[Interview] Virgie Tovar on Being ‘Hot & Heavy’: Lose The Hate, Not The Weight

Photo: (SFGate)

It’s still only the beginning of 2013, and with any new year there always comes talk about losing weight. But Virgie Tovar, the editor of the book “Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion” says that it’s time to lose hate — not weight.

“Hot & Heavy” focuses on the personal stories of plus size women who talk about and celebrate their bodies instead of feeling ashamed of them. Virgie says it’s a one-of-a-kind book, and we wanted to hear some words of wisdom from her. She gives some great advice on self-acceptance and talks about how we are all born feeling okay about our bodies, but lose that feeling over time. So instead of trying to lose weight, maybe this year’s goals could be about being healthy and happy — and learning to love yourself again!

ACT: Why did you want to make the anthology “Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion”? What message do you want readers to take away?

VIRGIE: “Hot & Heavy” is really an homage to the women I met when I started doing fat politics. When I was a little girl I remember seeing maybe two or three fat women who walked through the world with so much ferocity and hotness. I admired them and they totally intimidated me. I think I just presumed that they were magical creatures from an unknown land. When I entered the fat positive movement in 2009-ish I met lots and lots of these kinds of women. And they became my friends and my fashion inspirations and my gossip partners. They were the ones I turned to when I needed advice on how to glue fake birds and glitter and feathers together to make the perfect head piece. They encouraged me to (metaphorically) burn my control-top hosiery. They taught me that chafing was part of life and that all the things about being fat could be a secret we treasured, a source of intimacy and not shame. It turns out that they (we) are still pretty magical to me, and I wanted to introduce the world to these women. I think that editing the book really unveiled to me that these women are magical because they are brave.

When people read “Hot & Heavy,” I want them to think about what their lives would be like if they stopped apologizing for their body (whatever size it is).

ACT: It’s the New Year, and there’s a lot of talk about “losing weight” as opposed to “being healthy and happy.” What’s your advice on being healthy and happy this year?

VIRGIE: Eat creme brulee, practice swagger and voguing, scratch mosquito bites, flirt with strangers, photograph your stretch marks, buy a pair of absurdly huge sun glasses, wear pink every day, refuse to say sorry, wear hot pants, fire all the people in your life who make you feel shame, tell your muffin top/jelly roll “I love you” at least a thousand times, begin referring to your body as Awesome Town.

ACT: Many young girls (and, well, people in general) struggle with issues of insecurity (about their weight, their looks, etc.) What are some non-cliche ways to combat this?

VIRGIE: Ooh. That’s a really hard question. The two most important things that impact the way I think about myself are: my community or the people I surround myself with and the mass media I’m exposed to. In terms of advice, the first thing that came to mind was stop watching romantic comedies as soon as possible and cancel your subscriptions to Men’s Health and Cosmo. Don’t even read them in the check-out line. End friendships with people who suck (i.e., “friends” who put you down all the time or who make you feel bad or weird). Read books that aren’t about skinny straight white kids from the Pacific Northwest who are having abusive relationships (“Twilight,” I’m looking at you). Read books like “A Young Woman’s Survival Guide” and “A Young Man’s Survival Guide.” Question authority and television and advertising. Join clubs, groups or organizations locally or on your campus that have people who think like you. Read blogs and join Facebook groups that are positive.

ACT: Do you know of any success stories (like people saying they feel better about themselves) that came from reading “Hot & Heavy”?

VIRGIE: A lot of people have written to me and to the contributors about how it has impacted them and changed them. One of my favorite reviews of the book says: “I’m crying with the realization that the words these women have written have never been read before [and h]ave never been bound in book form to be passed from one person to another… This book contains so much wisdom and perspective I can’t hardly stand it.” One woman wrote me and said the book inspired her to wear a bathing suit for the first time in her life. A lot of people have written me and said that their boyfriend or girlfriend got it for them as a gift and it was really special to them. And of course, I sent the book to Honey Boo Boo + Fam (with a note that said not all parts of the book were child appropriate!) and she took a picture with it and that was a pretty special “Hot & Heavy” moment.

ACT: How do you think we can make a change about self-acceptance, both individually or as a culture?

VIRGIE: We are born with self-acceptance and self-love, but we unlearn them over time — through being teased at school and watching Disney movies about anorexic princesses. Most of us can’t even remember that time, when we didn’t think we were ugly or wrong somehow. The truth is there is no magic pill we can swallow to make life better. We have to fight to make life better every day. We don’t wake up every morning with a big bag of self-love under our pillow. No, we’ve got to work for that self-love. I believe that instead of trying to lose weight we should try to lose hate.

I think people have already begun to change this culture of self-hate through social media and blogging. I see people calling out their friends when they say something fatphobic or hateful on Facebook. Do more of that! Start a Tumblr about plus size fashion or fabulous fat unicorns or gay pugs. The more that’s out there, the likelier that people will find it. I always tell people: we’re living in a time of war, our culture’s war against our body. There’s no such thing as “opting out.” We can either give in and fight against ourselves or we can switch sides, be rebels and fight for ourselves and our bodies. I know I’d rather be a rebel, and that’s a tough choice to make. But that choice saved my life, and I’d make it again in a heart beat.

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