Let me guess–you can’t stand reality TV, right? It’s unintelligent, shallow, boring, needlessly dramatic, and full of people you can’t stand who can’t stand one another (“I didn’t come here to make friends, Chad“). Well, get ready for a show that will change your mind: My Big Fat Fabulous Life is TLC’s newest hit and its star Whitney Thore is about to be your new favorite person. That’s right: a likable reality star!
Here’s a quick rundown on who Whiteny is and how she got her own show: Whitney has always been passionate about dance. In college, she gained a significant amount of weight, eventually getting diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a medical condition that is still not well-known by the public. Whitney rose to internet fame after posting videos of herself dancing on YouTube, refusing to hide herself or pretend she didn’t love to dance just because her body wasn’t deemed conventionally attractive and acceptable for society’s standards on what a dancer and woman “should” look like. Now, after inspiring millions and unintentionally falling into the role of acting as the voice of the body positive movement, she’s got a fantastic TLC show that critics and fans are raving about.
To be totally honest, I hate doing interviews. It’s not that I do not love talking to people, I just always feel so effing awkward. But guys, the smile I have up there is totally genuine–Whitney Thore is not just a fun person to watch on television, she’s one of those rare humans whose presence (and gorgeous cobalt Lane Bryant dress) lights up a room and makes grumpy New Yorkers like myself feel warm in the winter. Of course, her thoughts and opinions are just as wonderful as her energy, as our interview is about to prove to you.
How do you feel about the word “fat”? Y’know, since it’s right in the title.
Whitney Thore: I love the word “fat.” I think it’s really important that we introduce that word into the dominant discourse we have about obesity. When I first started my dancing videos, I called them “A Fat Girl Dancing,” so I’m really excited that TLC put “fat” in the title.
I think that “fat” has a really negative connotation and people think it’s inherently insulting, and I think that’s crazy. I think it’s important to juxtapose that word with a woman who does not hate herself, with a woman who is smart and talented and has things to offer the world. We so often think that “fat” is synonymous with bad, ugly, lazy, stupid, and I would love to see the feelings around that word dissipate because it’s just a physical descriptor.
That’s exactly how we feel about it!
Y’know, people often look at me and say, “Whitney, you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” And I’m like, that’s ridiculous, I’m almost 400 pounds, I’m definitely fat! But it just shows that people cannot reconcile that you can be attractive and fat, or smart and fat.
It’s like how people look at a plus-size model and say, “She’s not plus-size, she’s actually really pretty.”
Yep! They’re missing the point…I think we still dance around the word. People still don’t want to confront the word, even with “P-H-A-T,” like, “Whitney, you’re not fat, you’re phat.” I’m like no–I’m fat! It’s just a word. It is what I am; I’m just not embarrassed of it. It’s not a shameful thing for me. I have struggles and I have different issues that go along with being fat, just like everyone has issues, but I’m not embarrassed of the fat that I’m fat.
On the other hand, I’m also not proud that I’m fat. People say that a lot: “Why are you proud to be fat?” I’m just proud to be myself, I just happen to be fat. I’m not “proud” of my boobs or “proud” of my hair.
Your hair is so brave! So, what was going through your mind when you uploaded that first YouTube video?
Well, I certainly never expected it to go viral. It really wasn’t that big of a leap for me–ha, leap! Anyway, the way I’m living now, I’m not hyper-aware of how big I am. I used to be, but I forget my size, so when people make fun of me, I’m kind of taken aback. Like, “Oh, okay, yeah, I’m fat, that’s why you’re doing that.” But I feel confident I’m a good dancer so when I uploaded it, I expected some hateful comments, but it wasn’t…really that hard.
Who’s your target audience for this series?
Of course, TLC is female-oriented, so I guess my main target would be women like myself. I’m 30 years old, I’m fat, there are a lot of fat people in America. There’s also a lot of people having to move home with their parents, which is something you can see in my show, that’s what I’m dealing with–which really causes me more grief than my body does! I hope to reach a wide variety of people. I see my supporters are people all over the world, men and women, old and young, people dealing with so many different things.
It’s not just about body image, which almost everyone can relate to, but the feeling of shame, whether it be about your sexuality, your age, your other body issues, I think that shame is something everyone has experience with. Shame is debilitating and paralyzing, and I quit living for 10 years of my life because of it. I want to reach anyone that has something they feel is holding them back from just living in the moment and being happy.
Click to the next page to read about Whitney’s favorite stores for plus-size women, how she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and the other “F” word she’s absolutely not afraid to say!
That makes sense–so many people are ashamed of their skin, their bodies, their identifies. It’s important to acknowledge that. Regarding your polycystic ovary syndrome: when were you diagnosed?
I was not diagnosed until I was 23, but the symptoms had been there all along but they came in waves. When I started puberty, I got my period once and then never again. Then, during my first year of college, I put on 100 pounds. After that, I started losing my hair–this is delicious weave right here.
Yup, 90% not mine! Then, I started growing hair in places you don’t want it because my testosterone is twice the level of a typical woman. And that’s a lot of what you can see in the show: me dealing with my PCOS. On top of just being fat, it really kind of strips you of your femininity. I really had to reevaluate, like, “What do I have to offer the world not that I don’t feel like a woman is ‘supposed’ to be anymore?”
Finally, in 2005, when I was 23, my OBGYN looked at everything and said, “Oh, I think you have PCOS.” I had never heard of it, but it’s actually quite common. It’s a syndrome, so it’s a grouping of symptoms, so that’s why people’s experiences can be varied. Two-thirds of women with PCOS are overweight or obese, but some women aren’t. Some women struggle with fertility, some women may have a full beard–I’m lucky I don’t have a full beard, but I do deal with quite a bit of beard. It’s a vast syndrome that affects a lot of women in a lot of ways.
That’s something exciting about your show–it could really bring PCOS into focus. I had never heard of it until probably two years ago when I wrote a story about a woman who grew out her beard for No Shave November, and she actually did it to raise awareness for PCOS. And yet, it is really common.
For something so common, it’s shocking we’re not educated about it.
On a totally different topic, where are some of your favorite shops for plus-size women?
I love Lane Bryant, I really do. I shop there all the time. When I was younger, I don’t know if I just didn’t like my body or if I didn’t like plus-size clothing but I remember being a lot more frustrated when I was younger. Now, perhaps because I’ve embraced by body and don’t want to hide myself, I like fashion and like different options–I’m not afraid to show my body.
And this is a little embarrassing, but I don’t discriminate against a maternity dress at Target! The maternity line they have there just fits by body, so I like that. I also like Torrid, and online, I shop from ASOS Curve and Avenue. Even Forever 21 has a plus-size section; their pants don’t fit me but some tops do!
How do you describe your personal style now that you’ve come into your own self image?
I would say on the day-to-day, I’m pretty casual, but my fashion essential is spandex. I know that’s cliche, I’m a fat girl who loves spandex, but I just love leggings. I love any kind of empire waist, like with a longer skirt or shorter dress plus leggings. It makes me feel like a million bucks because it accentuates my figure.
So, regarding the weave–I really would never have guessed! Tell us more about it.
I got it about a year ago when I was first going to do some TV shows. I have very little hair and I sweat a lot, it’s very thin, and it gets stringy, so I got extensions for [appearances]. And now it’s been a year and a half! Some people might say, “Oh, isn’t that hypocritical? You’re saying be proud of your body but you [have extensions].” And you know what, sister? One day, I actually hope I’m strong enough to have a bald head and walk out, but not yet.
Plus, it’s your choice and your body.
Yeah, and it’s not permanent. It’s like makeup or nail polish, sometimes I wear it and sometimes I don’t.
For women, we are told from the day that we are conscious that we have a body, that we have to look a certain way in order to have value, and I will not subscribe to that line of thinking because there’s a lot more to me than that.
I’m so excited for your show. It sounds so feminist.
I’m a militant feminist.
I love you! [Note: This was an unplanned burst. I actually said “I love you” during an interview.]
I am a feminist! I’m not afraid of the fat word or the feminist word.
How has dating changed for you since you shot to Internet stardom?
It hasn’t changed much except I get a lot of men reaching out, typically through the Internet, who have a fat fetish. Men who want to feed me or even see me get bigger, and you think as a big girl, “Oh, that might be really cool, this guy loves me because of my body,” which is a mind-altering experience after we hear all day men don’t like big bodies, but it’s still looks-based. I would prefer not to be solely objectified on my body, so I’m really not into guys who like me solely because I’m fat.
A lot of times, they expect you to be almost grateful that they find you attractive, like they’re doing me a favor. But no! I think it’s important to note with my No Body Shame Campaign and the show that I’m not hungry–oh god, another fat joke!–for men to find me attractive. I’m not trying to change people’s minds. I do believe I’m beautiful, I believe that any color, shape, and size is beautiful, but that’s not the point. For me, it’s the fact that I’m more than a body and I am worth more than my appearance.