Dance in the News I A FAT GIRL DANCING: I Didn’t Let A 100-Pound Weight Gain Stop Me From Doing What I Love, And I Hope You Wouldn’t Either
by Whitney Thore
I never set out to be a voice in the body-positive movement. In fact, as recently as a year ago, my most significant life goals hinged solely on losing 200 pounds so I would fit into a body deemed attractive and acceptable by society.
I desperately wanted to have a body that gave me permission to do the things I loved, like dance in public, and a body that gave me permission to outwardly be the person I was inside: a confident, quirky woman with endless goals and dreams.
My quest for this perfect body started at age 10 and eluded me for the next 19 years, creating an uphill trek through self-doubt, eating disorders, polycystic ovarian syndrome, a 100-pound weight loss and towering waves of depression.
Now, at age 29, the path has finally leveled. I’m arriving at a place of self-love which has manifested itself in the No Body Shame Campaign.
The No Body Shame Campaign is a fortuitous accident, its inception going all the way back to 5th grade when I first realized my appearance was paramount and my intelligence, talents and contributions were secondary. It continued when I was 12, weighing 117 pounds, as I gripped the rim of a toilet and forcibly threw up my dinner. Throughout my teenage years, I was active, playing competitive soccer, dancing daily as well as teaching dance, and often acting in 2-3 shows at a time.
While it was easy for me to project confidence, inside my self-worth was constantly teetering. At the very core of my soul, I felt beautiful. I felt talented. I felt worthy, but I couldn’t help but shape my self-image with the feedback from society and from my peers. Even though I was popular –- I was crowned Prom Princess! –- it wasn’t enough to save me from constantly questioning myself and feeling as though I just never quite measured up.
During my freshman year of college my 5’2”, 140-pound body became unrecognizable after I inexplicably gained 100 pounds. Not unlike a person donning a fat suit in public for the first time, everything changed overnight. Unable to reconcile this new perception of me (suddenly, I was lazy, disgusting, and worthless), I quit my life. I failed out of my dance classes and almost out of college entirely.
Suddenly, boys who’d fallen all over themselves to date me no longer looked me in the eye. My female peers often treated me as though I must have never had a boyfriend or gone on a date.
I lost my identity because everything I was good at was something I couldn’t do anymore. I didn’t dare step into a dance class and look at my reflection. I found it difficult to get cast in theatre productions because the role of the fat woman is not one often written into the plays I was auditioning for.
My confidence was scoffed at –- who was I to think I deserved to be treated well, or possibly even desired by a man? I entered a cycle of depression, inactivity, and self-loathing, and I gained another 100 pounds in the following few years. By the time an inquisitive doctor poured over my medical history and diagnosed me with PCOS, it was well established that the only ticket back to “normal” life and loving myself was weight loss.
I graduated and survived 4 years living abroad in a society with an even harsher attitude regarding body image than the one in I’d grown up in. Even though living in Korea gave me some of the best experiences of my life, it also tested me like nothing I’d ever encountered. It was commonplace to be laughed at, pointed at, and snorted at in public.
I was legitimately harassed on a weekly basis, but I found solace in the warmness of my students, brilliant children who had lived abroad and were fluent in English. Hearing things like, “Teacher, even though you are fat, you are actually very beautiful” meant so much to me, and I felt grateful that I was able to be an example of something they were not regularly exposed to in their culture.
When I moved back to the States, I lost 100 pounds in 8 months -– a considerable feat considering my PCOS -– thanks to a rigorous diet and exercise program formulated by an amazing personal trainer who believed in me. But losing weight became an obsession, a means-to-an-end, and my old disordered eating crept back in. The worst part? To this day, I’ve never had high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
I became a licensed Zumba instructor who could easily run 4 miles. I even auditioned for and was accepted into the Dance Therapy program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but outside of the gym, I was still criticized and ostracized for being fat. I was still assumed to be lazy, disgusting, and worthless. It was then that I knew there was more to this self-love thing than just losing weight.
I was hired as a radio personality, and once my lifestyle changed, the weight piled back on. I didn’t work out for hours each day anymore, and I went out to eat with my friends a couple times a week. Even though emotionally and professionally I felt I was succeeding, with each pound I gained back, a part of me became frantic, terrified that I was undoing all of my hard work.
Because I realized that my self-worth was still completely dependent on the number on the scale, I understood that losing weight hadn’t solved my problems; it hadn’t made me love myself unconditionally, and somehow I was drowning in more self-doubt than ever before. But this time, I didn’t quit my life. I kept living; I kept dancing.
My co-worker urged me to film myself and put the videos on YouTube in a series called “A Fat Girl Dancing.” I started a blog titled No Body Shame Campaign detailing my struggle with body image.
Suddenly, one of my videos went viral and my inbox exploded with messages from all over the world from people saying that watching me dance had made them cry or changed their life. This was overwhelming to me –- and very telling of the society we operate in.
Seriously, what is so startlingly subversive about a fat woman dancing and not being afraid to put it on the Internet? Why is this considered so brave? I know I’m a talented dancer, and I have never been modest or afraid to showcase my skills.
It took me years, but I finally became OK with doing what I love now, whether I was thin or fat or somewhere in between, but clearly while some are OK with it and some not (I try to force myself not to scroll through the YouTube comments that urge me to kill myself), one thing is obvious: it’s different. It’s different and shocking to some degree, but it shouldn’t be.
So with the support of tens of thousands of men and women I’ll never meet, No Body Shame Campaign was launched as a full-fledged movement. A movement that recognizes obesity as a complex, multi-faceted issue that is best dealt with by first unapologetically loving yourself as you are, without being shamed out of a gym or off a dance floor. A movement that knows positive change can’t start or be sustained until you are truly kind to yourself from the inside out. A movement that reaches even further -– and aims to show that your body doesn’t have to limit you, whether it be deemed “too skinny,” “too fat,” or “broken.” A movement that asserts that you don’t need society’s permission to seek your joy right now.
Love yourself. Live fully. No excuses. No shame.
Such an important message to get out there. We are all more than a body size. There are so many reasons for stress and illness in the world. Making ourselves sick trying to fit a certain image or hiding in shame when we can’t achieve that short lived success before we then have to worry about age, wrinkles, possessions..shame on us. Thanks for letting us see someone accept it’s alright to embrace your beauty! And you are beautiful. It would be a shame to hide that beauty behind long stringy hair, loose baggy dark clothes Sun glasses and the worst shame would be to miss your contagious smile! I’m a fan at first sight :)