by TC Currie
In a world where loving yourself is an act of revolution, Whitney Way Thore is a war for independence. Friday night, Thore talked to a diverse standing-room-only crowd in Cary, North Carolina, to share her new book, I Do It With the Lights On.
No one has seen anything like her in the media before. Smart, chipper, articulate, fat and beautiful, Thore is a voice for the body positivity movement. In the three years since her “Fat Girl Dancing” video dropped, she has created the #NoBodyShame campaign (now #NoBS), starred in her own reality TV show (My Big, Fat, Fabulous Life airing on TLC) and is now a published author. Throughout it all, she is real about her struggles, which mirror the struggles of everyone with body image issues. Thore’s honesty, bubbly personality and willingness to laugh at herself are endearing to her legion of fans.
Early reviews for I Do It With the Lights On have been positive. Dr. Linda Bacon, a professor, researcher, and the author of the groundbreaking books, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About your Weight, wrote, “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.”
At Friday’s event, she told the crowd her parents, Babs and Glenn, might show up; she called her dad, putting him on speakerphone.
“I always tell my parents not to come to stuff,” she said as we listened to the phone ring, “but if he doesn’t actually show up, I’ll feel sad.”
When he didn’t answer, she announced she was going to send him a video and held up her phone.
“On the count of three, everyone say, ‘where are you, Daddy?’” The audience laughed and played along.
“He’s going to love this,” she said grinning and typing into her phone.
So when the B&N rep came up to introduce her a few minutes later, Thore waved to the crowd and said, “Oh, we’re old friends.” Folks nodded.
Thore has a casual grace in front of people; her genuine comfort with herself shines through. She’s quick to laugh or tear up and is eloquent and engaging. Her expansive personality fills up the room, making everyone feel included.
She said she always wanted to write a book, but she didn’t know what it would be about. “What I didn’t know is that my life would unfold into something worth writing about.”
There was a turning point, just after “Fat Girl Dancing” went viral, that made her realize it wasn’t just about her. She received an email from a teenage boy in Lebanon who wrote that he was gay. “Being gay is illegal in Lebanon,” he said, “but watching your dance videos makes me feel like my life is going to be OK.”
Thore was surprised that a gay Lebanese teen would feel a connection with a straight, fat, white Southern woman.
“But I realized it wasn’t about being fat, it wasn’t about dancing, it was about living my life despite the fact that society told me I shouldn’t and that I was enjoying my life and doing my passions in spite of everyone telling me I needed permission. If you glean anything from the show, the book, my life, that is what I want you to get.”
She read a few pages from her book, stopping to welcome Glenn and Babs as they tried to sneak in the back. She took questions from the audience for about 30 minutes, chatting comfortably about a wide range of topics.
When asked, “what’s the first step in loving yourself?” Thore said to start with the smallest step. Become visible in some small way.
“Have courage, find a friend and do one small thing that scares you. It’s so cheesy, but if there’s something you think you shouldn’t do, than that’s exactly what you need to do.”
“I can’t tell you how many times people have told me ‘I saw you do that then I realized I could do that, too,’” Thore told her.
“Have you considered bariatric surgery?” asked a thin woman.
“I have not. I get that question a lot,” Thore said, turning serious. “For me to pay someone to cut up my body, I would have to know it was a dire situation; that I needed to do that in order to live. So for me, it’s not something that I would consider now. Does that mean that if a doctor ever said ‘you need this surgery to save your life,’ then yeah, I would probably rethink it then.”
When asked for parenting tips, Thore suggested we start with what we wished our parents had said to us when we were young.
“Don’t let the first thing that comes out of your mouth be ‘you’re pretty,’ especially to a young girl. It starts that early. You think that’s a compliment, but it teaches the girl that being pretty is what is valued and she starts striving for that.
“Don’t do negative self-talk in front of your kids. They internalize those comments.”
Toward the end, someone asked, “what are your long-term goals?”
“I want more cats,” she laughed.
And when the TV show end, Thore says wants to do a lot more motivational speaking. Her first TED talk will be live soon and she loves the personal touch of live events. “It’s what makes the hours on the computer alone in my room all worthwhile,” she said.
She has something terrific on the horizon for #NoBS, that she can’t technically talk about because it might be in the show’s third season. “I can’t say anything yet,” she said, drawing out the words, “but if anyone is wanting dance videos sometime soon, you might be …” she made a circular motion with her hand.
As I waited my turn at the signing, I realized that people were also lining up to talk with Babs and Glenn. I went over to get my selfie with them and ended up taking pictures for other fans. Between photo ops, I chatted with them. They are exactly like they seem on the show: charming and generous. They asked each person their name and thanked them for coming. And Babs made sure the book cover was displayed in every photo.
Will any of this make a difference?
On Goodreads, reader Natalie Sorge said, “After reading Whitney’s book, I have changed my perceptions of my OWN body image.”
And that would make Thore very, very proud.
TC Currie is a writer, journalist, poet, body positive activist and occasional lingerie model. She is currently on a six-month road trip around the United States with her boyfriend and was in North Carolina by chance.