Personalities often sell a reality series. And Whitney Thore certainly fills the small screen with hers.
She might be a big girl, but she can bust dance moves that will put most size-zero professional dancers to shame.
In fact, that is how this former radio producer flagged the attention of TLC Entertainment.
Her dance video, A Fat Girl Can Dance, went viral after it was uploaded onto YouTube.
Several TV interviews later, a reality star was born.
Reflecting on how fame has affected her life, Thore said being a well-known person had many difficulties – but just as many positive things.
“It’s hard to deal with so much criticism every day, especially with the internet. It’s somewhat hard to get a date because men think they know everything about me.
Obviously it’s difficult knowing that people know your secrets and your life.
“On the positive side, the show has served to normalise fat bodies and has been an example for people to show that fat people are just like every other type of person. For example, we are funny and smart, and have family and friends who love us.
“And that is such a positive for me that it’s way more important than the negative.”
In case you’re wondering, Thore’s back on the market.
She’s having trouble finding a long-term partner whom she would want to marry.
“I’ve realised my weight affects me in some ways. There are also lots of men out there who specifically love fat women and we don’t realise that they exist, but they do. And they’re usually a lot more quiet about it because they might be embarrassed. So, I’m hopeful.”
Is there a skinnier Thore waiting to be unveiled at some point?
She said many people believed all fat people felt like they had a skinny person inside them that was itching to come out.
Not her, though.
“I don’t feel lost in my body. I have come to terms with it. I am at peace and one with my body.
“It’s, of course, difficult to maintain my self-confidence and have people not think I’m crazy because everyone in the world is very focused on losing weight, so it’s kind of an uphill battle every day.”
On plus-size models becoming more popular, Thore said society was taking a big step forward but it was nowhere near where it needed to be.
“We can look at Ashley Graham on the cover of Sports Illustrated and that’s amazing. But she is still very small. She’s barely a plus size. If we’re talking about women like me, a lot of plus-size ranges still end at, like, an American size 22, and I’m an American size 28 or 30.
“There are definitely steps being made in the right direction but there’s a lot more work to be done.
“Also, it’s unfortunate that we are looking towards the modelling and fashion industry as the litmus test of how society views fat women. It means we’re still viewing women as things that need to be beautiful or look a certain way and all that kind of stuff. You see so many fat women wanting nothing but to be models. That’s not really the right way to think.
“If you want to be a model, that’s great, but it’s also okay to be fat and not be considered beautiful. It’s okay to just be a fat person and have other qualities that make you valuable.”
Thore said there were discrepancies in the way in which plus-size men and women were treated.
“Fat men are definitely more accepted by society, and we know this by turning on the TV or watching a movie, or seeing a comedian or anything. There are tons of fat men who aren’t made fun of because of their weight.
“Obviously we expect women to be beautiful before anything else and we don’t expect that of men.
“Both have their challenges but we are incredibly hard on women. I mean, even, you know, Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl – people were calling her fat because she has a bit of a stomach. We would never see that happen to a man. It’s a problem that affects all people.
“But if we’re being realistic, it’s way harder for women.”
WEIGHING IN ON OBESITY
Thore said she could sympathise and empathise with all overweight people, no matter how big they were.
“I’ve kind of been across the whole spectrum. You know, I’ve been thin. I had eating disorders. I’ve been chubby. I lost 100 pounds (45kg) and I gained it back. I’ve been fat and I’ve been really fat, so most challenges that anyone faces, I can understand.
“That just speaks to how common and pervasive body image problems are. Whether you are five pounds overweight, or whether you are so big that you are having health problems and immobile, I have experiences it with all of those, so I definitely can empathise with anybody who’s struggling.”
THORE’S TOP 5 TIPS
Thore said all women struggled with their body image, no matter their size.
“But I think that the most important thing to know is that it can get better. Things can change. I’m living proof of it.”
Now for the advice part, especially for those people nursing deep-seated feelings of insecurity:
#1 Have compassion for yourself and realise that you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be what society wants you to be.
#2 Go ahead and cultivate relationships, whether it be with your family or your friends, but find people who can support you because being compassionate towards yourself is difficult.
#3 Find things you value about your body and yourself. You want to look at your body as an instrument and not an ornament. It’s basically what your body can do for you and not about the way that it looks. If you find something that helps you enjoy your body, whether it’s dancing or a sport or yoga, things like that can really foster a positive connection with your body.
#4 Actively disengage from the diet culture. That’s difficult because it’s all around us but, for example, the next time someone says something about your weight, if you practise defending yourself and standing up for yourself, that helps because it’s something you have to do every day.
#5 This is a bit of a funny one. I would recommend being naked by yourself in your own home as much as possible because you need to be exposed to your own body and you need to see it for what it is. I used to never want to be naked and now I’m naked all the time. It really helps to just face your body and look at it and learn to love it.
● My Big Fat Fabulous Life 3B airs on TLC Entertainment (DStv Channel 135) on Thursdays at 8.55pm.