Davis had always assumed she'd die young when she was obese and a heavy smoker, and on some level, she was okay with that. Now she shudders to recall that feeling of indifference. There's so much to live for—including the thrill of going on first dates. "I'm 34, and I've never had a boyfriend," she says with a wistful smile. "I have a lot to learn."

But with all the changes, Davis has struggled artistically over the past year. She found herself craving a break from photographing her body as it began to slim down; she felt more beautiful and more desirable than ever before—but also more exposed, without all the extra weight to shield her from the world. It wasn't until this spring that she finally aimed the camera at herself again. "I thought the self-portraits might help me process my new life," Davis says. "I was ready to go back under my microscope."

She is surprised and excited by what she's discovering in her recent images: "My sexuality feels tangible for the first time. There's a change in tone. Where I once saw an overpowering sadness, I now see confidence." It's in her gestures, and the way she holds herself.

In Davis's favorite portrait so far, she is looking at her reflection in the mirror. "You can tell from my expression that I'm not being critical," she says. "You can almost see the realization on my face: I am open to myself."

Top: Davis in 2012

Diana Spechler is the author of Skinny: A Novel (Harper Perennial).

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