In 1982, PreventObesity.net Leader Sharon DuMas-Pugh borrowed $200 and launched Full & Fabulous, aiming to help raise the self-esteem of plus-sized women and teenagers. The nonprofit group helps women and young girls cope with the peer pressure of being overweight while also helping them incorporate good nutrition and physical fitness into their daily lives. Rather than teaching girls to diet, for example, the organization focuses on helping them make positive life choices overall and finding ways to continue to make those choices in the years ahead.
As Full & Fabulous celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the Inside Track conducted a Q&A with DuMas-Pugh about her organization’s history and what the future might hold.
Full & Fabulous is celebrating its 30th anniversary! That’s a great accomplishment, especially for a nonprofit group. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I believe Full & Fabulous has been successful because as the founder I know firsthand what the girls are going through, because I grew up as an overweight girl. I went through the same kinds of things, so I know what kind of assistance they need. I was bullied, talked about and assaulted physically because of my weight. Even though I was overweight, I still wanted to be a fashion model, a princess, and that’s what we do with the girls in our program. We make them feel like a princess with makeup classes, modeling classes and more.
What sort of young women do you reach with the program? What sort of things do you do to build their confidence and help them lead a healthy life?
We reach plus size girls ages 9 to 17 who are interested in losing weight, building their self-esteem and becoming a plus size model — or at least look like one!
What are some of the challenges these young women face in building a healthy, happy life? How do you help them overcome those challenges?
Some of the challenges our young girls face are being teased, bullied, and negatively talked about by family and peers.
You’ve reached so many young women over the years, but is there any one person or story that has stuck with you?
The one story that sticks out for me, from over 30 years, is the story [of] Tennae Michelle White and her family. Tennae started with our program when she was 11 years old and she was 225 pounds, four foot three inches tall. Tennae hated exercise, so I would have the other girls pull and push her to get Tennae to walk around the block near our center. Tennae was an only child, and her parents would give her anything she wanted and allowed her to do anything she wanted — including quit our program.
I saw Tennae again in 1998, when she was 16 and 325 pounds. In 1999, [weighing] over 350 pounds, Tennae died of complications of obesity at the tender age of 17 from a massive heart attack, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. Ms. White, her mom, passed away one year later on the same day from type 2 diabetes and cancer. And Mr. White passed away from type 2 diabetes in 2010 and he asked me to share their story with every parent I encounter so that it will save lives.
I understand Full and Fabulous is hosting an upcoming charity walk as part of your efforts during Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Can you tell us a bit about that?
We are hosting the “Get Fit for Change Walk for Childhood Obesity” and Health and Fitness Fun Day, in recognition of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month on Sept. 22. The walk will be led by Pastor Steven Reynolds, who with his congregation lost 10,000 pounds in three years. The walk is a 2 mile walk on Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich. and is a fundraiser for our in-school healthy lifestyle program for the 2012-13 school year.
What plans do you have for your next 30 years?
We have exciting things planned for our next 30 years that will focus on family wellness. Also, we have kicked off the “Curvy Girl Project,” a program that focuses on increased grade point average and weight loss for overweight girls ages 9 to 17.