My quest for this perfect body started at age 10 and eluded me for the next 19 years, creating an uphill trek through self-doubt, eating disorders, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a 100-pound weight loss and towering waves of depression.
Now, at age 29, the path has finally levelled. I’m arriving at a place of self-love which was kickstarted by my appearance in a Youtube video called Fat Girl Dancing that went viral and a “No Body Shame Campaign” I started on my personal blog.
I never set out to be a voice in the body-positive movement. In fact, as recently as a year ago, my most significant life goals hinged solely on losing 200 pounds so I would fit into a body deemed attractive and acceptable by society.
I desperately wanted to have a physique that gave me permission to do the things I loved, like dance in public, and to outwardly be the person I was inside: a confident, quirky woman with endless goals and dreams.
My pre-occupation with the shape and size of my body started when I was in 5th grade. That was the first time I realised my appearance was paramount and my intelligence, talents, and contributions were secondary.
When I was 12, weighing 53 kilos, the disordered patterns of eating began - I gripped the rim of a toilet and forcibly threw up my dinner for the first time.
During university, my 5’2”, 63 kg body became unrecognisable after I inexplicably gained 40 kgs. Not unlike a person donning a fat suit in public for the first time, everything changed overnight.
Unable to accept my new shape (suddenly, I was lazy, disgusting, and worthless), I ‘quit my life’. I dropped out of my beloved dance classes and almost out of college entirely. Entering a cycle of depression, inactivity, and self-loathing, I gained another 40 kgs in the following few years. By the time an inquisitive doctor poured over my medical history and diagnosed me with PCOS, known to cause rapid weight gain, it seemed that the only ticket back to “normal” life and loving myself was weight loss.
After graduating and surviving four years living abroad in South Korea, a society with even harsher attitudes towards body image, I lost 45 kilos in eight months thanks to a rigorous diet and exercise program formulated by an amazing personal trainer who believed in me. It was a considerable feat considering my PCOS, which can make it very difficult to lose weight at all.
But weight loss became an unhealthy obsession and my old patterns of disordered eating crept back in.
During this time I became a licensed Zumba instructor who could easily run four miles. I even auditioned for and was accepted into the Dance Therapy program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, but outside of the gym, I was still criticised and felt ostracised for being fat. I started to realise that there was more to this self-love thing than just losing weight.
I was hired for a radio job, and once my lifestyle changed to being more sedentary, the weight piled back on. I was drowning in more self-doubt than ever before.
But this time, I didn’t ‘quit my life’. Instead I did something proactive. My co-worker urged me to film myself and put the video on YouTube. That first clip called “A Fat Girl Dancing” has now been watched over 2.8 million times.
After the video went viral, and received so many positive and encouraging responses, I started a blog called “No Body Shame Campaign” detailing my struggle with body image. With the support of tens of thousands of men and women I’ll probably never meet a fully-fledged movement was born.
It’s a group of passionate people that recognise obesity as a complex, multi-faceted issue that is best dealt with by first unapologetically loving yourself as you are, without being shamed out of a gym or off a dance floor. Positive change can’t start or be sustained until you are truly kind to yourself from the inside out.
Your body doesn’t have to limit you, whether it be deemed “too skinny,” “too fat,” or “broken.” You don’t need society’s permission to seek your joy right now. Love yourself. Live fully. No excuses. No shame.
Whitney is a guest on tonight’s episode of Insight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE, which hears from guests about their experiences of shame – from those who’ve been ostracised by their families and communities, to those who have decided to publicly shame others for stealing or drink driving. The program finds out whether shaming can be helpful or destructive. #InsightSBS