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Kevin Creekman has amassed just shy of one million followers on Instagram, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you why. Creekman looks like every woman’s lumberjack fantasy—however, instead of wearing a plaid shirt and suspenders, he’s a tattooed California model who spends more time with his shirt off than on. But, Creekman’s life hasn’t always been about photoshoots by the pool or endorsement deals. “If someone asked me when I was 18 years old what kind of career I was going to be in, the last thing that would have come to mind would be anything related to my appearance,” Creekman says. “I feel life is very ironic, because I basically found a way of making my living with something I didn’t have for most of my life.”

Creekman grew up in Bonn, Germany, a small city on the banks of the Rhine, and up until his high school graduation he was overweight. However, after turning 18, he decided to turn his life around. “At this point, you start to reflect on your life, the path you went and where you want to go in the future,” Creekman shares. “I didn’t have many friends and my teenage years were mostly spent playing video games. While other teens would go out at night, I was drawn into “World of Warcraft.” I’d also never had a girlfriend or any experience with girls, and I realized that I was a very lonely person and if I was to continue going on like this, I might die alone.”

Motivated by the potential for a fresh start, Creekman began eating in a calorie deficit and in less than a year dropped 175 lbs. However, losing the weight was the easiest part of his transformation. “After I lost all that weight I was 19 years old, in a totally new body, but I was still ashamed of what I looked like,” Creekman says. “I had loose skin and stretch marks everywhere. My skin was in very bad condition, especially my abdominal skin, which was hanging down to my crotch. I still didn’t have any confidence and I didn’t feel like I could show myself shirtless to others.” Creekman began working out to gain muscle and improve his skin, which sparked a lifelong love for weightlifting. Yet, despite seeing results, he knew the loose skin wouldn’t go away on its own and surgery would be needed to showcase his new body.

“My mom helped me fight our health insurance company to receive coverage for the skin removal surgery,” Creekman shares. “But they didn’t see any medical reasoning for the surgery, even though I had doctors on my side.” Despite needing surgery and wanting his transformation to be complete, insurance refused to cover it and Creekman wasn’t in a place to support the costs on his own. “After another seven years, I was more confident in my skin, but I was still spending all my time in the gym to improve my body and the limitations of my results were bugging me more and more. I still didn’t feel strong enough to take my shirt off in front of other people,” Creekman says. “At this point in my life I’d already finished my bachelor’s degree as a social worker and I’d worked in that field for several years. Finally, I had the money to get rid of this burden I had to carry around for seven years and pay for the skin surgeries myself.”

After removing pounds of excess skin from his abdomen, Creekman was nearing the end of a physical transformation that was nearly a decade in the making. There was one final step to become confident in his skin and, luckily, it was easy to accomplish in comparison to his previous hurdles. “After the surgery, I was hoping to find more confidence in my skin, but I still felt ashamed of my body and the scars. I couldn’t show my body shirtless without people asking me what happened,” Creekman says. “So covering the scars was a win-win situation for me because I love tattoo art.” Once he completed his bodysuit in 2017 and endured the last bout of physical pain, Creekman finally found the confidence to take his shirt off, and Instagram fame quickly followed.

Creekman is an example of the truth behind the tired idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” because despite what social media may present, there’s more to this tattooed Adonis than meets the eye. Even though today Creekman looks like a more tattooed version of Jason Momoa, he wasn’t always an Instagram heartthrob and spent the majority of his life feeling self-conscious in his skin.