In a culture that’s finally embracing body positivity, how tf is fatphobia still so pervasive? Body image and fat discrimination activist and author Virgie Tovar says it’s because society isn’t as pro-big babes as the latest Dove ad, full-figured Barbie or curve model at New York Fashion Week imparts. Behind every “healthy is the new skinny” mantra and juicing fad remains the same ol’ oddments of fat bias, hate and fear. In her manifesto, “You Have the Right to Remain Fat,” the San Francisco-based mexicana uses almost a decade’s worth of research and a lifetime journey from self-hate to self-love to discuss fat bigotry and debunk the falsehoods of diet culture.
“With the years I’ve spent working with women of all sizes and ages, it’s really clear to me that there is a global crisis of female unhappiness, of female confusion. Our culture is committed to keeping women confused and blaming ourselves. I use diet culture to begin the conversation, but this book is really about freedom. I’m trying to show women what my journey to freedom looks like. I’m trying to be that good friend who takes you to church in the moment when you need it. I’m trying to hold somebody in their weak moment,” Tovar, 36, told FIERCE of the intentions of “You Have the Right to Remain Fat.”
The short-yet-powerful read, published by the Feminist Press in August, is like a slice of creamy flan, a small, high-calorie sweet treat you’ll devour in one sitting. Even better, it was baked just for you by the loving hands of your fave prima.
“I feel diet culture makes you feel alone, even if you’re with people. When you’re feeling lonely, you need that thing that symbolizes something, that symbolizes you’re not alone. … This book, this physical thing, can act as a grounding for you. It reminds you that you’re rooted and that there is a community with you,” she said.
A crucial manifesto for every girl, woman and femme, we’re sharing our biggest takeaways from “You Have the Right to Remain Fat,” which is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
1. Fatphobia is bigotry.
Like gender and race, fatness, alone, is meaningless. We are not born believing thin bodies are good and fat bodies are bad. That is a lesson that culture teaches us. We are taught that people who are fat don’t have self-control, that they’re dirty, that they’re not beautiful and that they are not deserving of love. As a result, we are taught to look down, even hate, fat people and live in fear of becoming like them, largely because of the bigotry people of size experience.
2. Fatphobia harms everyone.
While fatphobia targets fat people, Tovar reminds us that it impacts individuals of all sizes. “Everyone ends up in one of two camps: they are either living the pointed reality of fatphobic bigotry or they are living in fear of becoming subject to it,” she writes. In other words, fat bigotry harms fat people by humiliating them, by making them feel inferior and by refusing to take health issues seriously, but it also injures non-fat individuals by using fatphobia to control the size of all people, by forcing them to, often dangerously, diet and over-exercise, by not allowing them to revel in the joys of life out of fear of becoming fat or appearing fat.
3. Controlling women’s body size is about controlling women’s lives.
While fatphobia impacts everyone, it’s also a tool of sexism. According to Tovar, “internalized inferiority is part of sexism and diet culture feeds on that sense of inferiority.” To feel inferior, or less than, is to feel like you, as you are, are not good enough or worthy of what you want and need, that you must change who you are, or what you look like, to become deserving of those things. Diet culture, more commonly veiled as healthy culture these days, hinges on women’s internalized inferiority. We adopt ineffective, or downright damaging, regimens so that we might finally find ourselves worthy of romance, of healthy relationships, of the job we are otherwise qualified for, of playing sports, of dressing how we like, of being adventurous, of taking photos — of taking up space.
4. For Latinas (and other immigrants), dieting is a part of the American dream.
If you’re a non-white person in the U.S., you’ve received a lesson (or a trillion) on bootstrapping, the idea of pulling yourself out of your current circumstances by taking advantage of everything the “land of opportunity” has to offer you. If you’re unable to make something out of nothing — the idea goes — that’s on you for choosing not to bootstrap, not on the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that functions on the existence of the haves and the haves-not. For Tovar, and so many other chubby girls of color, thinness was a form of assimilation into dominant U.S. culture as a second-generation Mexican girl, and dieting was how she would bootstrap her way to the American dream.
5. You have the right to remain fat.
While we live in a fatphobic country, one that tells all of us that fatness is a problem that must be solved by diet and exercise, Tovar debunks this fallacy, pointing her finger at the real culprit: a sexist, classist, racist and fatphobic culture that is banking on female insecurity, internalized inferiority and mental health illnesses. Once we begin to understand this, we can stop mistreating our bodies by speaking down to them and depriving them of what they need. When this happens, we realize that we have the right to remain fat and live joyous, loving, productive, successful lives with our big bellies and double chins.