Last month I attended a couple workshops that were presented by Virgie Tovar, a body image expert and coach. Virgie has also edited the book Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, and Fashion.
The workshops were awesome and inspiring, leaving me feeling great about myself and wanting to spread the word about how rad Virgie is. I recently interviewed Virgie about fatphobia, the media, and her Hate Loss campaign.
About-Face: Can you talk a little about fatphobia and the secret ingredients to it?
Virgie Tovar: Fatphobia is a complex cultural system that affects even its seeming beneficiaries and is mediated by race, color, class, ability, and gender. Let me break this down:
• Overt fatphobia is the obvious fat shame and fat hate that is all over the place in our culture; think: Melissa McCarthy recently being called a “female hippo” by NY Observer‘s Rex Reed.
• Covert fatphobia is often masked as concerns about health; think: that aunt who is always food-policing you and says that it’s only because she loves you and is worried you’ll die miserable and alone while cats eat your diabetes-ridden body on the kitchen floor of your apartment.
• Internalized fatphobia is made up of the opinions and beliefs inside our heads that tell us that rich food is bad, that fat people are bad, and that we will be ugly if we become fat or are ugly because we are fat; think: that feeling of shame or disgust you get when you eat two cupcakes or maybe the way you just “aren’t attracted to” fat people.
A-F: How does Fatphobia happen/come through in the media?
VT: The first thought that popped into my head was The Little Mermaid. When I was a little girl I wanted to be Ariel SO BAD, but I knew I couldn’t be because I was a fat girl. I recall distinctly feeling like a failure because there was no way I would ever show my belly off in a mermaid costume with a seashell bra (not that they’d ever make that in my size anyway).
However, I didn’t consciously register that I also felt like a failure because Ariel is a white girl and I wasn’t. I knew how to hate my body because it was fat, but I didn’t know that I was learning to hate my body because it was brown, too.
Media serve many purposes:
1. To show a culture what it wants to believe about itself and its future. For example, even though the U.S. has enormous populations of non-white and mixed people, poor and working class people, fat people, and queer/non-heterosexual people, the prevalent image of the U.S. is still that of a white, upper middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual person.
Why? Lots of reasons like racism, sexism, homophobia and the usual suspects. These are the images of the U.S. that exist in many parts of our imagination and the Western imagining of itself.
2. To sell products. Because a lot of money for TV, radio, movies, and magazines comes from advertisers, the content that TV, radio, movies, and magazines are putting out have to corroborate the lifestyle (not just the products) that advertisers want to convey. So, yes, there are actual commercials during shows (which most of us hate), but in fact the entire show is kind of the commercial.
As branding becomes more of a normal part of advertising and marketing, you see that advertisers aren’t just pushing a product; they’re pushing the lifestyle of which the product becomes a part.
A-F: Can you talk about your “hate loss” campaign?
VT: Yes! Hate Loss is the guiding principle in my teaching/coaching practice and in my life. Hate Loss started as a campaign developed in response to the hate-based relationship that our culture encourages us to develop with our body and ourselves.
Most people are taught to spend their life pursuing weight loss by any means. This belief slowly demoralizes us, erodes our mental, spiritual, and (often) physical health, and is based on the principles of inadequacy and self-loathing. I wondered what life would look like if we dedicated our energy and time to hate loss instead of weight loss.
The Hate Loss philosophy is:
• All bodies are good bodies
• Health is holistic: mental, spiritual, and physical
• Self-hate is an ideology that can be managed and eradicated
• Self-love is a skill that can be learned and practiced for a full, luscious life
Check out Virgie’s site for more information and events.