Author, sex worker, and fat activist Virgie Tovar dresses for visibility -- and you can, too
STREET SEEN "Can I do a small rant on boobs?" Fat activist Virgie Tovar's boobs — I can see most of them in the swank North Beach cocktail bar we're sitting in — are really big. Many parts of Virgie are, which is kind of her thing. The editor of the recently-published anthology Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, and Fashion (Seal Press) talks dirty to telephone sex customers during the day, and carries her curves with a pride that runs completely counter-current to all the ways we are taught to be ashamed of fat in this world.
Obviously, I want to hear her rant about boobs. It turns out to be: Tovar is sick of partners who place their attraction to her squarely on her ample bosom. "I have to have them verbally say that [I'm fat] before we have sex. They can't accept that they want to have sex with a fat woman."
So don't call her busty. Especially since if you do, you're going to miss the whole point of her look.
"I dress for visibility," Tovar puts it. You can definitely see her perched somewhat precariously on this North Beach bar stool. Her ample decolletage is emphasized by a floral onesie-now-a-dress, the crotch of which was cut out before our interview for enhanced comfort, a tight skirt, vintage fur coat ("My rule is, I wear fur if it's 25 years old or older," she tells me. "I love wearing dead animals"), teal scarf, and knee-high black boots.
You can't miss Virgie, a fact which our fellow bar patrons quickly learn when we launch into a high-spirited discussion of one of her regular phone sex customers, a "pay pig" who gets off on paying $50 for the pleasure of her telephone voice — $50 every 15 minutes, that is.
She wants you to look at her and see fat, and look at her and see style, and look at her and want to have sex with her — and then she wants you to think about what those things say about your own adherence to normative beauty ideals. Virgie identifies her style as high femme, by her own definition "the intentional performance of femininity in order to subvert masculinity. My fat has become a part of my performance, like jewelery."
As a chubby child, Tovar shied from glitz and glamour. Girly clothes either didn't fit, she says, or just plain didn't fit into her mission to be completely invisible. It was hard to hide, however, from the sartorial impulses of her mother, who loved few things more than embellishing Tovar's garments with lace and the occasional scene from Disney's The Little Mermaid, rendered in puff paint.
But Tovar quashed that timidity in adulthood, when she found partners who "found me sexy and wanted to do all these nasty things to me," she says. "If your liberation comes from somebody eating your ass, by all means necessary."
She went onto San Francisco State University's sexuality studies department, where she focused on fat sex, eventually proposing a fat-positive manifesto to Brooke Warner, senior editor at Seal Press. That morphed into Hot and Heavy, a project that Tovar feels coincides with a surge of fat cultural activism, evidence of which she sees popping up, of all places, in retail.
Luscious shopping spots to embrace your own zaftig fabulosity? If you're down for big brands, Tovar gives high marks to Forever 21's plus size offerings ("It's gaudy, it's slutty. They've really tapped into that audience that I'm a part of"), also to ASOS' Curve line (www.asos.com ), Domino Dollhouse (www.dominodollhouse.com ), and Cupcake and Cuddlebunny (www.cupcakeandcuddlebunny.com).
Across the country, a smattering of high femme fat vintage stores have popped up: Portland's Fat Fancy (www.fatfancyfashions.com), Brooklyn's Re/Dress (whose stock is available online at www.redressnyc.com ). And of course, she says, there's the old standbys: Lane Bryant, Avenue for tights and boots, and the Stonestown Galleria's most gloriously trashy clothes purveyor, Torrid. Tovar says she finds fat fashion inspiration in Marie Claire writer Nicolette Mason, Marie "Curvy Fashionista" Denee (thecurvyfashionista.mariedenee.com), and the Near-Sighted Owl (www.nearsightedowl.com)
For Tovar, the key to fashion, for girls big, small, and in-between, is ignoring the rules and becoming the fly, fabulous change you want to see. "The tag says no, but the stretch says yes! When I see a garment, I'm seeing hope for all the hopeless situations in the world."
HOT AND HEAVY READING
with Virgie Tovar, Deah Schwartz, Abby Weintraub, Jessica Judd
Fri/30, 7pm, free
Modern Times Bookstore
2919 24th St., SF
www.moderntimesbookstore.com