What do Hot & Heavy, colonization cupcakes and George Clooney circa "Facts Of Life" have in common? I don't know. I mean, I just love that picture of George Clooney. No, but really. How do Hot & Heavy and Thanksgiving intersect and why am I taking H&H with me tomorrow?
First, Thanksgiving is the second big holiday in the trifecta I (and many others) celebrate - Halloween, T-day and Christmas. And even though it's the second, it seems to be the official kick-off to the annual ritual of increased discussion and news coverage around food shaming and diet talk. I know for a lot of people the holidays are fraught with anxiety on multiple levels: family, past, food, money. I'm packing H&H when I head over to my family's place tomorrow because - as some of the bloggers on the blog tour have expressed - the people in the book are my friends; they are chosen family and they feel like home. When I take the book with me I can flip to the page of the friend I need most in that moment. I remember the sound of their voice, the way they look when they laugh, what they would say when my family was erupting into the strange drama proffered by my aunt's internet boyfriend who she met at the Greyhound bus station one time and who now refuses to talk to any of us while he eats mountains of my grandmother's food and pretends to have a secret job but has no driver's license and insists he's Cherokee. For instance.
Rachel Kacenjar ("2Fat2Fuck") comes to mind. And so does Deah Schwartz ("Take Off the Damn Shoe!") with a little bit of Margitte Kristjannson ("Who Wears Short Shorts?") and Sydney Lewis ("I Came to Femme through Fat and Black"), of course. Whenever I see Syd we eat ridiculous packaged baked goods and drink many lady cocktails while she regales me with the many quotes from Toddlers & Tiaras or Honey Boo Boo that sum up complex theoretical concepts like heteropatriarchy or radical queerness through tea cup pigs and go-go juice.
Second, Thanksgiving is a holiday that is essentially about celebrating the seizure and occupation of land that was once ungoverned in many senses. And I see our bodies - and the self-loathing many of us carry for our bodies - as part of that same legacy of colonial occupation. I think about the ways that Hot & Heavy and all the people and stories in it are guiding our way back to that state of liberation, to the "time before."
Third, if the casual fatphobia gets so blood boiling you can't remember your well-rehearsed retort or you're just too tired to defend your body/your lover's/your friend's body (please don't feel like you've failed!), or you're just not a retort-hurling kind of person, find a paragraph or a quote you love, circle it several times with a bright pink marker and pass it around the table.
So, yeah, if you add a hitachi to the equation we're talking about a full-blown party. I encourage you to reflect on the wondrous things your body has done for you this year or month or week. Whether H&H is how you self-care tomorrow or not, be loving and gentle and delicious with yourself!
The Curvy Girls episode, featuring Virgie Tovar, aired November 21!
When I got the email from the Ricki Lake Show I was standing in the middle of the Forever 21 Plus section at 4th & Market (not to be confused with the Forever 21 at 5th and Market) in San Francisco with my friend, Alex. We were debating the merits of a studded jean jacket vs. a non-studded bolero jean jacket. I had just decided upon going with the more versatile non-studded option when I checked my phone (I know: rude!). I saw it immediately at the top of my inbox: "Greetings from the Ricki Lake" (yes, that's what it said.. I just checked). I could feel my blood pressure rising.
It was from the show's assistant producer letting me know they liked my Lose Hate Not Weight campaign and were thinking of inviting me on the show. I started jumping up and down - right there amidst the sequined cheetah print maxi dresses and the color block jeans. We did a preliminary phone interview that afternoon while I stood outside the Ferry Building, pacing as I broke down my thoughts on fat and gender, fat and sex, fat and the dieting industry, my fat history. She said they were planning a show called "Curvy Girls." I was excited but a smidge worried: was this show going to be curvy-positive or curvy-negative? Answer: curvy-positive!
I did what a good author is supposed to do when she gets an email from the Ricki Lake Show: I emailed my publicist. She took over from there, and I got an email about a week before the taping date that I was headed to LA and that I could book the hotel and flight of my choosing. These are the words I've wanted to hear ever since I was a little fat Mexican girl! My #1 concern when booking a hotel is: do they have a hot tub? So, I went about my search of hotels near LAX, and decided on the Westin. Bonus: shuttle service + right next to a Taco Bell!
I watched the sun set over Los Angeles and decided to be responsible: do some hot tubbing, get some Taco Bell, watch some TV and go to bed. After the tubbing, I walk across the street, get my regular order (a double decker taco with nacho cheese and a beefy 5-layer with a mixture of regular pepsi and cherry pepsi because I find the cherry is a little heavy-handed in the cherry pepsi) and returned to my room. I turn on the TV and it just so happens there's a Honey Boo Boo marathon on! It felt like it was a sign from the chubby mischievous gnomes that protect all fat people who eat Taco Bell. They were saying: yes, Virgie, you are on the right path.
I spent almost all the following morning prepping for my trip to the studio. By 1pm I was down in the lobby ready to take a cab to the studio. En route to Culver City the cab driver began to tell me about the time he was arrested and accused of theft for having moved 2 bicycles from in front of the pizza place where he was first employed. He pulled over for about 20 minutes to tell me the tale and because I was early and giddy I listened attentively while sequestered in his car. I figured he needed to vent. After that, I asked if we could stop somewhere to get good coffee. Well, we didn't find any but I did find these...
We pulled into the studio lot and it was at this point in the story that the cab driver and I part ways. After some mild disorientation I found the Ricki studio.
Once inside, I was led into the green room where there were many plus size model babes sitting around chatting. I found out later that they had been cast for the plus size fashion portion of the show. Just outside the green room was a magical candy land filled with every imaginable treat and beverage! An entire room dedicated to donuts, a dozen flavored coffee and teas, every kind of candy and chips and crackers, every kind of gum. It was wall-to-wall treats in there! I ended up getting some coffee and watching a taping of the show on the screen in the green room.
After about an hour I was escorted to hair & makeup. I have to say that this part was tres dreamy. I'd been fantasizing about some day being taken into a special room where my hair and makeup would be done by brilliant professionals. There were two chairs and two specialists. I started with hair guy. He asked me what kind of look I wanted. I said that I was hoping for a Dolly Parton/Jane Fonda 9 to 5 (the movie) homage look with maybe a splash of drag: big hair! He flat-ironed my bangs, did some amazing curls, added some clips in for volume, and then took it one step further: he weaved pink tinsel into my hair! Yes, it happened! I felt like one of those toddlers from Toddlers & Tiaras! After that it was time for makeup, and the makeup artist knew that I was down for the drag. She went for the full airbrush makeup and fake lashes. She had drawers and drawers filled with every makeup essential! I got to hear some celeb gossip and I also heard that my hair guy was off to do something with Johnny Depp's wigs after our little hair encounter. I am one degree of separation from Johnny Depp's wig, ghurl!
After hair and makeup I was escorted to my dressing room. My name was on the door! I felt like Judy Garland! Glee's Amber Riley was right down the hall and so was Marie Denee of The Curvy Fashionista. I could barely contain myself!
The wardrobe person came in next and recommended I switch out of the bow tie/cheetah print outfit (boo) and into a vintage purple Hal Ferman dress. She brought in a pink cardigan from wardrobe to complete the outfit. She also brought in some black 5-inch stiletto heels. I tried to do that, but it was a no-go so we settled on the chunky camel heels with an ankle strap I'd packed. I added some sheer pink ankle socks with polka dots (Forever 21) to make the outfit a little bit more me. I got prepped by the producer (who I instantly fell in love with) and then I got mic'd up and sent out to where the taping was happening. I could hear Ricki and the audience on the other side of the wall while I waited to be unleashed onto the stage. I was shown a diagram of the stage and directed to walk this way and that way, behind the coffee table, down some stairs and I would be there in the presence of la Ricki. Somehow I got to where I was supposed to be and there was Ricki, looking all cute!
The rest of the story can be seen on The Ricki Lake Show Curvy Girls episode! Hopefully you DVR'd it!
In today's New York Times post, "Plus-Size Bloggers Are Role Models," Bethany Rutter of Arched Eyebrow, spoke about how fatshion can lead to people “...examining their relationship with their body for the first time, questioning why they feel they should lose weight or why they feel they don’t deserve to enjoy fashion.” Bethany's words made me think about my history with fashion and the ways that fatshion has become such an integral part of the body liberation movement - and why.
I come from a long line of fatshionistas. My grandmother, Esperanza, was a master seamstress - having learned all her skills from her mother, Manuela - until she got Parkinson's. Her sewing subverted the patriarchy of my grandfather, who was threatened by her skills and her secrets; they subverted the post-production capitalism we had inherited, which said we could abdicate those skills in favor of mass-produced looks palatable to Western aesthetics; they subverted the thin-centric clothing manufacturers who said there was no room for her body or mine. My mother, Maria, liked to use glittery puffy paint to enhance denim skirts she'd turned into minis. She'd draw entire scenes from The Little Mermaid on the pockets of the skirts, and she'd turn discarded, seemingly hopeless things into elaborate and beautiful gifts for me. She made me leopard-print jumpers and fashioned my hair into gloriously high side pony tails. She helped me practice fierce quippy one-line retorts to defend my body against the rapid onslaught of attacks it constantly buffeted. I didn't have the skill to understand their labors of love. I hated that I couldn't find clothes in my size. I didn't want to be special or seen.
Clothing has always made me interact with my body in a very real way. As a little fat girl, it was clothing that became symbols of my body's failure to conform, and as a grown & ferosh fat lady, it is clothing that has become a claim to visibility and a challenge to conquer, alter and radicalize. I have to understand the dimensions of my body - how wide my upper arms are, how big my bust is, how my hips are shaped, how many inches I need to account for when I sit down (and my belly pops more!) - when I'm buying or altering clothes.
I feel like my wardrobe - the hair birds, the sequins, the tiny veiled hats, the endless nautical-themed outfits - is part of my healing process. It's the intentional flouting of feminine convention. It's the conscious refusal to make others feel comfortable by putting my lumps away. It's laying to rest my old, little girl ambitions of invisibility. And it's laying claim to a new politic of customized disobedience.
It was last May that I was excitedly e-mailing back and forth with Seal Press about this potential anthology project that would become Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. The book didn't even have a name, and when I pitched it originally it had been an anthology exclusively about fat sexuality. I was finishing grad school and had almost lost my mind due to the strange politics and sociopaths that academia seems to attract. But I was in love with my research about fat women, and couldn't believe how much my life had changed since I started the research. But here's the back story:
The idea crystallized in Rarotonga in 2009.
Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here's my description of Raro from my chapter, "Pecan Pie, Sex & Other Revolutionary Things" in Hot & Heavy: "There women wear flowers in their hair, wardrobes are full of pinks and oranges. It is a place where shoes are optional, and glorious mouths open and big tummies rollick when women laugh. This is a magical place, where giant clams stake their place on the lagoon floors, where glow worms dance during full moons, where a prehistoric language still percusses on the tongues of every inhabitant, where papaya is perfected by humidity and sunlight, where the dragonflies are as big as hummingbirds.
There’s only one road that circumnavigates Rarotonga, and lagoons are never more than ten feet away. You can touch electric blue starfish just below the water’s surface while bright yellow fish scuttle past your toes. You can pick starfruit, mangoes and coconuts from trees beside the road. Television is comprised of one channel. Dishes are made up of coconut milk and lime, raw fish and spinach, chicken cooked in an underground oven called umu. Here you wear a flower behind your left ear if you’re taken and behind your right ear if you’re single. The island is green and lush. And the women are huge."
I was visiting from New Zealand, where I’d sequestered myself for five months with my boyfriend, Sam, attempting to know love, to learn something about myself, to leave San Francisco and all its hipness.
I decided to do Rarotonga alone. I was playing a little game of hide and seek with the crabs as they popped in and out of their subterranean burrows, and that gave way to writing wishes in the white Pacific Island sand: if anything magical could happen by doing this kind of thing it would be in this place. Fatties of the World Unite was my first wish (I even took a picture: see below). The title changed, but the wish never did. I wanted to write a book that would change the way that we talk about fat, a book about fierce, unapologetic, sexy, sassy, ruthless, middle-finger-extended-to-the-world fat girls! At this point in the story I still hadn't been introduced to the dazzling world of fat activism.
I’d been asked to write my story for a friend’s Masters thesis project on body image. The story, entitled “Fatties of the World Unite,” was about my life as a fat girl, a call to arms to women who had been impacted by this big bad word (fat), fat shame and stigma. I went to New Zealand shortly thereafter, and I got an email from my friend telling me that someone had read it and wanted to tattoo it on her body. I knew that if my little essay inspired tattoo aspirations that this was a subject that was deeply and urgently important. When I returned from the Cook Islands I immediately began to write a book proposal about fat girls and sexuality. I was a certified sex educator; I had taught female sexuality classes at UC Berkeley; I was working as a phone sex operator. My life, in short, was all about sex. I spent three full days writing with a desperate excitement. I had heard of Seal Press back when I was doing radio for a San Francisco show. We interviewed one of their authors on the show and my 23-year old self filed Seal away in the DPHA (Distant Possibility/High Aspirations) file in my brain. Now I was 27 and I sent my proposal for Fatties of the World Unite all the way from Christchurch, New Zealand to California, to Seal Press. The senior editor wrote me back about a month (or maybe three) later, telling me she liked my voice and that she would see what everyone else thought. It turned out that there were too many concerns about it not reaching the intended market. It was a no-go. Interestingly, what I got out of the exchange was not the rejection but rather the pride that the senior editor had written me and told me she liked my stuff. I also had some good news to buffer the rejection: I had been accepted to the Human Sexuality Masters program at San Francisco State University, one of the only of its kind in the world and one of two similar programs in the United States.
My thesis was entitled “How Fat Women of Color Queer the Feminine.” It was a qualitative project in which I interviewed 10 women about their lives, their bodies and their relationship to femininity. I discovered lots of things, among them that some fat women feel that they are not allowed to be "girly" in childhood because of their fatness and that this may lead to gender confusion. The stories the women I interviewed told were fascinating to me and to other scholars who found out about my work. I got lots of support and encouragement from fat activists and fat studies scholars. For my research I began to read books about fat (like Dan Kulick’s Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession and The Fat Studies Reader) and attend fat positive events (like the NOLOSE conference). I began to host my own fat positive events. I hosted a panel at Good Vibrations, called “Hot Fat Femmes” and then another event for the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society called “Queer F’attitude.” My research in graduate school led to a journey into the “fat underground,” where fat women wore bikinis and ate dessert and had great sex and didn’t talk about diets. It was amazing and it changed my life.
While I was in graduate school, fat blogs and “fatshion” were taking off. Fat Studies was actually a feature at conferences I was attending for the first time, and presentations of my research filled entire rooms with interested participants. When I was nearing graduation I wrote the senior editor of Seal again, asking if she remembered me and telling her that this fat thing was catching on. This time I had an idea for an anthology and after some negotiation I got the answer I’d hoped for back on the beaches of Rarotonga: Yes, Virginia, we will publish your book about fat girls.
Once the initial shock and amazement wore off, I remembered that I had never edited an anthology before, that I was terrified, and that I had six months to overcome that and have a finished manuscript. I had meetings with other writers and mentors, most of them said I’d never get it done on time. I got in touch with bloggers, writers, vloggers, scholars, activists, big women I saw at Costco (“Hi, you look really fierce. Do you want to write for my book?”). When the submission deadline came I had close to one hundred submissions. I couldn’t believe it. For a topic that is relatively new and very taboo (increasingly taboo with the redoubled efforts of the War on Obesity), I was amazed that so many women were willing to share their stories with an unknown editor, to use this word, to be part of something so different.
Editing this book has afforded me realizations and a million other things. There were nights I stayed up reading the same submission over and over, nodding with recognition, sometimes crying because the story held resonance or remembrance or regret that we shared. Their stories inspired my writing and my sense of urgency. Even though people (largely lesbian/queer feminists) have been doing what could be called “fat activism” since the 1960s, we still find ourselves at a point in history where the word is taboo, the concept unthinkable. If you are fat you could live your entire existence truly believing that you deserve nothing approaching what I call life.
I had a realization early in the review process. I realized that in my desire to empower women I wanted to edit out parts of the story that made up the tales of liberation the contributors were telling. I wanted to show them only the shiny, fun bits, the bits that come after a lot of thinking and dreaming and contemplation and pain. I realized that my attempt to mask these parts of the story was my way of trying to protect readers from having to relive experiences that had hurt them, but I realized that to do that would be inauthentic. Refusal to tell the whole story is a kind of lying.
The stories in the book are varied and amazing: from a woman who discovered her fat vulva in a sex class to a woman who learned her liberation over 6 days she spent naked as an artist painted her, stories that began in the home of San Francisco’s biggest coke dealer and that ended with a mother’s refusal to continue a legacy of intergenerational body shame. This book is amazing and historical, a book that will still be read in fifty years for the first or fifth time, and I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to oversee its creation.
You can order Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion on Amazon or buy it at your local bookstore! If you love H&H, want to support it (and books/activism like it) and spread the "glittery word of the coming revolution" you can do one or many of the following:
1. Write a review of the book or your fav chapter on your blog
2. Write a review on Amazon
3. Like it on Amazon
4. Like Hot & Heavy on Facebook (www.facebook.com/hotandheavy)
5. Take a snapshot of yourself with the cover and post it on Facebook or Twitter
6. Write your own "I'm Hot & Heavy because..." inspired post
7. Tell Virgie how H&H moved you, changed you, made you laugh or made you cry. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org and your response will be posted on the H&H page.
8. Ask your local/campus newspaper to run a piece on H&H
9. Do something radically delicious and thoroughly unapologetic just for you ♥
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.