"Plus sized women in particular, tend to get funneled into more physically laborious, lower paying jobs, care, jobs that involve caring for children, caring for elders, etc. And thin women tend to are likely or more likely to be funneled into jobs that are client facing and more sedentary, that involve a better higher paying." - Virgie Tovar
Shireen: Virgie Tovar holds a master's degree in Sexuality Studies with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. She's a contributor for Forbes where she covers the plus size market and how to end weight discrimination at work. She started the hashtag campaign hashtag lose hate, not weight. And in 2018 gave a TEDx talk on the origins of the campaign. Tovar is the author of You Have the Right to Remain Fat, and the Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color. She's the host of the podcast, “Rebel Eaters Club.” Welcome, Virgie.
Virgie: Oh, thank you for having me.
Shireen: And absolute pleasure and absolute pleasure. So Vergie, diving right in, I would love to learn about what led you to become an author and activist and a leading expert on weight based discrimination and body image.
Virgie: I mean, I guess in short, it certainly, the issue of fat phobia is something that's very personal to me, I was always a bigger child. And I come from a bigger family. And so even though my body looks exactly the way that my family's bodies, of my family members' bodies do, I really was taught at around the age of five, that my body size was wrong, and that I was big. I was bigger than other kids, because I had the wrong kind of relationship to my body, and I had the wrong kind of relationship to food. And I deeply internalize that, and I did what a lot of people in my position, higher weight people do, which is dedicate years and years and years and years to the attempt to lose weight. And I, I think I can honestly say I really did a lot of damage to my mental health, and certainly my physical health, in the process of that. And then I ended up through kind of a series of lucky accidents, finding out about this thing called fat activism, which is essentially a type of activism that asks for the end of weight based discrimination that essentially asks everyone in the culture to understand that every single body is good and deserves to exist. And there's nothing wrong with being a bigger person or a smaller person. And that, essentially will also introduce me to that really robust body of data, that points to the fact that methods that are sort of focused on trying to turn a person's body into a radically different size really, really doesn't work. And so I think all of that, together that personal experience, and how that activism really changed my life, and not only did it change, you know, how I walked through the world and how I understood this issue. I mean, really, like, I had no idea that there was a concept called fat phobia, or weight based discrimination, I had never heard of that I had. I really just thought that something was actually wrong with me, like my body didn't work the way that it was supposed to, and that it was my fault. And then being introduced to the idea that no, this is a form of discrimination. It actively, right, like it actively harms higher weight people, and that there are not only sort of there are, there's like legal issues going on around this. There's also cultural issues, and how people see people who have bodies like me in this culture. And all of that was really, really empowering. And it changed how I saw myself and it changed how I saw other people who are higher weight people like me. And it also changed my relationship to what's called what, what I call what a lot of people call diet culture, which is essentially this very robust part of our culture and a big industry that sort of consistently preys upon our body insecurities, especially our weight. And so that's kind of how it, that's kind of like my personal journey, and then I started getting involved in, in writing and that things kind of took off from there.
Shireen: Okay, what so let's talk about some of that harm. What are the negative effects of weight based discrimination on the individual and disproportionately on people of color?
Virgie: Yeah, I mean, weight based discrimination, when you kind of start to really investigate it, it's really sinister, actually. And it manifests a lot of different ways. So to begin with, right, it manifests in medical discrimination. So there's evidence that shows that doctors and people who are in the medical field have, you know, some of the highest rates of bias against higher weight people of any industry and that really, that shows them up and that manifests. The problem with that is, is manifold. First of all, it leads to higher weight patients delaying care and this leads to issues that could be maybe fixed in an earlier stage, they end up becoming exacerbated over time. And so that leads to doctors seeing higher weight patients in more acute states and then that acute state of distress ends up feeding into the doctors, or the nurses believe that higher weight people are worse patients. But in fact, it's the fear of discrimination, that is what's delaying was creating all of that cycle. And so I mean, really, what, what typically happens when a higher weight person goes to the doctor is that no matter what is going on, no matter what symptoms are presenting, or why they're there, they're most likely going to get diet or weight loss advice. And generally speaking, longitudinally, again, this is the data this is not necessarily me, though, I obviously have this lived experience as well, the data indicate that those kinds of conversations, they don't actually lead to anything except shame. And again, that's where the delay of care, and those starting to happen. I think the other thing that we're seeing in the medical field in the medical world, is that doctors take higher weight patients less seriously. So there's a trust issue there and we see this with people of color as well. And this really plays out especially with black women. And I think like the compounded impact of being potentially a higher white person or a person of color, you're really looking at the intersections of two very vitriolic forms of oppression, that really create this sense that this person cannot be trusted, this person is overreacting, this person is over experiencing or over reporting pain. And then at the end of the day, what they need to do is just take better care of themselves. And that leads to negligence, essentially, in some cases, or I mean, there's a famous case, such as like, it's actually a case that's being adjudicated right now. But it's a patient named Rebecca Hiles, who had, you know, was a high is a higher weight person is it was a teenager, when she started having really uncontrollable fits of coughing and shortness of breath, the doctor said, you just are overweight. And that's why you have these problems. And it turns out that she had cancer. And so you know, and this is, this is something that I've heard in my, in my own work with people over and over again. So that, that's a really, that's one of the biggest ones. But there's lots of other ways it manifests. First of all, I want to move on to workplace discrimination, there is an income gap, there's a wage gap between higher weight people and and sort of average size or thinner people. And for women, for plus size women, that income gap starts at $9,000 a year. That's a lot, right? And I think what ends up happening also in the pipeline of this, there's a few things going on. First of all, plus sized women in particular, tend to get funneled into more physically laborious, lower paying jobs, care, jobs, jobs that involve caring for children, caring for elders, etc. and thin women tend to are likely or more likely to be funneled into jobs that are client facing and more sedentary, that involve a better higher paying. So essentially, the desk job is sort of like “desk job” and that's happening. And then when you you go further down into the pipeline, you look at educational discrimination, the fact that there's a belief that higher weight people are less disciplined, less likely to be leaders and less likely to be intelligent, be intelligent. These are all beliefs that are held by many, many people, and this, these are held in academia. So I mean, famously, a few years ago, a professor tweeted out, “dear obese PhD applicants, don't bother to apply. You don't have the discipline to complete a PhD.” And like this idea that that body that a larger body is about not having discipline or not having the intellectual acumen etc, to to complete things. And so these are all manifestations of weapons discrimination. And then I think when you get a little bit, sort of in the weeds a little more with the interpersonal side of it, you know, you're looking at weight discriminate what we discrimination in dating, you're looking at the fact that certainly again, this data points about women but higher weight women tend to have the same number of sexual partners as their thin counterparts, but they have fewer relationships. And you look at the fact this is again, a bit of a structural thing. You look at the fact that There's still a really pretty massive lack of availability of clothing. And I think specifically in areas that are, like clothing and fashion for special moments that are important in our society, like, try and find what, like bridal wear or or, you know, like an outfit for a formal occasion. And a plus size is almost impossible. And I think it really sends a message of like, who gets married, who goes to the prom? Who gets to have these special important moments, like who's who's in the bridal party who gets to get invited to these kinds of things. And so those are all the ways in which that manifests. And certainly when it comes to people of color, it really is about stacked oppression. And I really want to kind of point to one data point that's really distressing, which is that there, there's a correlation between being a higher weight man of color, and experiencing police aggression, brute and brutality. And that's a really specific intersection that is, you know, lethal. And so I think when we when we really get into how weight based discrimination impacts the individual, we're looking at that. And then I think the last thing when I say a promise, is that I think when we're looking internally, what does that impact inside the person, if we're gonna, sort of, you know, really get like, bring the lens in as close as possible, what we're looking at is a psychological reality that is permeated by shame, and self loathing, and a sense that this discrimination is your fault. And it isn't, I just want to say, right, right now, like, when someone decides to discriminate against you, based on your weight, it's never your fault, but there, but we've been taught that it is our fault. And then what that does physiologically is it creates an ongoing stress response. And a stress response is the physiological reaction to discrimination or the anticipation of discrimination. And what that does, is it's literally the fight or flight reaction, which is your heartbeat starts to go up, your digestion starts to decrease, or your appetite might start to decrease. We know that in people who are restricting or dieting, the reverse can be true, you can go into comfort seeking mode, and then that might lead to binge eating or eating. And then that might lead to shame, right? And so I mean, it's just, it's really, I think, what's really powerful and unfortunate about it, is that it's really iterative, it sort of starts out from the biggest levels of society, and then it kind of works its way down. And then the individual is just absorbing this incredible, truly, like culturally sanctioned form of hatred.
Shireen: That's interesting. You know, where do you feel is the intersection between health and then body acceptance and body positivity? Can someone love their body and still strive to adopt health driven practices? What is really the interplay between these two, especially for population? With chronic illnesses?
Virgie: Yeah, I mean, 100%, like loving your body is, in my opinion, it's, it's very, very, very, very congruent. With any health driven practices you might have, I think what's amazing about like, you know, the body love or body acceptance, is that you're just taking shame out of the equation. And I mean, that's always a positive thing for mental health and for physical health. So I think, you know, to say, body acceptance, it's not only sort of an ideology, that's about human rights or about politics. It's a data driven ideology. And I think that's really important, right? Like the datas. Again, the data say, that you fundamentally cannot change your body size. I mean, literally, the statistic is that if you are classified as like, “obese,” the chances of you becoming a “normal weight” is less than 1%. It's point eight, again, these data points are only for men and women, unfortunately. But like, for men, it's point one, six, for women, it's point eight, both of them are less than 1%. So that the data are very clear, that food manipulation, etc, do not create longitudinal changes in your body, right the body you have the body that you have, without effort without controlling, you know, every single thing you eat or controlling every single thing, like how you move all the time. That's the body that you're that you're meant to have. That's the body your body will always fight to have that body. And so, right, what ends up happening is that acceptance is about, body acceptance is about not only saying, you know, I don't have to feel ashamed of my body, it's also about accepting that data. And so I think when we say, I'm no longer going to do things that harm my mental and physical health and I am going to do things that are going to make me feel good and that are going to, right, like that are going to take care of my body. I think those things are exceedingly compatible. And then I think I, this is not my area of expertise, but health and every size or haze. It's an acronym. I mean, health, every size is really kind of a, like a movement that was started by medical care professionals who were advocating for weight neutral approaches and medical environment simply saying, what simply saying, right, like, we are no longer going to attempt to pedal or push weight loss as a mechanism, we are going to treat patients at the body size they are we're going to meet them where they're at. And we're going. And I think once again, the data, right, like I think what's really powerful is an important statistic to know, right is a lot of are an important fact to know, is a lot of times when studies are done that, that are about that are about health behaviors, right? They will, you know, essentially have a control group, and they'll say, okay, we're gonna have you move this many times a week, and we're gonna have you eat fruits and vegetables, and we're gonna have you do meditation, right. And so what will happen is, regardless of like, what they've found is regardless of whether weight loss occurs or not, we know that those practices help people all across the weight spectrum. And so I think what's important is with Health at Every Size, it's like, if we take weight loss off the table, and we just say, you know, we know these practices help people, they probably help people of all sizes. And like, I think that's what that that I mean, I know that's really what that movement is about, and essentially sort of really focusing on the idea of weight neutrality in medical care.
Shireen: Now, Virgie, before you go I know you, you're the, you've written a book is called “The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color.” Can you quickly tell us a little bit more about the book. And for our listeners here we have a giveaway coming up. So stay tuned.
Virgie: Yeah, I mean, the book is really kind of a guidebook that talks about the intersections of, you know, body positivity and trying to create self acceptance and self-love as a person of color who is interfacing with the realities of like racism. And I think like the, you know, for the, the takeaway from the book is really, I mean, there's a few of them, right? But I think one of the, one of the most powerful messages of the book is sort of saying, like, there's nothing wrong with you. You are powerful beyond imagination. There is nothing wrong with your body. And, and I think like, what's, what's important is, for me, my big tagline my big takeaway always is, every single person deserves to live a life, free from discrimination and bigotry, regardless of size, or health status. I think what's powerful is these tools like, you know, self acceptance, learning how to live without shame, and, and not criminalizing food and your desire to eat. Like, these are things that are integral to, to, you know, feeling, feeling good about yourself, which you 100% deserve to do like, no matter what, right and i think it doesn't stop it, whether or not you have a chronic illness, like you know, you don't stop deserving those things. Just because you're managing a chronic illness. I think that's really, really, really important. That's the important takeaway. I think a lot of people feel shame, when they maybe don't have it when they don't meet the health ideal, whatever are like really archaic, very narrow idea of health is I just want to say like, you know, like laughter, joy, you know, delicious thing, things that make you feel okay, those things are 100% about health promotion, and they're 100% accessible to all of us. And I just, I just want I just want like that sense of, you're okay, there's nothing wrong with you. That's really what the, what the book is kind of about and offering people, you know, ways to think about the culture in a different way.
Shireen: Love it. So we thought we're toward the end of the episode for today. I would love for our listeners to connect with you and know how they can connect with you and learn more about your work.
Virgie: Yeah, I'm really active on Instagram. I'm at Virgie Tovar, VIRGE to var and I have a website Virgie tovar.com. The podcast I host is called Rebel Eaters Club and it's on Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always read new articles that I've written on forbes.com and you can check out any of my books. I have a few books out and I have a new one coming out in spring of 2022.
Shireen: Oh, lovely. And for this book for listeners listening on here, Virgie's new book again, “The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color.” We are doing a giveaway for that book. We're actually going to link up the book in our show notes here. So check it out in the show notes for this episode. Find us on Instagram, find us on Facebook to interact with our social media posts regarding the giveaway, answer their questions and win yourself this book. And with that, Virgie, thank you so very much for your time and for all of your insights and for sharing that with us here today.
Virgie: Yes, of course. Thank you.