses, classes and support groups, monthly checkups and blood work and immense support for your first two years. They help you learn how to be successful. It was, hands down, the best decision I ever made.


I saw the rare opportunity to document this once in a lifetime journey. So with close friend, colleague and photographer Todd Merrifield, we began the series called Chrysalis. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but had no expectations of what the photos would look like. And even if no one saw them…just by artistically capturing my before and after, I could remind myself of where I started and how I am today. The photos you see are that of my journey. The material I am encased in is my metaphoric Chrysalis. What strikes me is not only can you see the shrinking of the body and face but you can actually see the emergence of my happiness from the beginning to the end.

I think the pictures are beautiful and am proud to show them but I would be lying if I didn’t say the first few invoke sadness and deep embarrassment. I grieve for that girl who lost 11 years of her life…who lost her 20’s practically hiding from the world. But…everything happens for a reason. That hell I lived through has given me great compassion and understanding for others. It forced me to look at myself objectively and with brutal honesty so I could change. It allowed me to smash and destroy the mental barriers and fears harbored for so long. It opened my eyes and allowed me to emerge from this stronger than I was before.

I now realize that weight loss surgery isn’t a shameful thing and that I have the unique ability to help other people realize it through my story and experience. I hope to enter the Chrysalis series in the 2013 Grand Rapids ArtPrize so I might bring further awareness and inspiration.

I am immensely grateful to my parents and family and friends for the love and support they have given me over the years. I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Heather encourages readers to contact her with questions. You can reach Heather through or email

Her current website is which features her professional makeup artistry. Heather will have a link to her Chrysalis Project on the website.

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