My Big Fat Fabulous Life’s Whitney Thore has a message for today’s teens—love yourself, love your body and let go of the body shame.
By Rachel Naud
WHEN WHITNEY THORE posted a YouTube video of herself dancing to Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” she didn’t imagine the impact it would have on her life. The video titled, “A Fat Girl Dancing,” showed Thore and her BFF, Todd Beasley, getting down to the R&B hit as if it was Saturday night in da club.
Only instead of what you would typically find in a dancer’s video—a thin girl wearing barely any clothes—Thore weighed a whopping 380 pounds. A hit with the masses, Thore’s video went viral and today, two years later, the 32-year-old from Greensboro, North Carolina, now has her own show on TLC called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. Despite her newfound success and fame, Thore is striving to attain an even bigger goal—to spread a message across the globe—No Body Shame.
We chatted with Thore about her hit show, her No BS campaign and her constant battle with her weight.
DEALING WITH DISORDERS
Thore began dancing at the mere age of four. While she most definitely had the skills to both whip and nae nae, what Thore didn’t possess was a stereotypical waif-thin dancer’s body. In her teens, she stood 5’3 tall and weighed a healthy 145 pounds. She was beautiful, but felt anything but.
“When I was growing up, I always felt fat,” she says. “I was always never more than 145 pounds or so, but according to my BMI, I was overweight. I was never stick thin, so I had trouble with eating disorders from middle school on.”
Throughout her teens and early 20s, Thore went through periods of severe restrictive eating (where she allowed herself
to eat only hundreds of calories a day) and bulimia.
“One time I lost 30 pounds in a month,” she says. “The only reason that I stopped throwing up when I got to college was because I was on birth control and I didn’t want to throw it up. In 2011, I lost 100 pounds in eight months. I was restricting my food to 600 calories a day and gave myself one day a week where I could eat whatever I wanted. But I would throw it up because I didn’t want to gain any of the weight I had lost. It’s been a struggle that way for a long time.”
THE COLLEGE YEARS
Many people gain the freshman 15 when they start college, but Thore gained 50 pounds before Christmas break and another 50 pounds by the end of her freshman year.
“I was so depressed and struggling with where I fit in with the way people saw me. I often say it was like putting on a fat suit
and going out in public because it happened so quickly. Then, in the years that followed, I started to spiral. I lost all interest in taking care of myself. I quit dancing, I didn’t eat well at all, and I never wanted to leave my house. In 2005, I noticed my hair falling out a lot. I would have handfuls of hair in the shower and I started getting facial hair. It never occurred to me that there could be a medical reason behind this.”
Despite avoiding doctors’ offices out of shame over her weight, Thore booked in to see an OBGYN. She’d suffered from irregular periods for years, plus she noticed other worrying symptoms like exceptional weight gain (she now weighed over 300 pounds), hair loss and facial hair growth. The doctor diagnosed her with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine system disorder in which a woman’s hormones are out of balance. It can cause issues with periods, fertility and weight gain and lead to more serious health concerns such as diabetes and heart disease.
“I had never heard of it at the time, which is frustrating because it’s one of the leading causes of infertility,” Thore says. “For a syndrome that’s incredibly common and affects so many women, there’s very little awareness.”
Finally, she had an answer, and a reason behind some of her weight gain. In 2014, armed with the knowledge about her disorder and a newfound acceptance of her body, she decided to show the world that she wasn’t ashamed of how she looked. She took to YouTube and danced like everyone was watching. And they were.
HER BIG FAT FABULOUS LIFE
Now entering the third season of My Big Fat Fabulous Life, Thore’s life has changed immeasurably. “It’s pretty overwhelming the amount of support that I get online or out in public,” she says when asked about the impact she’s had on others. “My life is full of a lot of positivity and meaning.”
From her No BS Campaign (No Body Shame) to the show and newly released book, I Do It with the Lights On, Thore’s goal
is to convince everyone to love every inch of themselves.
HER ADVICE TO PARENTS
“No Body Shame is so important to me because when I was growing up dealing with body image issues, eating disorders, and
later, PCOS, I had no one to look up to or turn to for advice or support,” she says. “It’s my hope that No Body Shame can provide education, outreach and encouragement for those who need it.”
When she was growing up, Thore says no one taught her to believe in herself or her self-worth, which is something that parents need to instill in their children early on.
“I hear a lot from parents of teenagers and a lot from those who send their kids down to the living room just to watch the show. I think it’s really important to start young because no matter what you were like, even if you were somewhat the definition of perfect, you’re still going to get made fun of, you’re still going to get bullied. Stuff like that happens at various degrees, so I think what we need to do is teach our young children how to be self-confident and how not to be
ashamed of themselves.”
Thore says one of the best lessons you can teach your kids: to be an active participant in their own life and to not hide away.
The second most important lesson: self-confidence. “We can all do better at encouraging our children to get out there and do
what they want, be visible in the way that they want instead of being influenced by society about things we should and shouldn’t do.”
A HEAVY TOPIC
Parents with overweight or obese teens know how hard it can be to get their kids to become more self-confident and break out of their comfort zones. While many of us suffer from our own body image issues, Thore says it’s integral we keep mum on the subject of weight loss around our kids.
Instead, Thore says parents should model healthy behaviour around their children, which means don’t talk negatively about
yourself in front of your kids or obsess over weight or weight loss.
Lastly, she urges parents to remind their teens that their weight does not define their worth.
“Encourage them to try to build a relationship with their bodies that is independent of what other people think of it. Tell them to find something that they really love to do and focus on that,” she says.
As for overweight teens, Thore urges them not to stop exercising or moving their body because they think other people don’t
want to see it. “Your body is here to serve you—always appreciate it for what it can do for you.” For Thore, that means keep dancing like everyone’s watching. You might be surprised by how happy it makes you. ■
My Big Fat Fabulous Life returns June 8 at 9/8c on TLC. For more information about No Body Shame, visit nobodyshame.com