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You have the right to remain fat by Virgie Tovar, The Feminist Press at CUNY, US $14.95, Pp 136, August 2018, ISBN 978-1936932313

If you are a woman, you must have been slut-shamed on a number of occasions. But, if you are also somewhat fat, you must be experiencing fat shaming almost every day. You start experiencing fat shaming much before you face slut shaming and you continue facing fat shaming even after you stop being slut-shamed as you grow older. Fat shaming makes you hate your body — in fact, yourself — and deprives you of all happiness. Virgie Tovar, who grew up as a fat girl, faced fat shaming for about two decades before she decided to fight back. In You have the right to remain fat, she shares her struggle against fat-phobia and diet culture that encourages this hateful culture. She says that her innate relationship to her body was taken from her and replaced with something foreign and alien and harmful as early as she was just a child, through a series of violent, hateful and culturally sanctioned ways. Her relationship to her body was replaced with one toxic idea; your body is wrong. This idea would threaten her happiness and health for nearly two decades before she decided to fight back.

Virgie Tovar says that women and girls are starving themselves every day. They are going their first diet before they even turn ten. They are being told to wear things that hide or flatter their body. They are food policed and fat-shamed by their classmates and co-workers. They are obsessively exercising to the point of pain or injury. Virgie Tovar writes, “I realized now that all those years I dedicated to losing weight and hating my body were actually about a misguided attempt to be free. Yes, I dieted because I believed that it was only through weight loss that I could deserve to travel, wear cute clothes, and go on lots of dates with people I was hot for.” She says that she was doing all that because she wanted happiness, love, joy, and, most importantly, freedom. She starved her way into freedom. She did this because she had been taught to believe that weight loss was the key to all her heart’s greatest desires, but the truth is that it wasn’t. Because you can’t find self-love by walking a path paved by self-hatred.

Virgie Tovar argues that the diet industry encourages and sustained the misogynist culture of fat shaming. The struggle against the hate culture of fat shaming is equally a struggle against the diet industry. She writes, “I had been taught that dieting was the path to freedom, and it took me a long time to realize that this was one of the greatest lies ever told. With dieting, everything depended on me accepting that I was the one to blame because I was fat. With dieting, I had to admit that there was nothing wrong or sick about a culture that taught me how to hate myself.” Dieting made her believe that the trouble and the problem resided within her, not outside of her. Even as it was eating me alive, it was feeding me the idea that I could have anything I wanted, that the more I sacrificed the more I gained.” She says that she wanted to be thin because she wanted to be loved, to be happy, and to be free.

We are taught that being thin is synonymous with beauty, power, and love. Virgie argues that, in fact, it is not. Beauty is not something women earn; it is something people are. Power is not achieved through the dogged pursuit of homogeneity; it is something that is innate within us and that is strengthened by nonconformity. Love is not something people earn through obedience; it is each person’s birthright. We cannot starve our way into being loved, into being free. She writes, “Most people cannot even imagine what freedom tastes like, but in my experience, it’s close to butter. One of the world’s favorite fats. For many women I have met, they have lost any appetite for freedom because they have subsisted on so little — both metaphorically and literally — for so long.”

You have the right to remain fat gives you deep insight into our culture of hate that encourages fat-shaming. Virgie Tovar explores the real causes of fat-phobia and shows us how to overcome it. She does not mince words to make them palatable. She is not culturally correct and makes no effort to please the apologists of our culture of hate and diet industry. In this meticulously researched book, Virgie Tovar has woven her personal experience with academic research to produce an empowering book. You have the right to remain fat is an empowering book for the victims of the culture of hate. It is a must read for everyone who wants to fight the culture of hate and misogyny.

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