Dancer overcomes body shame to reclaim her passion
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A Greensboro native is inspiring the world to do something completely radical: accept our bodies.
Several months ago, Whitney Thore was working as a producer for local radio station 1075 KZL and posted a video of herself titled “A Fat Girl Dancing” on the station’s YouTube channel just to increase social media traffic to the site. Thore, a former competitive dancer, impressed the Internet with her athletic ability as a 340 pound woman. The video went viral and has now been viewed by over 5 million people worldwide.
“I was pretty mind-blown,” said Thore. Thore has now dedicated herself to her new No Body Shame campaign, but it’s been a long and difficult journey to get to this point.
Having danced since she was four years old, Thore was never a chubby or overweight child, but that didn’t stop kids from teasing her. Thore began to internalize a shamebased narrative that would haunt her for years.
“I remember as far back as fifth grade I was made fun of,” said Thore. “I was called Baby Beluga – and that was with me as long as I was conscious of my body. I was always embarrassed and always wanted to be thinner.”
Thore exhibited a talent for dance and theatre in high school, and was accepted into the theatre and dance company at Weaver Center in Greensboro. She began dancing competitively with Greensboro Dance Theatre at age 16, but her body anxieties still remained.
“In high school I never weighed more than 140 pounds,” said Thore. “But I was very insecure about my body and I struggled with eating disorders from the time I was 12 until I went to college.”
As Thore strived to achieve the perfect “dancer body” she would starve herself for weeks at a time and engage in purging behaviors. Her weight yo-yoed constantly, and even though she once lost 30 pounds in a single month, she was never diagnosed with an eating disorder.
When Thore started college at Appalachian State University, she began experiencing dramatic unexplained changes in her weight. By the end of her first semester she had gained 50 pounds.
“I had no clue what was happening to me and since I had always internalized so much shame about my body, in my mind I felt like it was kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy – like I’ve always felt fat and now I really am fat,” said Thore.
Thore felt like she had turned into a different person overnight, and struggled to keep up with the changes in her body.
“My body was changing so fast that I was getting really bad bruises and injuries because I would bump into things because I didn’t understand how much bigger my body had gotten in relation to doors I had always walked through or my furniture,” said Thore. “That’s how fast it was happening.”
But the biggest change was in the way other people treated her. Friends and strangers looked at her differently, and boys that had taken her out on dates just four months earlier would pretend that they didn’t even know her. According to Thore, she felt like she had suddenly donned a fat suit to wear out in public. She felt at once invisible and painfully conspicuous.
Thore sought out doctors and nutritionists but nothing seemed to work. By the time she finally did receive a diagnosis, she had already gained 150 pounds and lost almost all of her self-worth.
“It was just mind blowing, and it happened so fast that I just totally lost my identity,” said Thore.
After failing out of her college dance class because she couldn’t stand to look at herself in front of the mirror anymore, Thore discovered that she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It’s an endocrine disorder that can cause infertility, weight gain, hair loss, and other symptoms related to hormone production and regulation in women. As a grouping of symptoms, PCOS can present itself in wide variety of ways.
“People can have extremely different experiences with it,” said Thore.
The fact that Thore has a condition has been a point of contention for her and her critics, and Thore has been shocked to find that complete strangers seem to have very strong opinions about her health. Maria Kang, the “Fit Mom” publicly called out Thore to add that she thought that Thore was trying to use PCOS as an excuse because Kang had a skinny roommate in college with PCOS. Thore shrugs off this type of chatter.
“I want to make it clear that I’m not this fat because of PCOS,” said Thore.
Thore says that because she suffers from insulin resistance along with her PCOS, she would have probably gained 100 pounds, but that the additional weight she gained is due to cyclical perceptions and behaviors that led her to think of herself as a fat person, and therefore accept that lifestyle.
There were no parts for a fat girl in productions for her theatre and dance classes at Appalachian State, and suddenly the things that Thore had always loved to do were no longer within reach. The more lost and devalued she felt, the more weight she gained.
“I don’t like to focus on my PCOS because it doesn’t matter why I’m fat,” said Thore. “You don’t say, ‘Oh, I’ll respect that person because she has a health condition.’ That’s a really slippery slope. I mean, how do you decide who’s worth respecting or not?” Thore finally started dancing again when she lived in South Korea after college. One day she just found herself dancing alone, and in the privacy of her own room.
“I had not given my body permission to do that in years because I thought that I wasn’t allowed to,” said Thore. “And I got so emotional that I started crying. And it was really wonderful.”
Thore started dancing with friends out at nightclubs while battling harsh criticism from her overseas neighbors.
“Discrimination against fat people there is really overt,” said Thore. “I got spit on and called a pig and these were everyday experiences for me.”
Back in the states and at a weight of 280 pounds Thore got her Zumba certification and started teaching classes in Greensboro. She would run five miles a day while focusing on her fitness. Sometimes people would yell things at Thore and try to shame her for being lazy while she was exercising. She dealt with prejudice on a daily basis while realizing that weight and health weren’t necessarily correlated.
“You can’t determine a person’s health by what they look like,” said Thore. “I’m living proof of that. Even though I have PCOS I have never had high blood pressure. I’ve never had high cholesterol. My joints are great. My muscles are great.”
Thore says that she would like to lose 100 pounds. At that weight she would still be considered obese, but it’s more about being in shape for her body.
“I want to be fit,” said Thore. “I don’t care what I look like. I have zero hang-ups about the way that I look. I’m not afraid of being fat anymore.”
Thore’s honest approach in her campaign has inspired people all over the globe. She reports receiving emails every day from people who say that she has changed their life, or even saved it.
“One of the most touching things I read was [from] a boy who lived in Lebanon,” said Thore. “And he wrote to me – this was probably in March I think – he wrote to me and said, ‘I saw your dance video and I went to your website and I’m gay and in Lebanon it’s illegal to be gay, but you just gave me hope for my life,’ and that just really touched me.”
She has appeared on a dozen shows including “ABC News”, “Good Morning America”, and “Today”. She has started a public speaking tour, and hopes to create a line of exercise DVDs aimed at overweight people.
“There’s such a need for that,” said Thore. “There are so many men and women who are too ashamed to go to a class or go to a gym. And if I could help them build up their confidence in the privacy of their own home then I think that’s worth it.”
For Thore, the No Body Shame isn’t just about fat people; it’s about fighting the body prejudices that are so ingrained within all of us, and encouraging people to view themselves and others as a whole person.
“This is not about being fat positive,” said Thore. “It’s that every person – regardless of their body – deserves to live the way they want, to pursue their goals and dreams, and deserves to be respected.” !