Italian artist Yossi Loloi said that criticism of his photographs of obese women had driven him to not give up his Full Beauty Project.

Loloi began the project in 2006 claiming he had always been fascinated with overweight women. He met models at events across the US that promoted size acceptance, as well as from the Big Beautiful Women community.

"I didn't have to do anything special to entice them into participating," he told Newsweek. "When your idea matches someone's belief, it just happens."

Loloi says he focused on women's "fullness and femininity" in a protest against discrimination promoted by the media and society.

But critics of his work said he was promoting an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. His models weigh between 350lbs and 600lbs (160-270kg) and many are morbidly obese.

In the US, over a third of adults are considered obese and one in five deaths are linked to being extremely overweight.

Loloi, 37, said: "Women of size have always fascinated me. I had a very strong drive to show something that normally people don't get to see. I like the serenity of the models I portrayed and to me their shapes are the most interesting thing I have seen in my life.

"The women depicted are targets of societal backlash, but they are strong. They fight for acceptance in a world that doesn't approve of the slightest bulging of a love handle, let alone morbid obesity or the possibility that some people find beauty in all those things women spend thousands of dollars on every year trying to erase.

"The more people accuse me of promoting fat, the more I understand that there is more work to be done to remind people that we are beautiful because we are different. Why is showing a nude fat women labelled a provocation, but seeing a 'fit' model nude on a magazine is not?"

Explaining the project on his website, Loloi said he sees larger women as a "different form of beauty".

"There are several ways to what is perceived as beauty, it is not measurable and has not got a standard size," he said. "I photograph my models nude and serene, to create a comfortable, proud and constructive representation of themselves in front of the viewer.