TLC has debuted the first of a nine-episode reality series “My Big Fat Fabulous Life,” featuring Whitney Way Thore, a young woman who became a YouTube sensation last year with her video, “Fat Girl Dancing.” Besides using the “my big fat” cliche AGAIN (does Nia Vardalos get royalties for these?), the show relies on stereotypes and well-worn reality show conventions for an abysmal, cringe-inducing full hour of embarrassment.
First off, anyone who thinks Ms. Thore is “embracing fat” will be missing what she makes quite clear. She has a very serious case of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and she’s trying to make the best of dealing with it. She asserts frequently through the show that she would like to to lose weight (if that’s even possible for her) and admits that before she developed PCOS, “Looking back to when I was thin, I can’t believe how much I took it for granted.” In a conversation with a nurse practitioner, by way of setting up the back story for the viewer, Whitney explains that in college she began to gain an extreme amount of weight at a rapid pace. Today she also deals with the other horrific symptoms of PCOS including excessive body and facial hair (she says she shaves her face) and hair loss (she describes her hair as a weave). It also looks like she may be dealing with acne. My Big Fat Fabulous Life is not about a woman embracing life in a large body; it’s about a young person struggling to deal with the symptoms of a serious and incurable medical condition. The show does not celebrate being “fat and fabulous” but rather how PCOS and its impact on her body has robbed Whitney Thore of a normal life and how she’s trying to compensate.
The show’s confession cam depicts Whitney in a chair from an angle that accentuates the arc of her stomach.
Whitney Thore is 30 and has moved back in with her affluent parents in their large, television-ready home. She previously worked as an on-air producer for a morning radio show in her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. Did she quit her job and move home to create a contrived environment for the reality show? Her parents are portrayed as Southern eccentrics with her father a frequent foil expressing concern at his daughter’s weight. Whitney’s mother is named Babs. Really, Babs.
It should be no surprise Whitney has the reality show standard issue sassy gay best friend and even the strictly friend-zone straight guy buddy who brings her pizza. An hour of Whitney became grating; she is depicted as the typical big personality, big mouth, big appetite fat girl. She brings up sex frequently, even in conversations with her mother, and behaves as if she aspires to be outright promiscuous. She attempts to persuade everyone it’s a good thing that she’s found a man online who “appreciates” large women. Was she really completely ignorant of BBW fetishists? As Whitney prepares to meet the man for their first date, she makes it clear there’s a possibility she could bring him home. Babs worries that her father could “hear noises in the house.” We’re supposed to be shocked when the date expresses eager interest that Whitney gain more weight. She naively dismisses him as “not the one” as if he’d actually been in contention.
My Big Fat Fabulous Life is just another reality show exploiting a fat person with a sympathetic back story. Stacy Bias’ “Good Fatty Archetypes” would call Whitney Thore a “No-Fault Fatty” who can’t be held responsible for her weight. Whitney is currently 380lbs and likely to keep putting on the pounds due to her condition. Will TLC still be interested if she can’t dance anymore?