World Renowned Body Advocate Virgie Tovar Recounts Her Time in Davis

Virgie-TovarBy Jerika L.H.

Often called the last socially acceptable form of discrimination, fat shaming is ever present in society. From lack of representation to biased treatment, heavier people often testify to being treated like second class citizens. Even James Watson, Nobel Prize winner and founder of the modern DNA structure, was quoted as openly saying “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.”

Yet, biases against overweight people have yet to be outlawed in America. It’s acceptance as an official form of discrimination is still widely debated. But all that may soon change. For the last several years, former Aggie turned advocate Virgie Tovar has been dismantling fatphobic arguments and empowering full figured people everywhere to love themselves and their bodies.

Now a household name in the body acceptance movement, as well as a leader in the war against food shaming and fatphobia, Virgie Tovar has been featured in The New York Times, MTV, The Ricki Lake Show, Yahoo Health, Buzzfeed, and Cosmopolitan- just to name a few. Equipped with her slogan “Lose Hate Not Weight” Tovar has been a forerunner of the anti-dieting movement and has shed light on the realities of ‘fat shaming’, or bigotry against people that do not fit the mainstream, unrealistic expectations of size and shape.

Her book Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion has reached a worldwide audience. But long before becoming an inspired writer and a national anti-fatphobia activist, Virgie Tovar was just an 18-year-old freshman at UC Davis. While many students find empowerment and community at Davis, others find it to be a campus marked by exclusivity. Virgie experienced the latter.

She reflects:

“When I was there it honestly did not feel like an inclusive place. At least it did not feel like a place where I belonged. I wanted to live in the dorms with other Davis honor program students, but I ended up getting assigned to the suites off-campus and that was horrifying. It was like Laguna Beach, and I wanted Glee. I went from a working class/lower middle class, mixed race suburb in the Bay Area to the super white UC Davis campus and I was thrown head first into some scary culture shock. It was not the welcoming environment I’d come to expect growing up. I felt almost unwelcome.

“I didn’t have the language to express why I felt so alienated for the first time in my life, but I sensed it had something to do with being a fat brown Mexican girl. So I turned to activism hoping to articulate an explanation for what was happening. I started attending meetings run by Latino students who taught me about racism and classism. Even though I grew up in a Mexican household I didn’t have an explicit racial identity before I began at UC Davis.

“But I realized in my freshman year that I couldn’t stay at UCD. Being at UCD was the first and only time in my life that I felt deeply, deeply ostracized. I know this is going to sound harsh, but when I transferred out of Davis that feeling went away immediately. I went from an outcast freak trying to cope with being outright pushed out of nearly every social situation at UCD to being treated like I was a smart, funny, interesting woman with important opinions at Berkeley. It was really a night and day experience for me.” A change for the better and the birth of a new movement in body acceptance.”

But amidst the isolation and the restrictive membership, there were also some positives. “I was lucky to meet some really incredible, committed faculty like Antonella Bassi in the Italian department and Stefano Varese in the Anthropology department.” Despite the good impacts of some, Virgie describes fatphobia as an outstanding problem in Davis. In fact, mean comments from her male peers in the marching band made her drop out mid-season. But, as Tovar describes, fatphobia is not limited to the spoken word.

“It’s important to expand people’s notion of what fatphobia actually looks like, often it’s not explicit or interpersonal. For example, a lot of people think that fatphobia is only the act of bullying or using discriminatory language against someone because of their weight. The truth is there are many instances of fatphobia that are much more subtle and institutional – for example, the size of desks in classrooms can often be prohibitive, the durability of chairs at lectures or meetings can cause stress (sometimes fat people feel uncomfortable in those flimsy fold-out chairs), going out to restaurants can cause anxiety about being unable to sit comfortably in a booth and this may cause fat people to self-isolate and socialize less. Then there are the realities that people often have less interest in being friends with or dating fat people due to social stigma. These are all instances of fatphobia.”

Yet the fatphobia movement is not without its critics. In a biomedical health culture based off of BMI, some people believe that body acceptance advocates unhealthy lifestyles. But Virgie Tovar challenges the concept of health as being strictly corporeal. “I recently gave a talk to about 60 kinesiology undergrads at SF State, and I gave them 3 minutes to write down the definition of health. What was incredible was that no two definitions were the same – and you’d imagine that kinesiology students would be better equipped than the average person to define health. How can we as a nation be so committed to something that we can only vaguely define? I believe that any worthwhile or useful understanding of health must recognize that it is holistic, and mental health is extremely important when it comes to overall wellness. Mental health is best achieved when people don’t have a pathological relationship to food or movement.”

Another common critique of the anti-fatphobia movement is that it builds up full figured people at the expense of smaller bodied people. However, as Tovar explains, this belief reflects a misinterpretation of the movement itself. “I think it’s important to recognize that fatphobia affects all people. Women in particular get treated as if our bodies are public property. I don’t think it’s ok to shame anyone because of their body size, but I think the idea of ‘skinny shaming’ is often used to derail meaningful conversations focused on the stultifying realities of fat people’s lives and experiences. Just like any meaningful conversation about justice, when we discuss body size we must recognize who bears the brunt of a particular injustice and we must prioritize their lived experience.”

Virgie is known for her outreach work in the community, which now includes a 4-week virtual program called Babecamp that focuses on breaking up with diet culture. Her program instills in her students an embodiment of her positive affirmation: “I deserve to live a life of free of discrimination and hatred regardless of whether I’m fat or thin, healthy or unhealthy.”

As far as advice to people in Davis feeling the sting of fatphobia? “If people are experiencing alienation on campus I’d like to recommend that they spend a month or two trying to find like minded people. Looking up organizations on campus is way easier now than when I was an undergrad. Failing that, considering relocation is worthwhile.”

For more information about connecting with Virgie, joining her empowerment program, or to find out about body positive support on campus, follow the links below.

http://www.virgietovar.com/babecamp.html
http://wrrc.ucdavis.edu/resources/academic/womenandgenderorg.html
http://
www.virgietovar.com/babecamp.html

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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18 Comments

    1. David Greenwald

      http://authoritynutrition.com/fat-shaming-makes-things-worse/

      Some believe that making overweight people feel ashamed of their weight or eating habits actually helps motivate them to lose weight.

      However, nothing could be further from the truth. Psychologists have done a lot of research on this, and the evidence is very clear.

      Fat shaming does NOT motivate people, but makes them feel terrible about themselves and actually causes them to eat more and gain more weight (1).

      1. David Greenwald

        My own thought on why fat shaming doesn’t work: people already know that they are overweight, so telling them isn’t going to motivate them to change, it’s only going to remind them of their own inability to control their weight or make healthier decisions.

        1. South of Davis

          I agree with David that overt “fat shaming” is a bad idea but I think calling the fact that some of the chairs in my house can’s support a 400+ pound guy like Chris Christie or Michael Moore “subtle fatphobia” just silly…

  1. Tia Will

    I don’t think it’s ok to shame anyone because of their body size,”

    I completely agree with this statement.

    How can we as a nation be so committed to something that we can only vaguely define?”

    And here is where we part company. Yes, there are many different definitions of “health”. But that should not be used as an excuse to white wash what we know. So the actual facts are that women above a BMI of 30 do have an increased risk of many, many health problems of which I will name a few. I can later look up an post the relative risks if anyone isn’t willing to accept my “anecdotal evidence” from 30 years experience.

    Heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, fatty liver, diabetes, pregnancy complications including preterm delivery, pre eclampsia, pulmonary embolism, need for delivery by Cesarean ( including emergency). After the age of 50 these women are also at increased risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer.

    While I completely agree that there should be no social discrimination based on body size, I do not believe that those who advocate for body acceptance should white wash the very real medical risks that women are incurring by not attempting to reach a healthier weight. This does a very real disservice to those they are attempting to help.

  2. Alan Miller

    Being at UCD was the first and only time in my life that I felt deeply, deeply ostracized.

    More of dark underbelly of Davis?  (and no that is not meant to be a fat joke)

    I am seeing a growing trend for article choices at the Vanguard:   “Davis Shaming”

    1. Barack Palin

      Yes Alan, who knew our little hamlet was so evil?  What doesn’t make sense is why are our real estate values so high and we never seem to have enough housing to accommodate all the people who want to live in this evil little village?

    2. South of Davis

      David wrote:

      > fat shaming doesn’t work

      But seems to think that diversity shaming, sugar soda drinker shaming, plastic bag shaming and fireplace user shaming does work…

        1. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > You’re missing the difference between regulation and shaming

          You may need to get out more since there are quite a few people in Davis who say negative things about those who don’t share their views on diversity, sugar soda, plastic bags, SUVs and fireplaces that is not specifically related to “regulation”.

          P.S. You could probably call telling white people that everything they have accomplished is the result of “white privilege” “white shaming”…

  3. ryankelly

    Every time I go to the doctor, he listens to my complaints – knee and back pain, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping.  He then shows me the results of tests – blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. – and then calmly tells me that everything would improve if I lost some weight.  I hang my head.  But then he tells me what I can do to lose even 5 lbs – reasonable changes to diet, adding in daily exercise and helps me come up with a plan to improve my health.   This is waaaaay different than someone ridiculing me for being fat or excluding me from an activity because I’m fat.

    Many students – freshman and transfer students – coming to UCD have a difficult time during the transition.  There are students of all shapes and sizes on campus.   I wish she would have stuck it out here.

  4. Frankly

    Good article.  I appreciate it.

    But let’s cut the fat here (pun intended).   By the way, 95% of us have some abundance of fat, so we are all members of that victim group.  Finally!  I found one I can join!!!!

    But back to my point.

    What we have here is a good actor (victim) and bad actor (anyone not a member of a victim group that would say something even slightly negative to someone else that is a member of a victim group).

    I don’t have any problem calling out and taking down someone going over the line in derogatory stuff about someone’s weight.  I see that stuff as worthy of demonization.  And let me start by demonizing the entire Democrat and liberal population that said derogatory stuff about Chris Christie.  Come on admit it…. admit your Chris Christie fat hypocrisy (I feel a rap coming on).

    This is what we see happening and partially why a wealthy turd (crap… can I use that word on the VG?) like Donald Trump is a strong possibility for becoming our next President.

    Because we can see where this is headed.   Next… the left will embrace all obese people into their victim collective.  And then the new speech code rules will be enacted, and political correctness persecution will begin.  Then anyone having a few too many cocktails and a propensity for alcohol-induced tongue-wagging… that lets the word “fatty” slip… will be thrown in the slammer for a hate crime sitting next to drug dealers, child rapists and murderers… all who are also being groomed for victim group membership in the Democrat Party.

    Maybe we do need a turd like Donald Trump to become President.   At least he will fit in with all the rest of the social and political junk polluting our once great society.

    By the way, my dad was 400 lbs up to the time my mom got brain cancer and died.  He lost all of his excess weight and had cosmetic surgery to remove all the excess skin and then remarried.   But now he has serious health problems from the years of carrying all that weight.  I have regrets not being directly critical of his weight over the years.  It might not have helped him resolve to lose weight, but at least I would feel better about myself having been honest about how I felt about his weight.

    Because we all know… how I feel the most important thing!

    1. The Pugilist

      “I have regrets not being directly critical of his weight over the years.  It might not have helped him resolve to lose weight, but at least I would feel better about myself having been honest about how I felt about his weight.”

      Or you might have made it worse because your father probably darn well knew he was unhealthy, it took your mother’s death to finally reach the point where he could force himself to do something about it.

  5. The Pugilist

    I think what’s interesting is that a lot of the point made here were actually well addressed in the article.  Here’s one example:

    Yet the fatphobia movement is not without its critics. In a biomedical health culture based off of BMI, some people believe that body acceptance advocates unhealthy lifestyles. But Virgie Tovar challenges the concept of health as being strictly corporeal. “I recently gave a talk to about 60 kinesiology undergrads at SF State, and I gave them 3 minutes to write down the definition of health. What was incredible was that no two definitions were the same – and you’d imagine that kinesiology students would be better equipped than the average person to define health. How can we as a nation be so committed to something that we can only vaguely define? I believe that any worthwhile or useful understanding of health must recognize that it is holistic, and mental health is extremely important when it comes to overall wellness. Mental health is best achieved when people don’t have a pathological relationship to food or movement.”

    Body acceptance is not equated to unhealthy lifestyles.

    Health is not a uniform or universally accepted definition.

    Mental health may be the key nexus here.

    “Mental health is best achieved when people don’t have a pathological relationship to food or movement.”

     

  6. Tia Will

    Health is not a uniform or universally accepted definition.”


    Of course it isn’t. But a universally accepted definition of health is not needed to realize that that overweight and obese individuals have certain well defined increased health risks, just as anorexics do. It is not helpful to deny or gloss over the very real and well documented increased risks.

    “Mental health is best achieved when people don’t have a pathological relationship to food or movement.”

    This is absolutely true. But there are many ways of recognizing, exploring and hopefully lessening this pathologic relationship. Denial is not amongst them.

     

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