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 a**. 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."
This article was first published on June 23, 2015.
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