How Does it Feel to Be Fat in High School?

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 8, 2007 — -- Celebrities like Tyra Banks have donned "fat suits" to try to portray life from the point of view of an overweight or obese person. One intrepid young woman, Ali Schmidt, decided to go through that social experiment in high school.

When she was 15 years old, Schmidt spent 24 hours in the makeup and costume of a 250-pound girl for the award-winning documentary "Fat Like Me." Now, the Lifetime network has made a film based on Schmidt's experience called "To Be Fat Like Me," starring Kaley Cuoco and Caroline Rhea.

Schmidt, Cuoco and Rhea recently sat down with ABC's Diane Sawyer to talk about their experiences.

While Schmidt learned at lot from her day as an overweight student, she says her experience was difficult and scary.

"It was awful. The most awful experience of my life," she said. "I was in the lobby of my hotel and this 45-year-old man came up to me and said, 'Oh my God, look at the junk in that trunk.' And from that point on I just started bawling."

At school, Schmidt was greeted with cruelty and indifference.

"The boys were bluntly mean, saying things right to my face or laughing in my face. The girls refused to look me in the eyes," she said. "The regular me would have said something, but the me in the fat suit couldn't do it. Socially, it would be committing suicide."

Schmidt's self-esteem plummeted during the experiment.

"It shattered all of my expectations. My self-confidence hit the ground. Unlike Kaley's character in the movie, I didn't fight back," she said.

Playing Schmidt, Cuoco also felt a drop in confidence.

"I was afraid to go to the set in the fat suit," she said. "It made me never want to eat again. It was really eye-opening."

Cuoco was shocked at how people reacted to her.

"People gave me weird looks and would act like I didn't exist. I couldn't believe the rudeness," she said.

In the Lifetime film, Rhea plays Cuoco's mother, who has had a lifetime of weight problems. Rhea believes the film imparts an important lesson.

"It's so easy to judge everybody and for some reason extra weight is the one thing everything feels OK to joke about," Rhea said. "This just increases your empathy to the experience. It wasn't permanent for these guys but a lot of young kids are obese."

Schmidt hopes the film helps educate teens sensitivity about obesity.

"The most valuable thing is being able to understand obesity better, more conscious of what it is," she said. "I had seen it as a symptom of laziness, not their emotional or physical health."

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