Reality TV Star Visits Campus to Promote Positive Body Image

For many people, the first thing they think about when they hear the words “reality TV” is “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” or “Jersey Shore.” Maybe the last thing we tend to associate reality TV with is  “positive body image.” Whitney Way Thore, star of TLC’s “My Big Fat Fabulous Life,” is actively trying to change not only the way we perceive reality TV, but the way we perceive our own bodies.

Through her active “No Body Shame Campaign,” Way Thore is reaching out to millions of people worldwide, encouraging them to accept and love themselves as they are, in light of the social pressure constantly exerted by exterior sources.

On Nov. 13, a crowd of students gathered in the Alice Haynes room for the opportunity to be the focus of Way Thore’s body positivity campaign, as she held a motivating discussion in honor of University of Richmond’s weeklong “Body Love Campaign.”

Way Thore kicked off her discussion by showing a video montage from her popular reality show, where she demonstrated how her weight is not a factor that limits her passion and capabilities to do what she loves.

“I was tired of my weight holding me back,” she said as she talked about what motivated her to start dancing after drastically increasing weight in her late adolescence, a symptom of her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. She quickly engaged in reaffirming a sense of self-confidence, as the first thing she spoke about was her current body-loving frame of mind, and how she had gradually built up this self confidence in recent years. According to Way Thore, this change in mind frame began at around the time when one of her friends used her as a model in a boudoir photoshoot.

“For the first time in my entire life I looked at these photos and I thought that I was beautiful,”  she says of the experience. From this point on, she began to actively engage in promoting body positivity by creating the “No Body Shame” blog and posting a video of her dancing on YouTube, where she began to draw attention from diverse media outlets and eventually TLC.

Nonetheless, Way Thore was quick to point out that she had struggled with her weight and body image throughout the majority of her life, beginning at her scarce 10 years of age, when she was deemed bigger than her fellow dancers. This struggle continued throughout the course of her teenage years, where she faced bullying from her classmates and peers, until she ultimately developed an eating disorder by the time she was 15. However, it was not until her college freshman year when the situation worsened. By winter break she had gained 50 pounds, which only continued to increase.

“My physical body didn’t understand how it fit in the world,” she said. As a dance and theatre major, she saw how overnight people began to treat her differently due to the weight gain, leading her to drop out of dance classes. During her college years, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a disease that can cause 2/3 of women who suffer from it to gain rapid amounts of weight, which are difficult to lose since the body simultaneously becomes resistant to insulin. After this point, Way Thore proceeded to talk about her travels in Asia, and the overt discrimination she felt within these societies due to her weight.

“I got spit on once, I even got hit on the head in a bar,” she said. These actions took a physical and mental toll on her, which led her to become determined to lose weight, by exercising 10-15 hours a week and eating the minimum possible. “Fat people absolutely can be anorexic,” she added, detailing how she spiraled into a depressive episode when she gained the weight again.

Her change in mind frame began soon after this point, as she says she began to build up confidence in herself. “I started doing things that were uncomfortable to me, and immediately my life started changing so much for the better,” she said. “As soon as I quit caring what other people thought about how I looked, and did what was in my heart, my entire life changed. In months I got to quit my job, I got my own TV show, I moved out of the house, got a new cat. It’s so good. It’s really so good.”

Way Thorne then gave some tips she encourages frequently within her “No BS Campaign,” the first being to stop the “fat talk” and negative body shaming, urging attendees to call themselves and others out when this occurs. The second tip was to consider that “the body is an instrument, not an ornament,” and to consider the practical uses of a body rather than the ornamental stigma it has been given by society. She urged attendees to “love stuff” about themselves, even if society does not think the same. Her last tip was a variation on the golden rule: to not speak to oneself as one would not speak to one’s friends.

The workshop then moved into a question and answer session, where a representative of Richmond’s Body Love Campaign posed Way Thore questions that the university community prepared throughout the week via the Body Love Campaign’s table in the Tyler Haynes Commons. Way Thore enthusiastically answered the questions, ranging in topics from her experience working with TLC, her relationship with her parents (who were also in attendance to the workshop), and how to support loved ones struggling with body image. After Way Thore was done speaking, the opportunity for a photography session was opened to the attendees.

The feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive from those who attended. “The talk was really great and inspiring,” said freshman Madison Sweitzer. “She made everything she talked about very relatable and is a great role model for how living with a positive attitude regardless of your situation is possible.”

Contact Forum reporter Sabrina Escobar at sabrina.escobarmiranda@richmond.edu.

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