Proud2Bme | My Big Fat Fabulous Interview with Whitney Thore

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My Big Fat Fabulous Interview with Whitney Thore

By Rachael Hershon--Whitney Thore first took the world by storm with her “A Fat Girl Dancing” videos, which showed the world that people are capable of doing whatever they love no matter their size. 

Whitney’s show featured on TLC, My Big Fat Fabulous Life, details Whitney’s journey and has given her the opportunity to tell a different kind of story. I had the opportunity to speak with Whitney about her journey as a body positive activist, and the impact she has been making.

Rachael Hershon: I was reading around online and looking at some blogs and comments about your show.  Many of these sources believe that your show condones an unhealthy lifestyle, and glorifies unhealthy living. How do you respond to that?

Whitney Thore: Well, I think it’s two-fold. One would be about the title and about my dance videos which are called “A Fat Girl Dancing.”  All of my therapy and recovery, and attempting to become a healthier person is trying to get away from the idea that fat women are inherently bad, and that the word “fat” had to encompass negative adjectives, like “fat and lazy,” “fat and ugly.”  I finally realized that I don’t believe that anymore.  For me, to reclaim the word fat as an adjective is really powerful…I’m a great dancer, and I’m doing all of that while I’m fat. 

I think that’s an important message to put out to people because I spent so long thinking that my life couldn’t begin until I was thin. I believed I couldn’t be active, I couldn’t feel pretty, I couldn’t find a partner, I couldn’t do all of these things I wanted, and I realized these beliefs were false.  In terms of people saying I glamorize obesity, if you know anything about me or my message, that’s not true. Firstly, other people’s bodies are not my business. I don’t care if people are fat, and I don’t care why they’re fat.

RH: What is your relationship with the word ‘fat’?

WT: When people use it as an insult, it will hurt me. The amount of times I’ve heard people say “Whitney, you’re not fat. You’re pretty!” or “Whitney, you’re not fat. You’re a great dancer!” just goes to show how our culture associates negative attributes with being fat. Generally, we have to move away from the idea that fat is the worst thing ever…I want to keep using this word, so it becomes more normalized. The thing is, we do not believe that fat women can be happy, and we can be…I’ve had people tell me things like, “I never thought I could do this thing because I’m fat, but then I saw you do it, and realized I could.”

RH: You seem to have such a great relationship with your body as it is now. How did you get to the point where you began to accept your body?

WT: The first thing to remember is that your personal journey towards body acceptance is very personal. No one can take this journey for you. I had horrible body image my entire life even though I was thin. It wasn’t until I moved to Korea that it kind of hit me. At this point, I had been fat for nearly five years. In Korea, the discrimination against fat people was so overt. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was glared at, laughed at, spit at. It started to stir something in me, and I began to believe I didn’t deserve this treatment. It really pissed me off.

When I got home, I set out to lose weight. I lost a great deal of weight in a short amount of time, and my eating disorder came back. You would never assume that someone who was technically “overweight” would have an eating disorder but I certainly did. I had been working so hard. One day, I walked out of the gym having just run five miles and someone just drives by and calls me a fatass. I then asked myself “What is going to be enough? When will people stop judging me?” I realized that at that weight, my body could do what it wanted, and I actually liked the way my body looked. I was just obsessed with the idea of other people calling me fat. 

I started working in radio, gained all the weight back, and the first time in my whole life, I publicly and candidly talked about being fat. After this, I understood how other people related to the idea of being fat, and how I did as well.  When I finally realized that I didn’t want to spend my whole life making sure my body didn’t offend other people, I realized for the first time that I wanted my body to serve only me. It is not here for anyone else.

RH: Everyone has negative body days, and I’m sure with some of the negative feedback you get, it can be pretty hard to stay positive about your body. How do you handle days where you’re not feeling good about yourself?

WT: I genuinely have not had a day in nearly two years where I looked at myself naked and have become upset. I don’t know how that happens, but it just does. I do have days where I get down on my body about fitness-related things. I just don’t care about my appearance anymore. I don’t struggle with that, and I did for so long.

I do get nervous about other lifestyle things like fitting in certain chairs or booths, or even standing for long periods of time. Those things can get me frustrated with myself, but I've learned to be gentle with myself…I think it’s important to realize that I only have one life, and I’m not going to let the way I look in the mirror allow me to miss out on so many great things.  The only person who is hurt by that is me. If there’s something I’m scared of doing because of my weight, I will try my best to do it anyway.

RH: I’d love to hear what you have to say about dating as a fat woman. Unfortunately, many women who are fat believe that they won’t be able to find a partner that likes them for who they are. Could you talk a little bit about that?

WT: I think that every person deserves to be with a person who they find attractive mentally, spiritually, and physically.  I also think that it’s definitely possible for every person. First of all, I used to have boyfriends who used to tell me that they didn’t want me to lose weight. They used to say things to me like “I’ve never been into a fat girl, but you’re different.” I bought into these things for a really long time, but I’m really not that different. I’m fat, and that is what I am. Some of my boyfriends who’ve never been with a fat girl before, would also say things like “If you lost weight, I’d be scared because people would see you for who you really are.”  That didn't really sit well with me because what if I wanted to lose weight?

On the flipside, I have found myself on fetish websites. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it is. I was approached daily by men who were “feeders”, and many of them I found attractive and would love to date them, but I don’t because I want a man to like more than my body. I’m not willing to offer myself up to be objectified purely for being fat any more than I would also offer myself up to be objectified for having a “typical” swimsuit body. I think that’s the balance you have to strike--of course I want my partner to be sexually attracted to me, but asking me to gain weight is the same thing as asking me to lose it. It’s my body, and I’m in control of it.

I’ve had women come up to me and say that they’re insecure about being naked in front of their partners. The way I see it, if someone is in bed with you, it’s because they want to be there… We need to get to a place where we don’t need to feel like someone is doing us a favor by dating us.

RH: That’s great how you’ve really learned to shape a strong identity for yourself! I’d love to hear about how dance has also played into your identity, and how it’s helped your relationship with your body.

WT: I think all young girls are going to grow up with some sort of body image issues, and I think in the dance world, it’s magnified quite a bit. I’ve always had a weird relationship with my body based on how it looked, and how it looked in relation to other dancers, dance clothes, things like that. It always made my hypercritical of what other people thought. On the other hand, my relationship with my body was also very positive because I loved to move my body. It’s like an intimacy you have with your own body when you’re a dancer.

When I gained weight, I dropped out of my college dance class because I could not look at myself in the mirror. After that, I did not dance even in the privacy of my own home for ten years because I thought that my body did not give me permission to do that anymore. I thought that fat women couldn’t dance, and that I didn’t deserve to that. It was heartbreaking. When I finally decided to dance again in the privacy of my apartment, I found myself crying and having this intense experience. No wonder I had been depressed for so long! I let my weight stop me from doing the thing that gave me the most happiness.

To get back into dance really felt like freedom. I was letting my body do what it naturally wanted to do. Before that, I kept telling myself that I couldn't be sexy, I couldn’t move the way I wanted, that women who looked like me didn’t deserve to experience this. I had all of this energy in my body, and being to let it out has been cathartic. Dance is something that I need to have in my life. I’ve made the commitment to do that, and I don’t care if people don’t like to see that.

RH: I was reading about your No Body Shame campaign, and I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about that, for those who don’t know about what it is.

WT: The purpose of the campaign is to allow men and women of every variety to live without shame. The focus is typically on being fat, but the overall statement is meant to target some sort of shame that has been felt by every person. I want to teach people to live their lives without being paralyzed by shame. This is something I hope to do for the rest of my life to give people a resource and a place to go so they can feel okay.

RH: That’s a fantastic message to be spreading, and I think it really speaks to the message that Proud2BMe is trying to spread. I see Proud2BMe as a place teens in recovery can really come to for support, and being surrounded by people similar to them. What words of advice would you like to offer to our readers, especially those who are just beginning their journeys toward body acceptance and recovery?

W: I think that for the longest time, I wouldn’t use the word “recovery” because I wanted to minimize my eating disorder like everyone else did. I wasn’t underweight, which didn’t stop people from playing it off. I had times when I was younger where I would restrict my eating, and dealt with bulimia my whole life. When I was fat, I was still purging, and I realized that I really did have an eating disorder. People need to realize that recovery can take a very long time, and that’s okay. I don’t think that you can recover overnight. It took many phases for me. The negative thoughts were always there.

I am now in a place where I have not engaged in any disordered eating behaviors in over a year. The negative thoughts have really been subsiding. There’s hope, and for a while, i thought that I would never be able to rid myself of negative thoughts, but I’m living proof that that’s not true. I have felt positively about myself for a while. My journey definitely isn’t over, and I have to be really careful to not let those negative behaviors or thoughts come about. I want to put my health as a whole human being as a priority, or I could very easily succumb to an eating disorder. It’s important to focus on how you feel mentally and emotionally because behaviors definitely stem from thoughts.

RH: Your show has gained a lot of positive attention, which shows how our society is starting to become more accepting of different body types. What kind of impact are you hoping your show could have on not only younger audiences, but the population overall?

WT: I think one very basic thing I would hope it could do is show that a fat person has a place on TV. You just don’t see it often, and fat women are grossly underrepresented in media. Even if it’s a kid just flipping through channels and seeing me laughing and smiling, you’re putting a different image in their head. 

I’ve had so many people (even before the show) reach out to me. I’ll never forget this guy--a gay, fifteen year old boy wrote a letter to me about my dance videos and said something like “I just watched some of your videos, and I now feel like things are going to be okay for me.”  This show spreads a broader message about being different. 

I hear from just as many women who have eating disorders as obese women. I hear from people with chronic illnesses, disabilities, people who are gay. The overriding issue of being different in a society that doesn’t like that is what connects to people. Even if they aren’t fat, they understand how I feel and the struggles I have had. It’s not just about weight. 

Personally, it’s about overcoming something someone told you was wrong with you. If people can see that I was able to navigate through that then they know I can do it too.  That is the message I want to get across--it’s about knowing you matter, you’re worth it, and you have value regardless of whatever you may believe is wrong.

About this blogger: Rachael Hershon just finished her first year at Brandeis University just outside of Boston, MA. She is English major with a double-minor in Teacher Education and Journalism.  She is also a DJ for WBRS, Brandeis’s radio station, and she helps organize concerts for Brandeis Association of Music and Concert Organizing (BAMCO). Additionally, she writes reviews for The Sirens Lounge—a website centered around alternative music from up-and-coming bands and artists. Rachael is passionate about poetry, music, and body positivity. She hopes to be a music journalist.

Photo courtesy of The Penningtons Blog

Also by Rachael:

An Interview with Jes Baker: Why It's Important to #LoveTheMirror

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