Human leather? Weight loss surgery patient turns her own excess skin into ‘art’

OXFORD, United Kingdom — No, this isn’t the plot of a thriller or horror movie. A woman who underwent weight loss surgery has actually turned her own excess skin into a leather trophy. Artist Katie Taylor was able to make human leather using just her freezer and a tumble dryer.

The 52-year-old weight loss patient says the idea “came naturally” to her once she decided to have the operation. Her friend collected the four pounds of excess skin once doctors removed it and took it to Katie’s house in her bike basket.

Katie then put the skin in the bottom drawer of her freezer for nine months before taking it to be turned into leather. She now wants to put it in an exhibition.

Skin from Katie Taylor's abdomen, after being turned to leather.
Skin from Katie Taylor’s abdomen, after being turned to leather. (Credit: SWNS)

The mother of two from the United Kingdom lost six stone (84 pounds) after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, following the birth of her second child, in 2004. In order to manage her diabetes, Katie resorted to a keto diet and started weightlifting to lose the weight.

In March 2022, the Oxford resident reached a manageable weight and decided to get surgery to remove her loose skin around her stomach. As an artist that uses forensic anthropology and “bodily aspects” in her work, Katie was keen to use her own skin as an artistic medium.

“To others this idea is bonkers and sounds really weird, but it came naturally to me,” Taylor says in an online video post, according to SWNS. “I use materials that challenge what can and can’t be done in my art and I definitely have a bodily aspect to my work. The idea of bodies and the circularity of human remains or decomposition is part of my PhD project – so this fed into that quite nicely.”

Katie with the removed skin after her weight loss surgery.
Katie with the removed skin after her weight loss surgery. (Credit: SWNS)

Katie got in contact with her surgeon’s secretary and sent a two-page letter on why she wanted to keep the skin they removed from her. She had to consult the Human Tissue Act 2004 and compiled other examples of where people had kept parts of their body, such as removed liposuction fat. The hospital agreed to return her skin after the operation under the condition it was collected immediately after the surgery.

“My amazing friend Catalina picked up the skin on her way back from work,” the artist recalls. “She cycled back to my home with my skin in the front basket of her bike. I had already cleared out a draw in the freezer so she put it straight in there. Four and a half pounds of my stomach stayed there in saline solution for nine months. The freezer’s not that big so it was right next to the frozen berries.”

Katie initially bought a home tanning kit, but eventually decided against undergoing the process herself. She reached out to several survival courses but was turned away until she got in touch with Theresa Emmerich Kamper.

Kamper has a Ph.D. in experimental archaeology and over 30 years of experience in prehistoric skin tanning. Katie travelled to Exeter in January 2023 and stayed in a hotel nearby Theresa’s house for a week whilst they completed the process.

“Theresa was absolutely amazing and so knowledgeable. We began by scraping the fat off the back and getting the membrane off. ‘Then we soaked the skin in vegetable tanning solution whilst stirring and checking on it everyday. After it had soaked we stretched it lots and rubbed oil on it before drying it out in Theresa’s tumble dryer,” Katie explains.

Katie's process of scraping fat of the skin.
Katie’s process of scraping fat of the skin. (Credit: SWNS)

Katie is not sure what she’s going to do with her stomach leather yet but says she might put it on public display in the future. She has also sent stomach fat she rendered down to a tattoo ink maker and is thinking about getting a tattoo with the ink.

“I had thought I would do something with the skin but I don’t think I could cut into it now. I think I want it to stay in it’s shape because that’s what shape it was when it came off of me,” the artist says.

“It’s a reminder of where I came from, how I got to where I am today and how incredible and resilient the human body is. You can see my caesarean scar, stretch marks and even hair follicles on the leather which I love. It’s capturing marks and signs of my life.”

South West News Service writer Athena Stavrou contributed to this report.

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