Breaking up with diet culture: An interview with Virgie Tovar
It’s the classic line, it’s not me, it’s you. In the days of people instagraming ‘Fitspo’ and ‘Thinspiration’ it’s refreshing to wake up to Virgie Tovar, an activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She’s breaking up with diet culture and she’s infamous for creating the hashtag ‘Lose Hate Not Weight’ which pretty much says it all.
Virgie is on a mission to stop the body shaming and start self-love. She does this by establishing a Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help women who are ready to break-up with diet culture. Virgie has been featured in the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, NPR and many more publications jumping on the band wagon, changing the way we look at our bodies. We chat to Virgie about where it all began for her, how Fox news got her all wrong and dealing with ‘fatphobia.’
What have you been up to lately?
Ummmmm… a lot of writing, drinking snobby coffee, judging white liberals, experimenting with not wearing a bra (results: life is better in every measurable way, but I do have to hold my boobs if I need to run to catch a train or something), being hella disappointed by men, crying while listening to Beyonce’s ‘All Night’ on repeat in my 1993 gold ford thunderbird while I drive to Sonoma for breakfast, coming to the realization that canary yellow is totally my power color, trying a lot of edibles, listening to Miguel’s Adorn while I dance naked in front of my mirror, and also eating tacos.
Where did it all begin?
It began with day 1 – being born a fat brown girl in a world that hates fat people, brown people and women. I had a hellish childhood for a few reasons, but I’m pretty sure I have PTSD from the non-stop ‘fatphobia’ I experienced. I thought I could make people like me if I lost weight. So I dieted and starved myself, but that didn’t really work because I could never seem to hurt myself or deny myself enough to get other people to stop being assholes to me. The three things that really turned the tide for me were: I was introduced to feminism, then I dated a dude who was a fat positive feminist who worshipped me and my body, and then I met a bunch of unapologetic queer fat babes who showed me what my life could look like at my current size (amazing). I did research on fat women of color in graduate school and that led to a book deal and that led to the lecturing and I loved it all so much that I started Babecamp. This issue is so urgent. Women are so fucking unhappy. Like so unhappy. And they don’t realize dieting is a manifestation of how dissatisfied they are with the shitty deal that the culture has forced on them.
The story behind the slogan #LoseHateNotWeight
It is the entirety of my belief system summed up. Like when women tell me “I want to lose weight” they usually mean “I want to be loved, I want to be seen, I want to be treated with dignity and respect.” They look at the current cultural paradigm and rather than say “hey, wait a minute, that’s super fucked up. You don’t get to treat me like that,” they blame themselves. Sexism has taught us how to do that. Dieting and weight loss behavior are the manifestations of that willingness to accept blame for a cultural problem. The issue is you can’t actually get those meaningful things from weight loss. You can’t lose weight in order to lose diet mentality – the mentality that you’re never good enough – you’ve got to destabilize the mentality itself.
Do you receive a lot of hate?
Depends. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Like if I have a high visibility story, then yes. Like somewhat recently Fox News did a piece on me, stating that I said something that I in fact did not. They did not wait to hear back from me on fact checking and so I received a barrage of hatred from neo-cons on Twitter. It was like so hateful, though, I just couldn’t process it as hurtful. It just felt like watching someone scream in an empty room alone. Like, I have sympathy for that person. They are going through a lot. This is not about me.
Do you hear a lot of stories from people you’ve helped?
Sometimes people tell me about how my work has affected them and it is always like a little miracle each and every time. Just yesterday I had coffee with someone who had interviewed me for a magazine, and in the interview I had said something about how women need to be allowed to access and feel anger and that we are afraid to be pissed because we have been taught that it’s “unfeminine” to be angry. Her 64-year old mom read the article, and it prompted her to have a meeting with her boss about one of her co-workers bullying her. Like, she stood up for herself and she said she was frustrated and disappointed with her work situation to her boss. Like, I live for that shit. I live for women getting theirs. All I do is wake up every day and put out the intention
“Universe, show me the way to tell women how much this planet needs us to exist in the totality of our power and our authenticity.”
Tell us about Babecamp
Babecamp is a 4-week online course for women who are ready to break up with diet culture and take up their rightful place in the babe pantheon. The course is broken into 4 modules that build on each other. We start with really dissecting what diet culture is and move on from there into concrete tools for navigating fatphobia and body shame. Every day Monday – Friday you get an email that focuses on a lesson, and at the end of each email is a “Daily Action” – a 5 minute action that concretizes the day’s lesson. There’s a Facebook group where students in that session talk to each other and to me about challenges and questions that come up for them. There are also 2 lectures I record that are in-depth treatments of topics we cover in Babecamp.
I think of dieting as a scrubby boyfriend who’s sleeping on your sofa and eating all the food in your fridge. You’ve been dating him for a while and so you can’t figure out how to get him out of your house. That’s what I’m here for. I designed Babecamp for women who need support in that moving forward process. I really wanted to create something that was affordable and gave women access to an education in feminism and fat activism – the things that changed my life.
In November I took a group of women to Jamaica to do Babecamp Live and it was so magical. Like that retreat changed the composition of my cells.
Women who post “fit” Instagram photos
I see diet behavior as a sign of distress and a survival mechanism. I consider “fit” posts to be a manifestation of diet behavior. A lot of weight-loss/fitness oriented posts are about performing, like putting on a show about how good or moral you are for an imagined public. I mostly feel a lot of compassion for people who post these images because I know they are probably in a really hard place if they are deriving value from that level of conformity.
Do you think there should be a balance between being healthy and overweight?
No. Racism, war and cultures that encourage the suppression of emotion kill people. We are all unhealthy.
We need to recognize that dieting and weight loss are insidious institutions designed to destroy us, and we need to stop investing in anyone or anything that wants to destroy us.
To get to know more, jump onto Virgie Tovar’s website.