Ulta Beauty is getting on board with the pro-fat movement.
In September, the women’s cosmetics company inaugurated its “Beauty Of…” podcast with a half-hour interview featuring Virgie Tovar, an author and activist who promotes the pro-fat movement under the guise of “body positivity.”
The “Beauty Of…” Podcast, according to its host, celebrity hairstylist David Lopez, is a podcast that hosts the “dreamers and visionaries pushing our ideas of beauty forward.”
Lopez and Tovar started off their conversation with an honest reflection on their own insecurities, breaking down the emotional roller coasters that overweight young people face as they grow old enough to be conscious of their own appearances.
“You emanate joy,” Lopez says to Tovar at the top of the interview, and she does. Her oversized glasses — tinted pink, topped with bangs, and complemented by low-hanging earrings so big they can’t be missed — express a colorful and charismatic yet confident activist who’s not afraid to show some vulnerability to make her point.
“For me, fatphobia, which is a form of bigotry against higher-weight people, is what took me out of my body,” Tovar said of her own experience.
“Once I learned fatphobia, I had a sense of ‘this is my body, and this is me,'” Tovar added. “There was a separation, and when I was a kid, those two things weren’t separate ever. They were one and the same, and I think the truth is that was all of us on some level.”
But she also probably appears confident and comfortable in her own skin because she’s written a book to justify obesity. Most obese people aren’t comfortable, and they’re usually not comfortable with their obesity for good reason. Because being obese isn’t comfortable. Try going on a walk wearing an extra 100 pounds in weight and see if you’re comfortable.
Tovar goes on to break down so-called “fatphobia” in greater detail, explaining how “‘fat activism’ is sort of the response to ‘fat phobia.'”
“In fact,” she says, “fat phobia is an actual legitimate form of discrimination. It aligns with other types of discrimination, like around race or gender, or, you know, or any number of marginalized identities.”
But the problem with “fat activism” is that its message is one of apathy and helplessness on the most pressing public health crisis of our time. Tovar says this herself (emphasis ours):
[‘Fat activism’ is] essentially kind of an intersectional politic that looks at ‘fat phobia’ and says ‘this is wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being fat, this is totally a natural part of body diversity. Yes fat people have thriving, wonderful, beautiful lives, yes fat people are desirable and absolutely fat people should be protected from things like medical discrimination and the wage gap.
There’s nothing wrong with being fat so long as there’s nothing wrong with being unhealthy, but Tovar doesn’t seem to have an issue with that either.
“No one has to be healthy,” Tovar says later in the interview. “No one owes anybody that.”
It might be true that no one has to be healthy, but a happier society would want to be as healthy as it can be, cherishing health and wellness as the key to longevity. We owe it to ourselves to be healthy, and we owe it to our loved ones, who want to see us live as long as possible — and not just long but well.
Today, more than 1 billion people are obese worldwide. In the U.S., more than 2 in 5 adults are obese, with at least 67 percent of the adult population considered, at minimum, overweight. By the end of the decade, half of all U.S. adults are expected to be obese, according to a study from Harvard University published before the coronavirus pandemic accelerated American weight gain and likely the researchers’ timeline too. Children are also gaining unhealthy weight, thanks to emulating the habits of their parents and consuming mountains of processed foods. A study out last year found nearly half of all kids aged 5 through 11 qualified as either overweight or obese.
Tovar advertises to women that their weight doesn’t matter. But that’s only true if women’s health doesn’t matter either. Obesity carries with it a higher risk of high blood pressure, cancers, diabetes, strokes, coronary heart disease, breathing problems, high cholesterol, and mental illness, just to name a few — not to mention the inconveniences of excess weight in the immediate future. Are we really ready to give up on the issue after nearly 80 percent of those hospitalized with Covid-19 were either overweight or obese? Women in particular already face twice as much risk as men of becoming overweight or obese.
Tovar’s prescription to a culture that stigmatizes obesity is raising the white flag of surrender on the issue altogether. The side effects of that prescription include sedentary lifestyles in the short term, and a pandemic of chronic illness in the long term complete with early deaths for millions.
No one should be shamed for their weight, which can be both counterproductive and traumatic, but they shouldn’t be lied to that their weight (their health!) doesn’t matter either. Healthy stigmas against certain behaviors (such as smoking) exist for a reason. The erasure of those stigmas threatens to open up a “Pandora’s box” of suffering that Americans aren’t and shouldn’t be ready for.
Tovar defines “fatphobia” as “a form of bigotry against higher-weight people.” Based on her comments throughout the interview, that “bigotry” includes rejection of her ideas that overweight people are healthy. If “fatphobia” means keeping in place a healthy stigma against excess weight, then we need a little bit more of it.
This article has been updated to reflect CDC statistics show 67 percent, not 77 percent, of Americans are overweight based on the Body Mass Index (BMI).