Virgie Tovar is a busy woman on a big mission. The renowned author, activist, and East Bay native is one of the nation's leading experts on fat discrimination and body image, and she's bringing down diet culture one bite at a time.
In her writing and everyday living, Tovar preaches a lifestyle that's free of body shaming. Through lectures, online articles, and a vigorous social-media presence, she fights for a society that can remove itself from damaging assumptions about size and sexuality. And she does it all while being a fierce style icon — a "fatshionista," she'll tell you — to those whom the fashion world has for years sidelined.
A leader on today's frontlines of fat activism, Tovar's philosophy stems from a long legacy that has worked to promote body positivity and combat fatphobia. "This is a very old movement and people in the Bay Area have in a lot of ways been one of the major seeds," she said.
Originally hailing from San Pablo, Tovar got her start in activism while attending school at UC Berkeley, where she received a bachelor's degree in political science. There, she was first introduced to feminism and body politics through a student-led course on feminine sexuality. Having never before been challenged to question stigmas about her gender and sexuality as a fat person, Tovar said the course was life changing and propelled her into a career in fat activism.
Tovar's exploration into fat identities initially began by learning to love herself as fat woman of color. But soon, that curiosity evolved into a master's degree in Human Sexuality from San Francisco State University, and later her ground-breaking anthology book about fat life called Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion.
"As the editor — a fat activist, body-image expert and life-long fat girl — this is the book I wish I had when I was spending my days nearly starving myself because I thought that was what I had to do to be beautiful or worth anyone's time," Tovar wrote online about the book. "This book offers an invitation to our table, where food is not the enemy and all bodies are good bodies."
When she isn't writing, Tovar shares this message — that all bodies are good bodies — at universities, conferences and events such Babecamp, her online course helping people break free from diet culture.
While pursuing her own work, Tovar is also now helping to cultivate the next generation of fat activists. "I'm going to do a panel as part of SF Zinefest in September, but I'm taking a bit of a back seat," said Tovar. "There's a younger fat activist who I really like and I encouraged her to take the lead on that panel. I'm excited to see her vision."
Tovar has a lot on her plate coming up in addition to Zinefest, like a Curvy Girl Lingerie show in September and the first-ever Babecamp retreat in Jamaica this November. Until then: "As per always, I'll be hanging out in swimming pools on a donut floatie in a bikini." VirgieTovar.com.
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