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‘How I overcame self-destruction with art’

At 42, Zelitra Peterson, weighs about 145 pounds after once weighing over 500 pounds and before art “saved my life.”

Recently, her story and works helped accent an exhibit of local artists in Orange Mound.

“It truly has been a blessing to use my God-given talent to pull myself out of the pain, despair, and shame that I was feeling every day,” said Peterson, known in the art world as Madame Z.

“Having to wake up and pop pills and rely on the doctor for my medical treatments. I even took their suggestion to swallow poop. And even that didn’t help. In the end, it was my art that saved me.”

Peterson said she is resolutely past the “point of no return.”

“I will never return back to the old me, who felt victimized by my circumstances and my surroundings. I felt shame. I felt guilt for not being the person that I felt I wanted to be inside, but I was unable to because there were parts of myself that was afraid, stuck and deeply rooted in fear and always relying on the physicians for the answer.”

At a point, Peterson said she no longer could take her children to school, turning to homeschooling, which meant being at home sick.

“During that time, I turned to art. Art held me. It was more than just the color. It was more than just the experience of me putting paint to canvas. It was the experience of me living in every moment as I created that forced me to pay attention to what was within me, what I had on the inside.” 

She knew some “very radical changes” were needed. First came a diet change and producing food she found tasty and satisfying. Laughing, she said, “thank God for the crockpot,” also acknowledging “smoothies all day”

“It actually helped me go from 569 pounds to 145 pounds within a number of years. It didn’t just fall off overnight, but I made it. I made it to the me that I am today, and I’ve been able to introduce myself into the art world by signing up for art shows.”

Zelitra Peterson: “I listened to that voice inside of me and I’ve been covered with grace literally ever since.” (Screen capture)

She relishes being able to transition from “not being able to even take my kids to school, to being able to take them to baseball games and out to eat. … we’ve been able to travel.”

It’s not a race from here, Pelitra said, noting how she has a been “encouraged by all the wonderful people that have been surrounding me, that I’ve met throughout these past years, supporting me, encouraging me to continue to work towards my craft.

“And the possibilities are limitless.”

With her leap of faith, she moved past a state of pity, opioids and misery.

She took measures to ensure that “I could not only recover from obesity, but I also wanted to recover from depression. Losing my daughter at an early age of nine months, leaving a relationship of close to 20 years and stepping out on my own into this world as a single parent and believing that I had what it takes and what it took inside to make my dream a realization on the outside.”

Zelitra Peterson working on her art. (Photo: George W. Tillman Jr./The New Tri-State Defender)

Now “main goal is to encourage other individuals” who may find themselves at crossroads. 

Is her method a sound proven method? It’s a question she poses on a video in which she chronicles her journey.

“Yes, for me. Will it work for you? Maybe. I don’t know. It depends. We all have to put our own actions into our purpose and the rest will unfold. But I do know one thing.

“Once you form a routine and you start practicing healthy habits that benefit you and don’t distract you from your purpose, it’s like starting, it’s like getting on the rollercoaster ride. You, you’re on it. There’s no getting off,” she said.

“You have to ride … to completion. And baby, my ride has just started. I know for a fact that this is just the beginning. I am meant to inspire millions with this story.”


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