TV personality Whitney Thore is the happiest she's ever been - at 172kg
Former prom queen Whitney Thore is done moping over her weight and is starring in a reality TV series
She has been called "Shamu" (the famous killer whale at SeaWorld San Diego) and a "pig", and even had a stranger spit in her face.
The abuse has come Whitney Thore's way because she is obese and weighs 172kg.
Yet, the star of reality TV series My Big Fat Fabulous Life, which airs every Wednesday at 9pm on Eve (StarHub Ch 425), pays no heed to the detractors and has never been happier.
"I am in a better place now and this is the best I have ever felt," a chirpy Thore, 31, told The New Paper in a telephone interview from her home in North Carolina, US.
The former high school It girl and prom queen, who weighed 52kg in her early teens, faced body image issues since she was 10 and later started piling on the pounds when she was 18.
A year later, she had put on 45kg.
At 21, she found out she had polycystic ovary syndrome. It is a hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age and symptoms include irregular period, acne, excess body hair and weight gain.
Patients may also develop cysts in their ovaries.
After her diagnosis, Thore abandoned her passion for dancing, turned to drinking, battled eating disorders and sank into depression.
Hating herself, she shed 45kg in eight months after purging and eating only 500 calories on some days.
"I lost 100 pounds but one day after a run, as I was walking back to my car, somebody called me a fat ass. It made me realise that I lost weight but nobody cared.
"I realised that as long as I was linking my worth to my physical appearance and caring about other people's standards, I would never be happy," said Thore, who found online fame last year thanks to her viral Fat Girl Dancing videos on YouTube.
LOSING WEIGHT HEALTHILY
Now, she is comfortable in her own skin, more confident of her physical appearance and actively tries to lose weight the healthy way.
She dances at least three times a week, teaches dance classes and takes up activities like swimming and boxing while trying to maintain a healthy diet.
Thore also launched the No Body Shame campaign, which promotes self-love and body confidence.
Her life is well-documented on My Big Fat Fabulous Life.
"There is a lot of empowerment in putting myself out there. You don't really see fat women portrayed in a positive light on TV.
"Fat people can accomplish things just like everyone else. The show humanises us so people can see that there is nothing scary, bad or ugly about us," she said.
On the show, Thore steps out of her comfort zone to don a bikini at the beach for the first time in nearly two decades.
"I was never comfortable wearing it when I was thinner. When I put it on this time, I felt pretty.
"Not surprisingly, I got strange looks and laughs but the best part was I didn't care. I had fun and that is more important than what people think," she said.
Baring that much skin might leave strangers uneasy but Thore does not see it as a problem any more.
In fact, she is perfectly comfortable checking out her naked body in the mirror.
"I am actually naked right now," she revealed during the interview, laughing.
"I don't like being fearful of the unknown, I want to look in the mirror and see every scar and cellulite.
"I want to know my own body because it is important that I can accept myself," she said.
Like every girl, she also hopes to find her Prince Charming and her quest for The One is something she takes viewers through on the show.
Thore, who said her size has never prevented her from experiencing love, would not let on much about her dating status but has this to say: "I am very happy now."
That sentiment applies to all aspects of her life as she consciously seeks to lead a healthier lifestyle, coupled with a positive body image.
Still, she does not ignore the health risks her obesity poses.
"I don't care about losing weight for appearance but I want to avoid health problems because I love life and I want to live it for as long as possible."
"I realised that as long as I was linking my worth to my physical appearance and caring about other people's standards, I would never be happy."
- Whitney Thore, who weighs 172kg
Turning heads in modelling
GO-GETTER: US model Tess Holliday impressed Milk Model Management with her proactive attitude. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/TESS HOLLIDAY
US model Tess Holliday hit the big time in the past year for being the largest plus-size model to be signed to a mainstream modelling agency, Milk Model Management.
A US size 22 who weighs 127kg, she has a large social media following and is a vocal advocate of body positivity via her movement #EffYourBeautyStandards.
The 29-year-old graced the cover of People magazine earlier this month, was featured in Vogue Italy and has posed for numerous fashion brands.
Holliday, who launched her own career and landed a modelling stint after posting photos of herself on Instagram, is part of the new wave of plus-size models slaying traditional modelling standards.
"I have this passion inside of me to help other women feel confident and comfortable in their bodies, regardless of their size or what society tells them is beautiful. It's like a calling," she wrote on a blog for People magazine.
Holliday recently made headlines again when she was slammed for her comment in an interview with The Guardian in which she said: "I do admit that black men love me. I always forget that, and then I come to a black neighbourhood and I remember."
She took to her Facebook page to apologise for "any hurt that (her) flippant comment has caused", explaining that it was intended as a "play into the idea that black men like bigger women, but the humour of that doesn't come through".
She goes from 8XL to 5XL and feels liberated
BEFORE AND AFTER OP: Haryani Othman in 2013 (left) and in 2015. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARYANI OTHMAN
While her peers weighed at least 40kg in their teens, local comedienne-scriptwriter Haryani Othman was already hovering between 60kg and 80kg.
She has always been plus-size and has a larger-than-life stage and on-screen personality to match.
In 2013, the 37-year-old was featured in a three-episode web reality show, Yakult Klinik Kita: Edisi Makeover, which tracked her weight loss efforts.
But in January, Haryani made the decision to undergo a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy procedure that removed part of her stomach to curb her food intake.
Documenting her journey on her blog (hanidiva.wordpress.com), she decided to go ahead with the surgery when her weight started to affect her health.
"I had never felt so handicapped - I was prone to asthma, had bad water retention and couldn't even bend my knees.
"After a trip to the US, I had high blood pressure and my doctor recommended the procedure as an option," she told The New Paper.
At her heaviest, she weighed 168kg.
Since the surgery, she has lost 30kg and aims to hit 100kg. Her dress size dropped from 8XL to 5XL.
But there were challenges.
In the beginning, she often felt weak.
She can eat only about four spoonfuls of food a day and drink a litre of water.
She could previously finish a plate of rice with a second helping, but now, she finds it hard to eat rice and will throw up.
Still, she is thankful she managed to fulfil her wish of performing the optional religious act of umrah or small pilgrimage last month.
Said Haryani: "I can't describe the feeling (of being able to prostrate during prayers). Each time I performed my prayers in Mecca and Medina, I will cry (out of happiness because I couldn't bend my knees before)."
Now, she no longer has high blood pressure and she feels more agile.
She added: "I feel liberated and I am thankful I have a strong support system in my family and my husband."
Be positive, but don't deny obesity risks
Even though it is a positive thing that Whitney Thore is confident of her appearance, there is no denying that her weight places her at risk of health problems such as heart diseases, hypertension and diabetes, said experts The New Paper spoke to.
Dr Quek Swee Chong of Parkway Gynaecology Screening & Treatment Centre said the message Thore is sending is important.
"For some people, obesity is not always the result of one's lifestyle. It results from a combination of genes and possible health problems. I would be wary if the message is, 'Be obese, look at me, I'm happy'. There has to be a healthy balance," he said.
He stressed that a healthy body mass index should be attained.
"Her weight is not good for her general lifestyle. What is going to happen in the future? For example, her knees need to withstand her weight for long periods of time and that is just one problem," he said.
Consultant psychiatrist Ang Yong Guan said that both the physical and psychological components are equally important.
"If she is not putting on a front, then this is the best scenario where there is no conflict between her outward appearance and inner self-esteem... (but) she needs to consult with her endocrinologist to reduce those health risks," he advised.
Consultant nutritionist Sherlyn Quek recommends that women similar to Thore stick to a healthy diet by drinking more water and taking high-fibre food. They should avoid sweetened drinks, deep-fried food and items cooked with coconut milk, cream and butter.