Young woman uses Instagram to help her lose weight

Twenty-year-old Morgan Bartley always struggled with her weight.

“I was chubby as a kid, but it didn’t become a huge problem until late middle school, early high school,” the Southern California native said.

As a teen, a series of health problems caused Bartley to go from overweight to obese. “When I was 12 years old, I had what’s called an ovarian torsion. That’s basically when the ovary twists on itself. My doctor decided to remove it entirely,” she said.

Two years later, Bartley had surgery to untwist her remaining ovary, which led to menopausal symptoms.

“I was trying to live life as a normal teenager, and I was having hot flashes on the way to class,” she said.

At the time, doctors told her she might never have kids.

“I’ve always wanted to have kids. … I fell even deeper into a depression and really started struggling with a binge-eating disorder.”

Between the ages of 16 and 17, Bartley gained more than 60 pounds.

“I was binge-eating multiple times a day. I would get enough food for three to five normal-size meals, and I would park my car in a deserted parking lot and stuff myself until I was sick,” she recalled.

Bartley was close to 300 pounds at her highest weight.

“I have always been a future-oriented person,” she said. “I remember one day having this overwhelming sense that none of this matters if I don’t take care of my weight first.”

‘Take my body back’

Bartley’s first step was starting a workout program. “It was time to take my body back. Take my life back,” she said.

Jami Klein worked as her personal trainer. “She was shy and a little uncomfortable when she first came in. She didn’t really enjoy fitness and had no idea where to start,” Klein said.

The trainer got Bartley working out for 30 minutes a day, three times a week, to start.

She soon lost enough weight to qualify for a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which reduced the size of her stomach.

“I was able to use the surgery as a tool to lose weight. But as time went on, I realized it was becoming a lot more about what I was doing, the habits I was forming and the actions I was taking,” Bartley said.

She turned to social media for motivation.

“Probably the No. 1 thing that has kept me accountable has been sharing my weight-loss journey on Instagram,” she said.

At first, Bartley used Instagram to follow other people. But the more she shared, the more encouragement she received.

“I was even sharing non-scale victories. The first time I was able to shop at a normal store, I remember sitting in the dressing room crying because I fit into an extra-large top,” she said.

Now, Bartley is inspiring others, with more than 170,000 followers on her Instagram account, @morganlosing.

“Once people started following me, I really wanted to be a good example of changing for your health and not because you hate yourself.”

Bartley lost 115 pounds, and she’s learned to enjoy the journey.

“More than anything, I just want to be healthy and strong,” she said. “As the journey goes on, the number on the scale becomes a lot less important.”

For someone who used to hate going to the gym, exercise has become an outlet for Bartley.

“She changed tremendously,” said Klein, her personal trainer. “She started to have more fun and feel more comfortable. I started to see her self-confidence emerge.”

Now, Bartley is working toward her personal trainer certification to one day help others.

“Down the line, I could see myself working with people who have massive amounts of weight to lose,” she said.

She also froze her eggs and hopes to start a family one day.

“I feel confident knowing that my body’s not going to be the thing that stands in the way of me and what I want in life.”

Former gang member helps at-risk youth

Shanduke McPhatter grew up in the Brooklyn projects.

“Some nights, I had to eat a syrup sandwich. That was what dinner was. And that hunger will send you out to look for a different way, like going into the store to steal a cake or something to put food in my stomach,” McPhatter said.

He was raised by his mother and never knew his father.

“I believe that was part of a catalyst for me becoming angry and doing whatever I felt was necessary to survive,” he said.

Petty theft eventually turned into armed robbery. “No leadership in my life. No meaning. Nothing to live for.”

McPhatter was first arrested at 16. He joined a gang, the Bloods, while incarcerated on Rikers Island.

“Prison doesn’t change the mind, it changes the crime,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t going to rob anymore, I began to sell drugs.”

Between 1994 and 2008, McPhatter spent almost a decade of his life behind bars.

“I went through the rite of passage of incarceration, and I survived it. People gravitated toward my energy, my negativity, my false leadership,” he said. “I wasn’t at the point of turnaround.”

That changed when McPhatter witnessed a heartbreaking family reunion in prison. He was walking with another prisoner when they were greeted by the inmate’s newly convicted son.

“I looked at his father, and there are tears coming down his eyes.”

That moment terrified McPhatter. With twin boys at home, he didn’t want his sons to grow up like him.

“I said ‘that’s my message right there. … It’s time to create what has not been there for me.'”

After his release, he spent the next four years working in personal fitness to save money to start a nonprofit.

In 2012, he founded Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes, or G-MACC, in Brooklyn. The organization helps at-risk youth, ages 14 to 25, stay off the streets through services like violence intervention, therapeutic mental health counseling and job opportunities.

“So many of our communities have been ravaged with that gangsta mentality. We believe that violence is a learned behavior. We want to be the catalyst of positivity,” he said.

Now 39, McPhatter’s primary focus is minimizing gun violence in the community where he once turned to crime.

According to statistics from the New York Police Department, shootings have decreased by about 20% this year in the precinct where G-MACC operates.

“When we have credible messengers like Shanduke reach a population that is living in a traumatic state, he’s one of the best shepherds to guide them on a healthier course,” said Eric Cumberbatch, executive director of the New York City Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence.

“I think he’s a role model in showing how you can come from any walk of life and really create your path moving forward,” he added.

The organization has helped more than 300 boys and girls, McPhatter said. Among them is 18-year-old Oriana Vigilance.

“I was mad at the world for stuff that was going on in my life,” she said. “I had been in like 20 fights in two years.”

She received multiple school suspensions and had to transfer high schools.

“G-MACC was on my back. They led me to graduate. They led me to my first job,” she said.

Vigilance now works as a violence interrupter for the organization to help other youth mitigate conflict. She plans to attend community college in January so she can become a social worker.

“Shanduke changed me. He keeps you straight,” Vigilance said.

Even though McPhatter strives to end gun violence, he couldn’t prevent tragedy from striking his family in 2016. His brother was shot and killed at a rap concert.

But losing his brother has only strengthened his resolve.

“How can we stop the next shooting from happening? By having a relationship with the individuals who are more likely to shoot or be shot. It’s about giving them an opportunity or a way out.”

Model with vitiligo redefines what it means to be beautiful

Curtis McDaniel didn’t used to like having his picture taken. Now, the 22-year-old from Bordentown, New Jersey, is bringing a bold new face to the modeling world.

“It was something that just fell into my lap,” he said.

Growing up wasn’t always easy for McDaniel. When he was 11, he found a white spot on his skin that wouldn’t go away.

“I didn’t know what it was, and it wasn’t coming off. I told my mom, and she made a dermatology appointment,” he said.

McDaniel was diagnosed with vitiligo, a disorder that causes patches of his skin to lose color. He’s the only one in his family who has it.

“I like being black, so I was freaked out,” he remembered. “I didn’t like it at all.”

Kids at school made comments as more and more white speckles appeared on his skin.

“They used to call me zebra, burnt lips, giraffe, Michael Jackson,” he said. “I got into a few fights because of it. I got kicked out of class a lot.”

McDaniel said he went from being a happy kid to being angry and upset.

“The hardest part about it was when you see something changing in your life and you have no control over it. Seeing my skin and all these new spots are coming in, and I had no way to stop it. That’s what hurt me the most.”

McDaniel tried to hide the spots on his skin with baggy clothes and makeup. He started to lose his self-confidence.

“When people said I was ugly, I actually believed that,” he said. “There were times when I was in my room when I was going through a lot, and I just wanted to commit suicide.”

But at 16, a talk with his dad helped set him on a new path.

“My father, he was struggling with certain addictions. He sat me down one day,” McDaniel said. “He was like, ‘No, I want you to be better than me. … When you grow up, never put your hand on a woman. Never drink. Never smoke. Never do drugs. And above all things, put God first.’ “

Six months later, his father died.

McDaniel started going to church regularly. He found strength through religion and started to see his skin as a gift, not a curse. He stopped wearing makeup and started to love himself for who he was.

“That’s when everything changed. I started to establish that self-confidence,” he said. “Before, when people used to want to take pictures with me, I would be like ‘no.’ But now, I don’t mind taking pictures.”

McDaniel was discovered as a model after uploading a selfie to social media in 2015.

“People say I don’t smile too much when I take pictures, so I was like ‘Let me take a selfie of me smiling.’ “

He posted the picture on Instagram before going to class.

“When I was leaving school, I looked at my phone, and I see my Instagram is just going crazy,” he said. “I got home and started searching, and a supermodel had posted my picture.”

After the picture went viral, photographers started reaching out to McDaniel to set up photo shoots.

His newfound fame led to an audition for the MTV documentary series “True Life.” McDaniel appeared on the show this year.

“I wanted my story to be known because maybe a kid who is just like me could hear my story,” he said.

McDaniel enrolled in a community college, and now he’s a student at Rutgers University, studying urban planning and design.

“I’m going to continue to pursue my bachelor’s, and I also want to get my master’s in divinity,” he said. “I’m going to pursue that and modeling.”

He has also spoken about his vitiligo at schools and churches, spreading a message of self-love and perseverance.

“This is who I am. This was part of my purpose,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for my vitiligo.”