Book Review: You Have the Right to Remain Fat by Virgie Tovar

I received this book as a gift for my birthday from my best friend, Kate. She and I are fierce feminists who often discuss our favorite Netflix show between diatribes against the patriarchy.

She is also fat, and proudly so. I often reference her as such, like “Yeah, my best friend is fat, and she deals with XYZ.” I often get looks or stutters at that, and inevitably explain that Kate accepts the word and has given explicit permission for me to use it. “I am fat,” she says. “It’s a descriptor, like short or freckled or loud. I want to use that word and, through using it, take away its power to be used as a weapon. It’s just a word.”

So, while body positivity and fat activism are not new concepts for me, my situation is different from Kate’s as I am not considered fat. I do not mean this in a pejorative way but am speaking factually. I am someone who is able to walk into any store and find something in their size. I am not subject to whispers and comments when I go out to eat, and in fact am praised when I eat burgers and pizza because “that’s a girl who knows good food.” While we are all impacted by fatphobia and body-shaming, I am under no illusion that I face the obstacles and prejudice that Kate or any other fat person faces every day.

Virgie Tovar’s book, though, was refreshing and challenging in a way that was new. She underlined fatphobia’s misogyny and highlighted its intersections with racism. She not only challenged the fatphobic attitudes of which I was well aware, but the movement of body positivity itself. Too often, she points out, body positivity becomes a movement to make fatness attractive to men; it becomes less about abolishing fatphobia and more about repackaging it so that thin, white, straight people become its arbiters and its icons.

Her voice is simultaneously poetic and brutal; she is unapologetic but utterly empathetic. She describes her experience without the trappings of excuses or apologies for the people and forces in her life that caused her suffering. She pinpoints them with accuracy and hangs them out to dry. There’s rage there, but a rage that is without direction or composure. It’s a fury that is composed and controlled and utilized to its full potential. She doesn’t just want you to empathize with her experience; she wants you to recognize its echoes in your own life. It’s not enough just to be angry that one suffered; you must refuse to let others suffer as well.

As the new year begins, we are all in the throws of resolutions and promises, how we can make the most out of the upcoming year. And, on my Facebook feed, I see post after post about cutting out carbs, taking up dieting, talking about “This is the years, guys! This is the year I become skinny! This is the year I finally become happy!”

Well, I think it’s high time that we all listen to voices like Virgie’s. I think it’s well past time for us to say Fuck You. We have the right to exist exactly as we are, without apology, without shame.

We have the right to remain FAT.

You can follow my reviews at Goodreads.


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