Our editor-in-chief Beccy Hill reviews You Have The Right To Remain Fat, the latest offering from writer and fat discrimination lecturer, Virgie Tovar.
It’s only when I have got to the end of Virgie Tovar’s 'You Have The Right To Remain Fat' that I realise just how powerful the title and its meaning are. Upon first glance, the back of the book calls for “the end of oppressive diet culture - and embracing and accepting bodies of all sizes.” Dieting? I think. Well, I haven’t done that for years. And aren’t we already living in a body posi, body hair, body fat, body insecurities out in the open 2K18 landscape? Again, when I reached the end of the book, I realised just how wrong I was.
As a woman, your weight infiltrates every aspect of your life. Virgie opens the book by saying “My body used to belong to me.” From the moment you are old enough, you are taught that no matter how your body looks, it is wrong and up for scrutiny from family members to complete strangers. The chapter continues by later saying “Where once there was barred access to meaningful employment and the right to vote, sexism today has morphed into skipped meals and too many hours spent at the gym.” At first, I question this statement - even think it a little extreme. Nobody is making me skip meals or go to the gym, certainly not the patriarchy. However, the book breaks down this idea, and I begin to question how the thoughts I have about weight, health and ‘self-improvement’ actually came to be.
Virgie recounts her first encounter with the word fat, hurled at her on the school playground by a boy who was fond of looking up girls skirts. Her story is all too familiar, and personally I would struggle to find a girl who wasn’t called fat as an insult whilst growing up. “As much as I wish it were, my story is not unique. It is, in many ways, the story of women’s lives in America.” In the UK as well, you just accept it as part of life - at some point, you will be referred to as fat regardless of your body shape and size. But why is fat an insult? Virgie writes “We as a culture have characterised fat as an inherently bad thing when in reality body size is meaningless and lacks the good or bad associations imposed by wider culture. We were not born thinking fat is bad and thin is good. We learn these things through an ongoing cultural education.”
Whilst Virgie acknowledges that the word dieting is no longer commonplace, she explains that doesn’t mean it no longer exists as a concept. “The language used to sell diet products has shifted away from shame and fear in favour of aspiration and optimisation.” Whilst the vocabulary has changed, the goal of losing weight has stayed the same. Juicing, cleansing, whatever you want to call it, Virgie writes that “Any lifestyle or plan or philosophy or app that treats weight loss as a goal is a diet.” So much prominence is placed on your health being connected to your weight (see Cancer Research’s obesity campaign from earlier this year) but as Virgie points out “When we take a moment to recognise what our culture teaches us about fat people, it becomes clear really quickly that fatphobia is a form of bigotry, obscured by the naturalising language of beauty and health and the false narrative of concern.”
Throughout this book, Virgie is debunking myths left, right and centre. As an expert and lecturer on fat discrimination and body image, she clearly knows her shit and she wants you to know it too. Almost every sentence is a stand alone quote - whilst reading the book I want to text everyone I know with my newfound perspective, or nudge the person on the train next to me and be like “YAAAS, right?” Instead I settle for snapping pictures of the pages and uploading to the Sister Instagram Stories. I receive DMs from people saying how much they needed to read that their weight doesn’t define their value. And that being fat isn’t their fault, and it isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed. Virgie’s writing is so relatable, yet possesses the ability to make you question everything you thought you knew. She says she “...chose to stop dieting because I wanted to start living my life rather than continue dreaming about it.” The biggest takeaway (food pun, lol) for me from this book, is to stop waiting to be thin for your life to begin. You’re perfect, and if you ever doubt that, I would urge you to refer to this book time and time again. You have the right to remain fat - don’t let anybody take that right away from you.
You Have The Right To Remain Fat is out now via Melville House UK. Order your copy, and read more about Virgie Tovar.