Ravishly is sort of crazy about Virgie Tovar. Editor of an anthology of essays reflecting on life in a fat body, Virgie is also a vocal and prominent activist in the fat acceptance movement. She also likes donuts, because who doesn't like donuts? (Answer: Gwyneth Paltrow and literally no one else.) Virgie is smart, sexy, and full of life — and none of that is done in spite of her body. She has created an important space on the Internet and in the real world, a space that women and girls are free to take up however they please, and we're so excited that she answered a few questions from our equally body positive EIC.
You are the mother or #riotsnotdiets. How did that come about?
Well, I think of myself as the mother of #LoseHateNotWeight, but yeah, I think we’re cousins with #RiotsNotDiets. What’s so WEIRD about it all is that I’m not even trying to shock people. I’m just being myself, and “being yourself” when you’re a woman, and fat and brown, is apparently shocking and revolutionary. Who knew? Dieting is just about the dumbest thing ever, and I know it and guess I’m just early to the party.
Oh. My. God. Thank you for asking. In case you don’t know it, there’s a custom donut craze that’s about to take the nation by storm. Custom donut = you get to pick the glaze/toppings/fillings. Yes! It’s already begun! The first place I saw a custom donut shop was Phoenix. It’s called the Fractured Prune and you get to customize the glaze and the toppings. You might be asking: WHY god is it called the Fractured Prune? I dunno. Maybe they came up with it at www.TerribleNamesForDonutBusinesses.com. Anyway, FP has the BEST donut cake ever. The toppings are meh, but they fresh fry each and every donut baby and it’s so precious. Then a few weeks later, I was in LA and someone suggested we go to Donut Friend. Umm…yes I want a donut friend, the best kind of friend. And THIS place was like the donut mother lode. The cake wasn’t as good as Fractured Prune, but they made up for it with the fuckin' massive array of customization possibilities: a donut sandwich stuffed with Nutella and topped with rose frosting with a sprinkling of pistachios? Yeah, they do it. A donut inspired by pad thai — covered in peanut butter, basil leaves, and some drops of sriracha to top it off? Yup. OK. So enough stalling...favorite donut would have to be a tie between (1) classic old fashioned, glazed. I eat the edges off first, am left with a ring of donut to finish, it’s like a 2-for-1 amazeball special. (2) a plain donut with Nutella frosting stuffed with creamy peanut butter. My chin breaks out with at least 2 massive whiteheads every time I eat peanut butter, so each time I eat it it’s like saying, “I love you, peanut butter, more than my vanity.”
Favorite ridiculous fashion DON’T that you DO anyway?
The aesthetic that really inspires me and makes me feel the most ME is very working class brown girl. This aesthetic is characterized by things like cheetah print, tight outfits, short skirts, neon and other bright colors, clothing that has text on it, super feminine and non-utilitarian clothing, fur, loud and large jewelry. Being visibly read as a working class person who is not trying to pass is considered a faux pas, certainly.
I mean, cleavage comes to mind also. Cleavage is SO political! And is absolutely part of a class performance. I recently learned that respectable people have this notion of “tasteful” amounts of cleavage. Riiight. Cleavage is powerful so I like to use mine to get stuff. I also really, really like clothing and accessories that convey strong messages about my belief system, like “Dump Him” or “If da sex police come a knockin’ you have the right to remain screaming” (literally own a shirt that says that). I just bought a giant torso-sized hamburger purse while I was in New York and also just bought a matching set of massive hoop earrings + necklace that say QUEEN. I like to let people know who they’re dealing with before we even speak to one another. It saves me precious time.
You have created a space for fat studies in academia. Why do you think the fat experience has been pushed out of such spaces, and what can we do to combat that?
Ughh! Academia is so obsessed with being boring! Also academia loves assimilation and respectability politics and being fat is considered neither assimilative nor respectable.
It took me a loooong time to figure this out, but academia is part of the “The System” or “The Man.” To me, it’s The Church, The State, and The Academy who are maintaining all the weird (awful!) things that happen culturally. Academia likes to advertise itself as a pillar of radical thinking, but that’s really not the case, unfortunately. Maybe a long time ago the academy was a space for radical thinkers, but it really isn’t anymore.
Adjunctification and the near-extinction of tenure have made academics terrified of taking intellectual/career risks. The academy is such a hostile space for people who want to shake things up. The truth is that the best thinkers almost always come from the margins, and the academy is an INCREDIBLY hostile space to people like that. So the brilliant marginalized people get weeded out pretty quickly, and this leaves a lot of space for people who are good at playing that political game. Not coincidentally, being good at that game means not really being a risk taker. And intellect and good scholarship thrive on risk taking.
Most of the people in my generation were taught that education was the great equalizer, a panacea for all that was wrong with our culture; we are discovering that it’s not. People have stifling amounts of student debt — we are probably the most educated generation ever, and yet people with BAs and MAs and even PhDs can’t find jobs.
I used to think that academia was producing very specialized but valuable knowledge, but now I think that academia is producing super obscure knowledge that is actually outmoded. I think the fact that academia is so late to pick up on the conversation around fatness is evidence of that. The fat experience isn’t being pushed out of academia. Academia is not the best suited space for such an amazing, radical, grass roots conversation that’s changing so quickly. Academics are not the vanguards of this conversation — they are primarily documenting and commenting upon work that’s being authored by bloggers, fashionistas, performance artists, and activists. The best work in fat studies is happening outside academia. So we don’t need to combat being pushed out. Academia needs to catch up.
How did your book come about?
Right before I started grad school I had an idea for a book called Fatties of the World Unite. It was going to be a super heavy-handed feminist manifesto thing. I’ve always been cocky, so I decided to send a proposal to a women’s interest press, Seal Press. The acquisitions editor really liked it, but it didn’t make it past the marketing team. This was in 2008/2009-ish, before the real explosion of interest in fat happened culturally. Even though Fatties of the World Unite was rejected, the editor told me I was a good writer with a strong voice and I should try again later maybe. And, oh man, all I heard was the “try again later” part. While in grad school, I studied fat women and interviewed them about gender and race and sexuality. My thesis ended up being called “How Fat Women of Color Queer the Feminine.” And during research for my thesis I sort of fell down the amazing rabbit hole of queer fat feminism, and met all the fat rockstars and activists and thinkers and fat babes who wore bikinis, who refused to diet and refused to apologize for that decision. And they showed me what life could be for me, and I wanted to introduce the world to them. As I was finishing up grad school in 2011, I emailed that same editor again, asked if she remembered me, and told her that the fat thing was about to hit the culture in a BIG way, and that she should consider publishing an anthology called Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion about all these amazing women I’d met. And this time she said yes.
P.S. It’s amazing. You should read it.
Can we hang out?
Who are some other badass people you are loving right now?
Honey Boo Boo (always), Melissa Harris-Perry, Miss Piggy, Jassamyn Stanley, Jackie Wang, Nikki Darling, Tomas Moniz, Juana Maria Rodriguez, Saucye West, and Michelle Tea.
What's next for you?
(1) I’m super excited that I’m going to Jamaica this month to scout a location for a week-long Babecamp retreat! A retreat center in Negril offered their space, so me and the boo are going to check it out. Meanwhile, (2) I’m gearing up for virtual Babecamp Winter Edition in November/December. I’m adding some new material, and am just so stoked to be able to help support people through the hellish holidays. (3) I also got a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission to write an experimental novel; it’s unlike my other work and is super deep and intense stuff about my family, mental health, San Francisco, and the ripple effects of immigration. I’m releasing it for free via my website as a serial. It should be complete by August 2016. (4) My agent is trying to motivate me to write some sample chapters for a totally new memoir. I’ve written the proposal already, but writing chapters is haaaaard. (5) I have some super secret projects I’m working on too, but think keywords: amazing, photos, fat babe takeover.