Hot Off the Shelf: You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar
There's so much I like, admire, and respect about Virgie Tovar.
As one of the country's leading experts on plus size fashion, and size discrimination, as well as a fat activist who's been featured in just about every big feminist publication you can think of, she's spreading self-love and tackling fatphobia at every turn.
I first became aware of Virgie's work before I knew it was her behind it. I remember seeing the #LoseHateNotWeight hashtag she created on Twitter and Instagram in the summer after I graduated college. It was a time when the freshman fifteen had become the senior sixty and my family felt the need to body-shame me at every available opportunity.
Before the #LoseHateNotWeight/body positivity/self-love movement, it honestly hadn't occurred to me that it was possible to exist without hating my body in its larger size. I know now that it is possible and it's freeing to give myself permission to stop buying into the bullshit, thanks to activists like Virgie.
That's why I was super excited when Feminist Press sent me an advanced reader copy of Virgie's new book, You Have the Right to Remain Fat (free in exchange for an honest review). In a world that, even with body positivity, still pressures women to diet and change their bodies to conform to some arbitrary standard of beauty, the idea that you can willingly ditch diet culture is revolutionary. It seemed like the perfect embodiment of one of my favorite quotes "'pretty' is not the rent you pay to exist in the world as a woman." We're under no obligation to be beautiful for anyone but ourselves.
As she does in all her writing, Virgie makes a lot of good points. Here are some of my favorites from the book:
- "We are giving away our lives, our time, our energy, our claim to pleasure, our desire, and our power one bite at a time. Submission has taken on a new face: where once there was barred access to meaningful employment and the right to vote, sexism today has morphed into skipped meals and too many hours spent at the gym."
- "I used to believe that I was afraid of food and of being fat, but now I know that the fear was of a deeply troubled culture that would not allow me to thrive."
- "Dieting is the result of unresolved fatphobia. We become terrified of what it would mean for us to be fat because we understand fundamentally how poorly fat people are treated. We transpose that bigotry onto the fat itself, rather than placing the blame where it belongs: on the culture that created and promotes injustice and fat hatred."
- "It's excellent that we are protected from overt gender discrimination, but since sexism hasn't been eradicated (it's only been litigated), now women bear the burden of proving that sexism is happening."
- "'Acceptance' was not a desired outcome because absorption into the racist, patriarchal, and fatphobic culture that has systematically dehumanized you isn't exactly a 'win.'"
These are just a handful of the many truth bombs Virgie drops, and she manages to pack a lot of them into such a tiny book. At just under 130 pages, You Have the Right to Remain Fat is pretty short.
My only complaint is that the book seems limited by its length. I love how accessible the content itself is and while, sure, a short book is easier to read than a long book and therefore more accessible to some, I couldn't help feeling like there was a missed opportunity.
If you're familiar with Virgie's column in Ravishly, you've probably seen her write openly and honestly in a confessional tone about dating while fat, people who fetishize fatness, cutting her emotionally abusive family out of her life, traveling as a fat person, thin privilege, diet culture, chub rub, food politics, mental health, vulnerability, therapy, and much, much more.
What I like about these pieces is how raw and real Virgie is. She tells it like it is and doesn't sugarcoat her feelings, but is also careful not to be The Spokesperson For All Fat People. Through the lens of size discrimination and intersectional feminism, she looks at common problems many women face, as well as issues of fatphobia and body positivity in current events, and discusses how she navigates these issues.
I think that's why I was disappointed when You Have the Right to Remain Fat cut 99% of the personal, confessional tone Virgie's fans love so much and glossed over a lot of the important concepts of her life's work. The book reads like a quick manifesto on fat self-love. There's certainly nothing wrong with that and the book was engaging in its own way, yet it almost felt like it'd been scrubbed of that essential Virgie-ness that her fans appreciate so much about her.
For people who haven't read Virgie's existing body of work on the internet, I don't think reading You Have the Right to Remain Fat would actually give them a good idea of who she is. It's a good primer on fatphobia, fat activism, and intersectional feminism, but if people are looking for more memoir-ish pieces filled with hard-won wisdom gained from Virgie's life and personal experiences, I think people would be disappointed. The memoir parts feel clipped, mentioned almost exclusively in brief, passing moments.
To be clear, if Virgie doesn't want to bear her soul and talk about the nitty gritty details of her life, she's well within her right not to. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to open your life up to public scrutiny and I can't begrudge anyone for not wanting to do that. However, it just seems odd to me that someone who hasn't historically shied away from bringing her personal flair to her writing would pull back in her book.
She's undeniably a super cool, brilliant person (who I'd love to have a cocktail with) though that doesn't really come across fully in the book. This isn't to say I wouldn't recommend the book. I absolutely would.
It's possible the book was written for people who are not already fans of her work or people who are looking for an introductory text on fatphobia/size discrimination and social justice. If that's the case, I'd say Virgie did a good job of welcoming people into the fold with You Have the Right to Remain Fat. However, if the book was designed to appeal to her existing fanbase, it falls a bit short of her usual vibrant, authentic, raw quality.
It should be noted that this is coming from someone who would pay good money just to see her various posts from across the internet and in print publications compiled together and edited into a book. That's the essay collection I hoped You Have the Right to Remain Fat would be. But Virgie is still young and early in her career, so maybe that book will come.
You Have the Right to Remain Fat was released on August 14, 2018, from Feminist Press and I recommend adding it to your social justice/feminist library.