Whitney Way Thore is the star of the TLC show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, and she is my hero (along with her hilarious mother Babs, whoever invented Girl Scout cookies, and the person who finally got the middle finger emoji to happen). When I first heard of the show, I thought the title was offensive (because that’s what privileged white girls do). But then I actually watched it, and it’s anything but. Whitney put up a video of herself dancing in 2014 that went viral, and her career took off from there. Now, she not only has her own TV show, but she created and runs the No Body Shame (No BS) Campaign, teaches “Big Girl Dance Classes” at the Greensboro Dance Theater (where she grew up taking lessons in NC), is writing her first book, and travels the world spreading her body positivity message.
Honestly I’ve never seen a public figure who is so authentically and joyfully herself. She grew up dancing and that’s her self-proclaimed life purpose. But she has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which is a hormonal disorder women can have that makes it really easy to gain weight and really hard to lose it, among other possible effects (e.g. infertility, low estrogen levels, etc.). So she’s gone through periods of massive weight gain and loss. And because of this, she’s struggled with her body image tremendously. So much so that she’s also battled severe eating disorders. But now, at one of her heaviest weights, she’s got more confidence than ever and is leading the battle against body shaming. And I think her use of the word “fat” is a perfect example of this: she owns it, reclaims it, and doesn’t allow herself to be ruled by its traditionally negative connotations.
And the way she’s achieved such a self-affirmed existence is shockingly simple: loving herself. Unconditionally. Her whole message is basically that every human, regardless of their size or appearance, is so worthy, and doesn’t deserve to be shamed or embarrassed or made to feel less than because of what they look like. It should be so obvious, but so few of us live that. It’s always “I’ll love myself if I lose 20 pounds, if I look good in a bikini, if someone else tells me I’m beautiful.” But Whitney is all about knowing that you’re enough as is, regardless of any self-perceived shortcomings, or anything anyone else criticizes about you. She believes and teaches and exemplifies how you don’t need to be validated by anyone else to feel valid.
Every time I watch an episode of her show, I’m so inspired and impressed by her all over again. I think one of my favorite things about her is that she continues to dance despite and because of her body image, health, and weight struggles, and she clings to dancing as her one true love and salvation. And maybe that’s because I can relate—while I didn’t grow up in as regimented a dance environment as she did, I’ve always enjoyed dancing, and my best friend, who I could watch dance forever, has really taught me the freedom and value that dancing represents. So dance holds a special place in my heart.
But perhaps the reason I admire her most is because I don’t think I can do what she does. I don’t have the courage she does to live without shame about who she is or how she looks. I don’t have the resolve to know that my worth is defined by my mind, not my body. I cave to the pressure to hate myself all the time. And so I really do look to her as a role model, an example to strive for, and someone who represents hope. I wish I was strong enough to do what she does all on my own, but it’s so much easier to follow in someone else’s footsteps than to forge your own path. Which is so pathetic to say, but if I’m being honest, it’s true for me. At least right now.
But Whitney makes me think that it’s possible for me to live with sincere pride in myself and without fear of external judgment. That it’s possible to accept that I only ever want to wear leggings/expandable clothing, and no makeup, and maternity sweaters. That I don’t have to keep my expired skinny jeans in the back of my wardrobe—I may as well use that shit for kindle because all it’s doing right now is haunting me and I have enough skeletons in my closet. And that my love handles don’t say nearly as much about me as my self-directed shit-talking does. So that’s why she’s my hero (…is totally how a 5th grade report would end, right? Fuck it, this is how I’m ending it. Because I’M GREAT AND CONFIDENT AND DON’T NEED TO APOLOGIZE FOR MYSELF OR EXPLAIN WHY I HAVE THE WRITING SKILLS OF A 10-YR OLD).
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