Bold, bubbly and unabashed, Virgie Tovar is on a mission to transform the meaning of the F-word most weighed down in negative societal assumptions — fat.
A sexologist, activist, coach, writer and vlogger, Tovar’s fight for body positivity and acceptance has most recently culminated in “Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion,” a collection of 31 heartfelt and empowering stories by fat-identified women released Nov. 1. Edited by Tovar, this anthology was born out of the urgency of the issue of fatphobia.
“We’re in a state of emergency when it comes to fatphobia,” Tovar said. “Fat people have no real protection from the law; fat people are discriminated against in the workplace; fat people are refused medical care based on their fat, and it’s endangering lives.”
The idea for this book began before Tovar entered her graduate studies in human sexuality at SF State. First pitched in 2009 as a manifesto called “Fatties of the World Unite,” Seal Press, a Berkeley-based publisher focused on women’s issues, decided it was too niche to publish at the time.
But through her work and her participation in events like the NoLose conference for fat queers and their allies, Tovar knew she had to make “Hot & Heavy” happen. Not only did Seal Press agree, they fast-tracked the book’s completion.
“They were going to give me a year to edit it, and then they pushed up the publication date, so I just feel like the urgency of the issue is so clear in the way (Seal Press) was interacting with the work, and they were kind of picking up on the zeitgeist,” Tovar said.
While fatphobia affects a wide range of people, Tovar recognizes her target audience as college-aged women, many of whom are making their first forays into feminism and are coming into their sexualities.
“Up until high school, our sexualities and our bodies are really kind of policed by our parents and teachers, and in college you kind of have this autonomy,” she explained. “This is how you can deconstruct and change the way you think about your body.”
Champagne and glitter-frosted cupcakes were served Nov. 8 in The Booksmith in the Upper Haight in celebration of the book. Tovar and six of the book’s contributors read excerpts from their stories to a crowd who laughed, applauded and hummed in understanding of struggle and self-discovery.
“I felt incredibly empowered, and I felt like, ‘Aha! Someone else has had that same experience!’” Elisa Cecaci, a promoter for Full Figure Entertainment and attendee of the book release party, said. “Especially when they speak about childhood. I was a prisoner of my body. I was very outgoing and very loving, but I still always hated myself and limited my activities based on my weight. To know someone has gone through that and risen out of that ugliness makes me feel really hopeful.”
The pieces read turned many assumptions of body image on their head, from Jessica Judd’s experience as a dancer tokenized for her size to Deb Malkin’s discouragement of hiding in black clothing. Sociologist and yoga instructor Kimberly Dark talked about being read as fat in a fitness setting like a yoga class.
“We’ve all internalized this kind — it’s not even body hatred — it’s body foolishness,” Dark said. “This foolishness that the body can only do certain things and can only look certain ways.”
The book has received positive feedback, mainly from women who find their experiences reflected back to them in the stories. Esther Rothblum, who mentored Tovar while on sabbatical at SF State, holds Tovar’s work in high regard and is submitting the book to be reviewed by the academic journal she edits called “Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society.”
“Her book is terrific,” Rothblum said. “It is this young, hip, in-your-face generation of fat-positive activists that is making a huge impact on society’s concepts about weight and self-esteem.”
Tovar makes a point not to seek out the negative responses to fat positivity. A friend warned her not to read the comments on the San Francisco Chronicle story written about her, many of which were opposed to her work — and not respectfully. She says she has no morbid curiosity to read those types of comments anyway.
“I’m committed to seeing my work as something that elicits a positive response,” she said.
Fat studies and activism are complex and intersectional matters, but “Hot & Heavy” delivers these issues in a very accessible, entertaining work of literature. Attendees of the book release party encouraged people to pick the book up.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Erica Jones, a former SF State sociology student, said. “It’s emotional, it’s personal and it’s important.”
As the book reaches its first wave of readers, Tovar looks forward to seeing it get passed on to friends, family and a broader audience. Cecaci says that the “curvy revolution” is happening now and “Hot & Heavy” is a good entry point into the movement.
“There’s no excuse anymore,” Cecaci said. “It’s time to get enlightened, to understand that we are always going to be a part of society and we’re valuable members. We’re not going anywhere and we’re not going to apologize for ourselves, our weight or the way we look.”
Tovar and some of the contributing writers will return to San Francisco for another reading Nov. 30 at the Modern Times Bookstore at 7 p.m.