13 Aug 2018

Virgie Tovar: You have the right to remain fat!

From Afternoons, 3:08 pm on 13 August 2018

Virgie Tovar says her battle has been with fat discrimination, not weight loss. Now she accepts who she is and no longer starts the day with the thought that she hates her body.

She says the multi-billion dollar diet industry sends out messages that are often fat-phobic masquerading as health concerns.

Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar Photo: www.virgietovar.com

She's started a campaign called #LoseHateNotWeight and has written a book, You Have The Right to Remain Fat, calling for tolerance and respect for all body types and an end to moral judgement about food.

She characterises fat phobia as an “an ideology of bigotry that positions fat people as naturally inferior and as a sign of immorality”.

It has a long history in the United States, she says.

“The dietary reform movement began in the 1800s and was spearheaded by a man called Rev Sylvester Graham.”

Graham, a Presbyterian preacher, and his acolytes believed that through food you could control morality.

“A few men of this period, who are completely and utterly obsessed with sexuality, believe that you can control sexuality by very carefully monitoring what foods you eat.”

Certain flavours were even frowned upon, Tovar says.

“They believed that spicy food led to sexual lasciviousness, delicious food, even leavened bread, had the potential of breeding sexual excitation so they sought to create this connection in the American mind between food and morality.”

From this came the idea that being fat is a choice and so fat people were, ipso facto, morally inferior, she says.

“The idea that any person can lift themselves up if they work hard enough is at the core of our understanding, certainly of what it means to be American.

“Interlocking historical realities created this connection between the fat person and someone who has an uncontrollable relationship to food and is therefore morally suspect.”

Dieting, Virgie says, is the result of unresolved fat phobia. She believes there is little difference between many diets and eating disorders.

“Any method you could use to become a smaller weight is considered positive, it’s our overall cultural attitude.

“Dieting is taking that large cultural practice and turning it into an individual practice which you are moderating. Dieting is the practise of fat phobia.”

Fat people face discrimination at work and in society in general, Tovar says.

“For me this is not a health issue but a human rights issue. The reality is - we know empirically - fat people are experiencing discrimination.

"We do not have room for conditional human rights in our society Every single person deserves to live a life free from bigotry regardless of their size.”

There is no efficacious way make a fat person thin, Tovar says.

“So we really have to come at this from a human rights perspective.”

She no longer diets and has freed up most of her mental “real estate” as a result.

“Every day began with the thought 'I hate this body', if you can imagine: Every single day that’s your first thought after you wake up. That’s what it’s like to be in a weight cycling process.”