By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Heath Franklin
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ed Rius
Since she was young, Charity Holloway has lived and breathed for dancing. But when she was told, as a teenager, she was too fat to dance, she nearly gave it up altogether.
Thankfully Charity didn’t and she is now the proud founder and choreographer of 4Thirty-Two, a plus-sized dance group in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Charity told Barcroft TV: “It’s not only just a dance group that I started, it’s also kind of healer of sort for me. It’s helped me to become a better person, it’s helped me to look at life differently, its helped me to come out of the dark cloud, the dark hole of depression and feeling less.
“For me, striving to be a healthier person instead of trying to be a thinner person really gave me a whole new mind set and shift and I started to feel good mentally which is the most important thing.
“Your weight and your size does not have any kind of implication on your beauty, it doesn’t have to determine how you feel about yourself , it doesn’t have to determine how you live your life.”
The group’s name was inspired by the parable of the mustard seed, which is found in Mark 4v32. After the seed is planted it grows into a mustard tree – for Charity starting 4Thirty-Two has been a leap of faith that has most definitely paid off.
Charity explained: “Anything that you want in life - sometimes it may seem intimidating and you may be scared to do it - but if you just start by planting a small seed and have faith that it’s gonna grow and water it and nurture it - then it’s going to grow and that’s what 4 Thirty-Two has become for me.”
Charity has always been bigger but that didn’t stop her from dancing when she was young.
She said: “As a child I was always one of the heavier kids. I always had a lot of hips, a lot of stomach and I knew very early that I was not gonna be that typical skinny girl.
“I first started dancing when I was actually very young. It's always been a huge passion of mine; I danced in church, I danced in high school, middle school so it’s just been a part of my life ever since I was a young girl.
"I can remember being in the living room and looking at people like MC Hammer and Janet Jackson and trying to imitate those moves.”
At high school Charity joined the marching band, as a dancer. But at the start of senior year Charity’s size, which had previously not been an issue suddenly became one. The flag and dance girls were separated out into two teams with the dancers put in more revealing costumes.
Charity said: “I was told ‘you have to fit in this uniform if you want to be a dancer’ and that actually swayed me to be a flag girl because I couldn’t fit in that uniform.”
Rather than give up on dancing, Charity decided to find a different, perhaps surprising, outlet: cheerleading.
She said: “I was the bigger girl so I knew it was going to be a challenge. We hadn’t had many plus-sized cheerleaders before in the team so I went in and I just used my mantra: ‘smile, be really loud, be really clean’.“
After making into the cheerleading squad, Charity was faced with yet another hurdle: the cheerleading outfits were too small.
She said: "The school was gracious enough to actually give me two uniforms and I took those uniforms to a seamstress and she sewed them together and made me an outfit and that’s how I was able to cheer.”
Describing her time as a cheerleader as “awesome” and “great”, Charity nonetheless admits there were times she struggled with her size.
“The girls were great but there was always a part of me that felt somewhat of a outsider because I was the only plus-sized girl in the team so internally I would kind of bottle up those feelings.
“You have to show that your size doesn’t define who you are so I stayed and I had a great time.”
Although she may have appeared confident to outsiders, on the inside Charity was struggling.
She said: “Being told that I was too big or too fat definitely had some very negative implications on my mental health and my self esteem.
“I grew up in a world feeling like I just didn’t fit in that thinner was more beautiful that skinny was more beautiful, I would try different things to try to lose weight, from crash dieting to taking pills, to almost starving myself and it just never worked.
“I eventually came to a point where I decided to stop focusing on losing weight and start to focus more on being healthier both mentally and physically. I came to a point where I accepted my body, where I started to love my curves, where being full-figured was positive for me.”
Charity is keen to stress that promoting plus-sizes isn’t the same as promoting obesity - and that looking after our mental health is as important as our physical wellbeing.
“Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong in striving for a healthier lifestyle, I do think that sometimes people believe that because I am a plus-sized body positive advocate, that I don’t also advocate for a healthy lifestyle and that is just not true, I just believe that you have to love yourself at every part of your journey.”
Now working full time as an account executive in a marketing agency, Charity began her plus-size dance group in 2016 to encourage other women – as well as herself - that being big doesn’t stop you from being a good dancer.
“One of the main reasons why I started 4Thirty-Two was to dispel those rumours that we are somehow less than because we are plus-sized - that we are not physical or we can't move or we can't be sharp or we can't be beautiful or we can't be inspirational.”
There are currently 18 members, including Charity, in the performance group who have travelled to Italy, and, most recently, China to perform. Charity also runs open classes and workshops for women of all dance abilities and it is still an ambition of hers to one day be a full-time dance professional.
She said: “It is definitely still a dream of mine to be a professional dancer. The only difference is that I feel like it is more of a possibility than when I was younger - even five years ago I didn’t see being a professional dancer as an opportunity or a possibility.
“For a long time dancing was the only place that I felt confident, it was the only place where I felt like I can be my total complete authentic self, it was the only place where I felt freedom.
“Now that has started to transcend into everyday life but it all started with me hitting the stage performing and dancing so I love dance because it allows me to be expressive it allows me to just be me.”