When Whitney Way Thore was younger, she used to “be a writer,” she says, making air quotes with her fingers as she sits on a couch in her Greensboro living room. She always wanted to be one when she grew up, and even took home a $25 check after winning a writing contest as a 5th grader. But Thore never knew exactly what she would write about, and the craft slipped away from her in college.
Thore took a circuitous route to becoming a published author, never imagining that she’d be the star of her own reality television show — “My Big Fat Fabulous Life,” which returned for a third season on TLC on June 8. But the series led to a book deal that went from a concept to an agreement within weeks. And Thore only had four months to write and edit the book before the early June publish date.
“If I knew I’d be writing a memoir, I would’ve been paying more attention,” Thore jokes.
She describes writing I Do It with the Lights On: And 10 More Discoveries on the Road to a Blissfully Shame-Free Life as a cathartic process, an attempt to answer the loaded question of “How did you get here?” and explain her journey of self discovery as well as her ruminations on feminism, body positivity and health.
Thore can hardly remember writing it.
Between filming 10 to 12 hours a day, with two days off a week, Thore can’t imagine where she found the time to crank out the book, though she said some portions went through heavy revisions.
“Writing really is like a muscle,” she says, explaining that once she started flexing it again, the words flowed more easily.
As vulnerable as Thore may be on her reality TV show, carrying out fights and other difficult or unflattering moments on camera, she says the book is only more so as she revisits her childhood and moments where she didn’t hold her head as high. Sometimes people assume they know Thore, considering they have such an expansive view into her life through the television show. That can lead to unwarranted criticism or assumed familiarity — though Thore said people recognize her more often in public outside of her hometown, possibly because locals are trying to respect her privacy. Regardless, her newly released book provides the context to actually understand her, she says.
“My Big Fat Fabulous Life” takes place in Greensboro, where Thore grew up and still lives. After I Do It with the Lights On came out, Thore held a reading at the Barnes & Noble in the Friendly Shopping Center, the same bookstore she grew up going to and not too far from where she now lives. It’s a little surreal she says, adding that even though the TV show airs “on every continent except for Antarctica” and has taken her to places such as Russia and South Africa, seeing her name on the marquee of the Carolina Theatre downtown still delighted her.
As a kid, Thore read RL Stine’s “Fear Street” books, later finding herself drawn to books with strong women including The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. These days, her bookshelves are full of books about feminism, and she’s recently enjoyed Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker and Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller.
Sometimes people think, “I’m not fat, or I don’t have weight issues, so there’s nothing in this for me” about books like she’s been reading or the one she wrote, Thore says. But she receives hundreds and hundreds of messages a day on her social media accounts from people who find inspiration in her story, regardless of their size or the specifics of their personal struggles. People identify with her living her life and loving herself in spite of societal ideals that argue she shouldn’t embrace herself. I Do It with the Lights On is for anyone that has a body, she says, because it’s about finding an independent sense of self worth. And that’s something we could all benefit from.
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