Here, Kimmi Leahy, 32, tells the story in her own words.
S￼neaking into the back of a pole dancing class, I tugged down my long shorts and two baggy T-shirts. Tears pricked my eyes and I shook with fear as I tried to hide my body. I was so scared, my husband Shannon, 32, had to grip my hand and literally drag me into the room. ‘You can do this,’ he encouraged me.
A size 24, I felt terrified of being the fat one and assumed everyone would stare at me. Pole dancing was something I’d always wanted to do, but due to my size I thought I didn’t look the part.
After all, when did you ever see a 127-kilo woman twirling herself around a pole? Surely it’s for tall, slim girls, not a hugely overweight mum? I thought.
I’d struggled with my body shape since my teenage years when I developed an unhealthy relationship with food.
At school, it was all about looking good, so I thought I should be a certain way with toned arms and legs and a flat stomach. I was so insecure about how I looked – and so desperate to be thin – that I went to extreme measures.
Between the ages of 15 and 24 I’d starve myself for days then, feeling faint with hunger, I’d binge on any food I could get my hands on.
Afterwards, racked with guilt, I would purge, making myself sick. At one stage, my weight dropped from 107 kilos to 63 in just six months, before I piled it all back on again. Somehow I’d managed to hide everything from my family, only telling one friend and Shannon.
When I eventually sought help, the doctor said I had disordered eating. He explained it meant abnormal eating patterns, which is not classed as an eating disorder.
Shannon tried his best to encourage me to be healthy, but it was only when I fell pregnant with our first son Erebys that I realised I needed to change. ‘I want to be well for our boy,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you give pole dancing a go love,’ Shannon suggested. ‘You’ve always said you wanted to try it.’
So, with his support, I signed up for a session.
Now, I was standing in the class and all my initial fears of being laughed at proved totally unfounded. None of the other women batted an eyelid at my shape, and after following the teacher demonstrating the moves, I found myself getting to grips with the pole – literally!
Lifting Erebys for six months had made my arms really strong and I could actually hang from the pole.
By the end of the hour, I was exhausted and covered in sweat and bruises but I felt amazing.
Hooked, I signed up for more sessions on the spot.Twirling around the pole at my lesson each week, my physical strength and fitness were growing – and my confidence was too. I even bought a pole to practise on at home and started dancing up to four times a week – stopping only while I was pregnant with my second child Caelus.
Over time, pole dancing helped me learn to love my curves. Ditching the baggy T-shirts and shorts, I thought nothing of stripping down to my underwear!
‘I feel powerful and free in a way I’ve never done before,’ I beamed to Shannon. Any hang-ups I had about my body had disappeared as I realised all sizes can be sexy.
Wanting to spread the word to others who might be struggling with body image, I posted videos of myself performing routines on social media. Unfortunately, it made me the target of cyberbullies.
‘Look at this!’ I gasped to Shannon one day. That pole must be the strongest one in the world, someone had written. Another said I looked like a pig that has got stuck. ‘Take no notice,’ Shannon said. ‘I think you look amazing.’
At first, I felt hurt and angry, but pole dancing has given me the confidence to shrug them off.
Now I don’t pay attention to the trolls, I just delete their comments. As far as I’m concerned, the pole is for everyone and it’s for no-one to say what type of body shape should be doing it.
As for Shannon, Erebys, now eight, and Caelus, four, they are my biggest fans.
Erebys has even signed up for pole classes for children because he sees how much fun I have while doing it.
To help me manage the unhealthy eating habits that once blighted my life, I’ve undergone counselling to improve my relationship with food, too.
Looking back, I can’t believe how I used to feel about myself before – thinking I was fat and shouldn’t show off my body. I want to demonstrate that plus-size pole dancing can be done and anyone who is bigger and wants to give it a try should go for it. It makes you feel amazing, empowered and so confident.
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