Where do we even begin with fat activist and #losehatenotweight founder Virgie Tovar?
Between being an advice column writer, published author, Buzzfeed contributor, novelist, poet, speaker, fatshion queen, body image expert and coach, and Babe Camp founder, Virgie is also just really, really cool. We played around on a mini golf course with San Francisco’s favorite “fat babe” on her way to a poetry reading and a trip to Europe (have we mentioned she’s a busy woman?), and got some great insights into what makes her tick.
First, Virgie, when do you sleep?
Yeah, I’m the child of hardcore bootstrapping immigrants and so I have no idea how hard I’m working most of the time and often find myself being like “those 6 minutes you just spent walking to the train could have been put to better use!” It’s kind of intense. My tarot reader Miss Ben McCoy told me that I had to spend more time celebrating all that I’ve done or I’m going to pay big time down the line. I’m working on slowing down, but I have a lot of dreams and I’m really driven by the work I do and the people I get to work with.
My life and work are really well integrated. So, for example, I wanted to give myself a trip to Europe for my birthday. I found a ridiculously cheap ticket on kayak.com ($681!) and when I reached out to my friends there, one of them asked if I wanted to do a lecture with her. And the lecture led to this plus size fashion market and I met a bunch of new fat lady friends who I might work with in the future, and I got to eat lots of creamy cakes, which I then put on Instagram because I love to gram — but this is also part of my unapologetic “brand” too. And things just go like that. Most of the things in my life are rarely “just work” or “just fun.” I’m living, like, praxis as they say.
Before you were such an omni-body-warrior, what were you doing? Who were you?
Career-wise, I worked in youth development in the first iteration of my career. I was a teacher at a continuation school, and then became a sex educator for high school girls. I found myself standing in the shower before work dreaming of getting hit by a car so I wouldn’t have to go to work, and was like “I think this means I need a career change?”
Life-wise, I used to be a hardcore dieter who woke up everyday wishing she was someone else. I used to starve myself and exercise obsessively. I think on some level I kind of knew that wasn’t the life for me. Like many people, I think there was this instinct that there was something very wrong with all the weird shit in our culture, but also like many people that instinct got beat out of me. I spent, like, 2 decades on the self-harm track. Even after I became a feminist I kept dieting (feminism needs to step up on the fat activism). It wasn’t until I found queer fat feminism and hot fat babes wearing amazing bathing suits that I got my act together.
One thing you’ve pointed out in your work is that fat-phobia isn’t just about body hate, it’s also symptomatic of cultural biases and prejudice. Why is it so important for plus size people of color to “trust your gut?”
Fat people of color have, like, so much wisdom. Many of us have parents or family (chosen or biological) who lived through a lot and we grew up watching them survive a lot. That process of witnessing was also an education that we hold in our bodies — we inherited that, free of charge. Like, yes, many of us have to work to heal ourselves as a result of that, too, but nothing is ever just good or bad, beneficial or detrimental. It’s always both. Also when you’re a fat person of color you have a lot of perspective, a lot of resiliency. We see the culture in sometimes its truest form.
I feel like I’m privy to the violence required to maintain the machinations of society in its current form because I’m a fat woman of color with immigrant parents. It’s a gift, and also it’s hard. We are taught by the culture that the source of power is actually the source of our shame, and a lot of us believe it. Shit, I’m still working on that. I’ve also got instincts like no one else I know. Holy shit. Like I can read someone in about 2 minutes with like 98% accuracy. That’s some survival/PTSD shit, but it’s served me immensely. And that’s all gut work.
What’s the story behind your #losehatenotweight campaign? How did it start, and where does it stand now?
I woke up one morning and shot out of bed and said outloud “lose hate not weight.” It was a cinematic moment! My brain had metabolized my life’s work into one phrase and I decided to just go with it. It does completely capture my philosophy – that self-hatred is a lie that needs to be shed, and that no amount of weight loss will give us freedom from self-loathing. It’s kind of my mission statement, and it’s reflected in all the work I do. People online have begun to tag it too. It’s been tagged 28,000 times on Instagram. I just checked!
You’ve gained a bit of notoriety for your work and you have quite a fandom, especially through you ongoing #losehatenotweight campaign, but you’ve also earned a fair share of detractors — more recently, a Fox News feature put you in the crosshairs of a few haters on Twitter. How do you deal with negative comments?
I mean, I don’t deal with people like that. Like all I can do is sit back and kind of watch them humiliate themselves. I had a boyfriend once who taught me that sometimes you’ve just got to laugh a bigot off the stage. I’m in the business of doing as little uncompensated emotional labor as humanly possible. Also, like, if someone attacked me on the basis of my being inferior because I have a uterus I’d think they were a wackadoo. Like, there’s nothing to say to that person because the claim is so absurd and old school. That’s how I feel about fat haters. They’re hella passé, they don’t just know it yet.
You’ve been involved in the fat activism movement for awhile now. Be honest — what do you love about this movement, and is there anything you wish would change?
I love how woman and femme-centered this movement is. I love how many amazing outfits there are. I love that this version of the movement is super young but there is already so much ideological diversity (that shit is gold). I love how we’re taking over the planet. The thing I want to change is that we demand more, lots and lots more. Like, yes girl you deserve a cute dress in your size and a boo you like, but also you deserve fucken human rights, long term career stability, and the right to live a life completely unfettered by bigotry. Always ask for more.
What makes you the happiest?
The ocean, Nutella, Chihuahuas, pedicures, smelling like candy, a brand new vintage dress I thrifted for $4.99, really difficult to understand theory, my fatkini collection, the sense of wonder I feel when I discover someplace new, fruit baked into muffins, extracting blackheads, and smashing patriarchy in a clever and whimsical way.
From the looks of your Instagram, you travel A LOT for speaking gigs. What has been your favorite body positive experience outside of your hometown San Francisco?
I’ve traveled a lot for speaking gigs within the US, but have only been out of the country for gigs twice – Canada and Austria. I mean, they were both great for different reasons. One of my favorite experiences was spending a week in Vienna and spending every single day with a different fat babe. I met so many fat ladies while I was there and it was marvelous. Who knew Austria was representing so hard?
I always love when I get to meet undergrads. Most of my speaking gigs are at universities and undergrads are hands-down the best. There is so much incredibly weird shit going on in their lives and they tell me all about it at dinner. Like, I was just in this small town in Canada called Squamish and me and some students went to get Indian food after my lecture. There had been this one really intense white Republican dude who came to my lecture and then stayed afterward to tell me about “data” and I was like “Ok, thanks for your input, dude.” And then they told me at dinner that one of their friends had dated him and that he slept under an American flag.
And I mean, that shit is priceless.
When not taking down the establishment, how do you treat yo self?
Face masks I get at Daiso for $2, Stevie Nicks, Bob’s Burgers marathons.
Time for a shout out. Who catches your eye right now in the male body positive world?
Devon Devine – he’s an event producer in SF with an excellent social media presence –and Rudy Bleu of Big Boy Vintage are my crushes.