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From the star of TLC’s My Big Fat Fabulous Life and the YouTube sensation “A Fat Girl Dancing” comes an empowering memoir about letting go of your limitations and living the life you deserve. Right now.
Whitney Way Thore stands five feet two inches tall and weighs well over three hundred pounds, and she is totally, completely, and truly . . . happy. But she wasn’t always the vivacious, confident woman you see on TV. Growing up as a dancer, Whitney felt the pressure to be thin, a desire that grew into an obsession as she got older. From developing an eating disorder as a teenager, to extreme weight gain in college, to her ongoing struggle with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Whitney reveals her fight to overcome the darkest moments in her life. She holds nothing back, opening up about the depths of her depression as well as her resilience in the face of constant harassment and mistreatment.
Now Whitney is on top of the world and taking no BS (Body Shame, of course). And she’s sharing the steps she took to get there and the powerful message behind her successful No Body Shame campaign. She even reveals her favorite “F” word (it’s probably not what you think), the thrill of doing it with the lights on, and the story behind the “Fat Girl Dancing” video that started it all.
Exuberant and utterly honest, I Do It with the Lights On is the inspiring story of how Whitney finally discovered her fabulousness when she stepped off the scale and into her life, embracing herself unconditionally—body, heart, and soul.
Advance praise for I Do It with the Lights On “Whitney’s story is one of radical vulnerability. She is a vibrant example of what it means to choose confidence when insecurity beckons from every corner. She is cool, funny, and shameless—in the best possible way.”—Kelsey Miller, author of Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life
“Soaring above expectations, I Do It with the Lights On delves into the complicated relationship between a woman and her body. With her trademark charisma, Whitney emerges triumphant, plucking from the mire some of the most important realizations one can hope to have. If you have a body, this memoir is a must-read.”—Linda Bacon, PhD
Under the Cover
An excerpt from I Do It with the Lights On
Life Got Better When I Was Fat
It was the sexiest photo I’d ever taken.
At 340 pounds, I was only just beginning to believe such a thing was possible. It was the fall of 2013 and a local photographer had asked me to pose seminude for a boudoir photo shoot. I was the heaviest I’d ever been, and in real danger of being the most miserable I’d ever been, when I decided to approach my life in a different way. I promised myself that instead of declining an opportunity on the basis of my body insecurity, I would force myself to take it anyway. So when I was asked to do the photo shoot, even though it was miles outside my comfort zone, I said yes.
It turns out this would be the first time in my entire twenty-nine years that I wouldn’t cringe when I looked at a photo of my body. The photo was taken from behind, of my bare back, and the rolls of flesh on my sides formed a particularly curvaceous hourglass (with a few extra minutes). I found that image, and others from the shoot, more beautiful than I ever could have dreamed, and I proudly shared them on Facebook.
I got plenty of flattering and supportive comments, but I also got nasty ones, including a disparaging remark and a request to remove the images from Facebook because they so offended one “Sarah Lynn.” When I clicked on her name, I saw all the telltale signs of an Internet troll. There was no picture or other identifying information, just a sparsely completed profile connected to a handful of friends. “Sarah Lynn,” with all of her anonymous bravado, had this to say, verbatim, about my body:
[Note to the readers: the spelling and grammar that follow are “Sarah Lynn’s,” not my own. Duh.]
Hey nobody wants to see fat rolls!!!!! I would not want my daughter to see this and think its ok to be over weight. Nobody should be proud to be fat they should (you) try to get skinny and show our youth how to loose weight. America is one the most overweight countries in the world and I hate that because fat = lazy.
Her comment was such a perfect, all-encompassing example of the fat-phobia I’d been subjected to for years, and I was so agitated that, in that very moment, I decided I had to respond. And I did—in the form of a makeshift blog titled No Body Shame Campaign.
That was the moment my life changed.
It was responding to “Sarah Lynn” that marked a tectonic shift in the way I viewed myself and how I would choose to live the rest of my life.
In high school a fortune-teller once observed that I had an uncommon “broken lifeline” on my palm. What that meant, she told me, was that I would experience a physical death or possibly a spiritual one, followed by a rebirth. It’s something I never forgot (who could?), and looking back, I realize that I was reborn the day I responded to “Sarah Lynn,” transformed into a warrior who lived a life of action instead of passivity. That makeshift blog has now been revamped into nobodyshame .com—a worldwide movement that encourages everyone to live their lives free of shame—but it all began with an open letter to my detractor, where I articulated what had taken me nearly thirty years to discover about life and my self-worth.
Here is what I wrote:
Dear “Sarah Lynn,”
I put your name in quotation marks because you’re not a real person. I know this because this weekend after I read your comment on a Facebook photo of me (Damn!! You are a big o’ girl), I clicked on your profile. I quickly realized that your page was a front so that you could say something to me on the Internet that you weren’t comfortable putting your real identity behind. But it doesn’t matter that you aren’t real, “Sarah Lynn,” because there are a million men and women just like you in the world, and I’ve officially encountered too many of them to keep my mouth shut about it any longer.
While this is nowhere near the most hateful thing that has been said to me, on the Internet or otherwise, I thought it was a good representation of so much ignorance fat people (and more specifically, fat women) deal with on a daily basis. And since I’m an optimist and you might just really be uninformed and not a hateful asshole, I’d like to address your points.
1. Hey nobody wants to see fat rolls!!!!
Actually, some people do. Some people don’t. Some people want to see blond hair. Some people don’t. Some people want to see big lips. Some people don’t. I would go on, but I reckon this point is pretty elementary and has probably been sufficiently illustrated. Different people like to see different things, and, as human beings functioning in society, sometimes our eyes pass over things we don’t find particularly aesthetically pleasing, but we just move on. Because it’s easy.
2. I would not want my daughter to see this and think its ok to be over weight.
Unless you plan on keeping your daughter captive in a house full of average or underweight people, devoid of magazines, television, Internet, and other forms of media, she will inevitably see overweight people. She’ll see all kinds of people who look nothing like her. She’ll see old people, differently abled people, tall people, freckled people, people of all different races . . . and it’s certainly “ok” to be all of these people. People are what they are and they can’t inherently be “wrong” based on appearance. If you’re worried about your daughter becoming overweight, I can assure you that, similar to skin color or stature, being overweight is not contagious. Exposure to my fat body won’t cause hers to morph into something it isn’t already.
3. Nobody should be proud to be fat . . .
This might shock you, “Sarah Lynn,” but I’m not particularly proud to be fat. I do happen to enjoy parts of my body—I think I have beautifully shaped breasts and full eyelashes. I like my belly button. I think I have a killer smile. These are all parts of my body, but they’re not me. I am fat. And I am proud of myself. But I’m not proud of being fat any more than I’m proud of being brunette or proud of being five-two. Am I comfortable being photographed in lingerie? Yes. But I wonder if you would look at a woman in a bikini who had size A-cup breasts and say, “Nobody should be proud to have small tits.” For some reason, all other women in their various nonfat bodies are just existing; just wearing bathing suits in the summer, tank tops around the house, or lingerie for a boudoir shoot, and no one shames them for that. No one accuses them of having so much pride in their bodies that they aren’t afraid to show them. The implication is that everyone who is not fat is allowed to show their body, but if you’re fat and not wearing a potato sack, Whoa, you’d better check your pride, sister. I’m proud of myself as an entire person. My body is fat. I deserve to wear the clothes I want and to live the way I see fit just like every other nonfat person. End of story.
4. . . . they should (you) try to get skinny and show our youth how to loose weight.
One of my pet peeves, “Sarah Lynn,” is when people assume. I’m sure you’re familiar with the old adage about that. I’m almost thirty, and I was not overweight until I was nineteen, so I’ve actually lived the majority of my little life here on Earth as a “thin” woman, a “normal” woman, an “average” woman, whatever. I’ve also tried to “get skinny.” After being diagnosed with PCOS (save both you and me time and just Google it), I was never able to “get skinny,” but I did lose 100 pounds once with the help of a wonderful personal trainer and a shit-ton of dedication and hard work. But really, it’s no concern of yours what I should do with my body.
5. America is one of the most overweight countries in the world and I hate that because fat = lazy.
I will agree with you there: America is one of the most overweight countries in the world. But I must wholeheartedly disagree with your statement that “fat = lazy.” Some fat people are lazy. Some aren’t. Some thin people are lazy. Some aren’t. Again, it’s not any concern of yours if I’m lazy or not, but . . . I’m actually not. And plenty of fat people aren’t. I’ll never forget the time I busted my 250-pound ass at the gym, outperformed all of the thin people in there, ran four miles, and walked out to the sidewalk dripping with sweat, only to be greeted with “Hey, fat-ass!” from a passing car.
This blog post was the beginning of my new life. It’s a life I never could have conjured up even in my wildest imagination—one full of genuine confidence, happiness, and respect for the old life I survived. To call this change in my psyche a “rebirth” isn’t the least bit overdramatic, either; I am actually living in a way that I previously thought impossible. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself.
When confronted with all the implausible circumstances, auspicious opportunities, and boundless reserves of love (for myself and others) that have appeared in my life, I often wonder how in the world I got here.
Whitney Way Thore’s viral YouTube series “A Fat Girl Dancing” thrust her into the spotlight and sparked a global conversation about body image, leading her to found the No Body Shame campaign to help people of every variety love and live their lives free of shame. As a body-positive activist and self-love advocate, Whitney has appeared on dozens of national and international television programs and continues to garner attention from media outlets worldwide. Whitney currently stars in TLC’s hit reality show My Big Fat Fabulous Life, which showcases her family and friends, her dance career, and her life with PCOS. When she’s not on TV, Whitney keeps busy by speaking at universities, writing, and dancing. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her two cats, Henchi and Wanda.