Virgie EBX (1)

The Feministing Five: Fat Activist Virgie Tovar

Legendary fat activist Virgie Tovar has long been on the front lines of our national conversation about fat discrimination and body image. She’s the author of the weekly Ravishly column Take the Cake, founder of Babecamp, an online course designed to help women break up with diet culture, and the creator of the #LoseHateNotWeight campaign. You can read her everywhere from Buzzfeed to the New York Times, and today her first book, personal essay collection You Have the Right to Remain Fat is out from the Feminist Press!

For this week’s Feministing Five, I had the supreme pleasure of catching up with Virgie to talk about the politics of fat activism, radical acceptance, decolonizing our minds, and more! Be sure to grab a copy of her latest must read and catch Virgie on Twitter @virgietovar.

Senti Sojwal: In your book, you write, “Silence is a very gendered and highly racialized tactic. It was the silence in the body positivity movement that allowed traction to be gained.” Can you talk about the political divides you see between the “fat activism” and “body positivity” movements, and the ways you have found the former to be a more productive force for collective liberation?

Virgie Tovar: Body Positivity has prevailed as the language we now use to express ideas and aesthetics that emerged from Fat Liberation/Fat Activism specifically in queer community.

Some of fat activists’ greatest demands are:

  • freedom from weight-based hatred/bigotry, medical neglect and cultural cruelty
  • the right to pursue a joyful life at any size on our terms
  • centering the fattest people in the room when we think about access and advocacy

These are amazing, beautiful dreams for a better, less violent world. That’s what the demand for Fat Liberation is. Body Positivity just isn’t that. Body Positivity is a stripped down version of this politic that emerged to create a sense of inclusivity for people of all sizes. If you’re a feminist history nerd you’ll recognize this argument for “inclusivity” as the same rationalization for many political movements kind of being wrenched away from the people who started them – often acutely marginalized, resilient, creative people – by people who feel that the language or framework alienates or (more often) implicates them. The truth is we could have kept fat liberation as the core ideological tenet and ended up ahead, but “liberation” is a strong political demand. Positivity isn’t. Positivity is generally only valuable or useful in two instances: (1) You are already have a lot of access to the culture (Fat people don’t have that). (2) You wish to assimilate into the culture on its (racist, sexist, transphobic, colonialist) terms. I argue in my new book that this new soft request for positivity is intentionally obscure, and that the obscurity is a gendered and racialized tactic meant to sideline freedom and prioritize assimilation into straight privilege and white supremacy. I’m trying to be a Buddhist about all this, and just observe it in a detached manner. Lulz. Sometimes that’s harder than others.

Senti Sojwal: In the book, you self-identify as a “cyberfeminist” – what does that mean to you and how has online culture been intrinsic to your feminist development?

Virgie Tovar: I’m sure there’s an amazing definition that, like, Judith Butler or Brittany Cooper have come up with, but to me being a cyberfeminist means this: I see information and ideas as public goods, and I see the internet as my primary platform for disseminating those goods.

The people who populate the internet – specifically social media – have given many feminists (including me) a platform that major publishers and TV networks NEVER would have given us. The internet creates a unique opportunity for the hybrid, complex, multi-dimensional ways that I exist as a feminist. I love that you can go to one place online to see me living my best fat brown bohemian lady life getting my rolls tanned at the beach in a fatkini and then in .0325 seconds you can read an essay I wrote on anti-assimilation. I love that I can connect to other feminists online, signal boost them, watch how they’re killing it, and send them heart emojis with total ease. I also incorporate the memes, neologisms, cats and caj nature of the internet into my work. It informs my voice and my style.

Senti Sojwal: What does radical acceptance mean to you and how do you practice it in relationship to yourself and your advocacy?

Virgie Tovar: Oh man. Radical acceptance is cool. I’m working toward freedom now, to be honest. Sometimes I use those ideas/terms interchangeably. To “radically accept” yourself is to stop investing in the war against our bodies, to stop investing in the culturally-mediated lens we see ourselves through. To take all the resources we have and invest them in ourselves, in our communities, rather than into a culture that is honestly not invested in us. This culture puts SOOOO much energy, time, and power into teaching us how to see each other and ourselves. We see ourselves through colonized eyes and hearts. We see ourselves the way capitalism wants us to see ourselves – commodities, not humans with ancient wisdom, universal beauty, staggering complexity and an age-old dream of freedom. Freedom, to me, is about dreaming, it’s about unleashing my ability to connect to myself and others and the universe. I practice these things in a million different ways all the time: taking extra time to soap up my skin in the shower, petting puppies, meditating with my huge chunk of rose quartz, looking at the sky, touching trees, watering my tiny cactus named Lumpy, kissing strangers (with permission!), inviting my lovers to make me cum 7 times and see me naked in the sunlight, wearing tiny pink dresses that let the wind touch my thighs, crying while I listen to Beyonce’s All Night Long on repeat (that’s my mourning song), reading lots of books by visionaries (my fav is James Baldwin), sending thank you cards, taking an extra 7 minutes to pick the exact color of nail polish I want for my pedicure, definitely naked time at hot springs, definitely learning from babies, hanging out with lots of woke fat people, refusing to feel ashamed when someone is a bigot toward me, jiggling for fun, eating what I want, moving by body for fun not for weight loss, writing in my journal, and lots of tiramisu.   

Senti Sojwal: So much of the unlearning you explore in the book and in your activism is related to the decolonizing of our minds, relationship to self, and our perceptions of beauty and worthiness. As a fat woman of color, you know intimately the intersections you navigate in our broader culture. How does racial justice inform your fat activism?

Virgie Tovar: Racial justice informs my fat activism often in more subtle, campy ways. Like, I bring woman of color aesthetics and modes of existence into everything I do and how I think. The fact that I’m on the cover of this feminist theory book in a monokini I bought on eBay for $6 is brown AF. Bringing these things into the world, I believe, creates room for a multiplicity of existences (which I see as the work of racial justice). I bring the demand for anti-assimilation – which at its core is about dismantling white supremacy and colonialism – into everything I do and write. The way I talk about sexuality and my love of big ass earrings, and the way I hybridize slang and high theory are woc methods meant to speak to and affirm people who know how to read it. The kind of freedom that I write about in this book cannot be realized without the dismantling of white supremacist ways of thinking and knowing. I prioritize emotion and embodiment, which violently defy the WASP demands for composure, control and mind-over-matter. Refusing to apologize for being fat in a brown body is, like, cultural treason. I’m supposed to be super small and grateful and ashamed of my existence because I’m a woman of color – a sub-human, racialized subject. The reason people hate me for being fat is because fat is considered unruly, ungoverned by morality and undisciplined, which are racist ideas specifically used to control “unruly” brown and black bodies during colonialism and slavery. I am challenging the archive with this work. As I mentioned earlier, freedom is the most radical vision we can have as humans in this fascistic paradigm. And it’s a vision that has been championed by people of color for centuries.

Senti Sojwal: I love that in your book, you talk about the joys of being fat that you experience along with the more painful aspects of your relationship to your body before you were able to fully give yourself “the right to remain fat”. What do you love the most about your body today?

Virgie Tovar: Right now I’m most in awe of my body’s incredible capacity to feel and to heal – especially spiritually and emotionally. My body – like all of our bodies – has been through many wars. It holds intergenerational trauma, memories of pain and poverty and violence. Everything – and I mean everything – is stacked against us. And yet, here I am thriving, here I am loving, here I am crying when I watch the sunrise, here I am doing meditation in Venice Beach with a German dude named Gary who’s telling me to envision that my heart is a big pink rose that’s blooming, here I am wearing a sequin-encrusted Selena-inspired bustier to happy hour, here I am reading self-help books on toxic families so I can become whole, here I am planning the Taco Bell catering for my future wedding reception, here I am laughing at my friends’ farts, here I am loving my back fat and my double chin and my thunder thighs.

Photo courtesy of Andria Lo.


Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She is currently pursuing her MPH at NYU's College of Global Public Health and works as Communications Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of New York City. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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