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A few days after summer begins, the Berkeley Public Library will launch a “Fat Positive Summer Festival” to address the cultural expectation that all people must be skinny and bikini-ready.

Put together with Virgie Tovar, an activist and one of the nation’s leading experts on body image and fat discrimination, the festival will take place from Wednesday, June 22 through July 6 at three Berkeley library branches.

The idea is to examine societal attitudes toward people who weigh a lot and to liberate them from the idea that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and changed, according to Jack Baur, the supervising librarian at North Branch, who helped organize the festival.

The events will include two lectures by Tovar — the first proved so popular that the library added a second — some short films, and readings and presentations by various writers and body positive activists.

“Each of the events in the festival pushes against the current cultural paradigm that seeks to pathologize and marginalize fat people,” Tovar said in a statement released by the library.

The festival comes at a time when societal discussion about fat prejudice and its harmful effects is increasing. Last week, the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, banned ads on public transportation that could create body confidence issues.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising, which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies,” said Khan, according to an article in the New York Times. “Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies.”

In 2015, the French Parliament passed a measure making it illegal for modeling agencies to hire dangerously thin models. The backer of the initiative, the Socialist Olivier Véran, said he wanted to both protect super skinny models and fight body stereotypes that contribute to eating disorders.

Tovar spent much of her life dieting, which never worked.

Tovar, who did her graduate work at UC Berkeley, brings her own personal experiences to the field. She comes from a Mexican family, most of whose members are big, she said. She spent much of her life dieting, which never worked.

“For years and years I dieted and the dieting was very much motivated by a really intense sense of self-loathing and a sense I had to change my body and lose weight by any means necessary,” said Tovar, who is also the editor of the anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. “I did a lot of things, including starving myself and obsessively exercising.”

Tovar repeatedly put her life on hold while trying to lose weight. Her research has led her to the conclusion that this happens too much, she said.

“There are a lot of people living this half-life, who are always putting their life on hold for an elusive amount of weight loss,” said Tovar. “They often avoid doing things they find fulfilling or are curious about like dressing in a bright color or wearing a bathing suit, even wearing bright lipstick, anything that makes them stand out.”

Tovar’s attitude toward her own body began to change after she spent a summer with a group of fat activists who showed her that fatness was just one point on the spectrum of body diversity.

“This festival is about reclaiming summer as a season for all bodies,” said Tovar. “Summer used to be the most terrifying time of year for me because it was bikini season — a yearly reminder that I had failed yet again to achieve a ‘beach body.’ I want to pay it forward, and give people the gift those activists gave me: the fearless reclamation of our bodies.”

“I encourage everyone to wear short shorts and crop tops to the festival!” she adds.

The following events have been scheduled for the Fat Positive Summer Festival:

Lose Hate Not Weight: A Critical Examination of Diet Culture
Where: Claremont Branch, 2940 Benvenue Ave.
When: Wednesday, June 22, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
What: In this 60-minute lecture Virgie Tovar – author, expert and lecturer – offers a primer on the history and sociopolitical realities of our cultural obsession with weight loss. The story of modern day “Diet Culture” didn’t begin with juicing or cleanses, but more than 200 years ago with the inventor of the graham cracker. (The lecture will also take place July 6. Scroll down for details.)

Fat Positive Shorts
Where:
Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch, 1901 Russell St.
When: Thursday, June 30, 7-8:30 p.m.
What: A selection of short films designed to challenge people’s understanding of fatness

  • Aquaporko! — Aquaporko! is the story of Melbourne’s fat synchronized swim team. We follow fat activist and filmmaker Kelli Jean Drinkwater as she meets the team and uncovers a world of sisterhood, queer community and radical body politics. (22 minutes)
  • Fatty Cakes & the Puff Pastries music video — This Fresno-based all-girl band follows the tradition of Riot grrrl, performing unapologetic songs about pizza, patriarchy and hating their jobs at the mall. (2 minutes)
  • Heft — In this short comedy filmed in Oakland, a fat, queer, Black woman draws a bevy of suitors and scoundrels. Screened at the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project Festival in 2014. (10 minutes)
  • Life Long Weight Gaining — A video of an installation by Vienna-based fat performance artist Veronika Merklein. (8 minutes)
  • The Fat Body (In)visible Body acceptance activists Keena and Jessica’s stories detail the intricacies of identity and the intersections of race and gender with fatness; the women themselves find new and inventive ways to be proudly visible subjects through the strategic use of fashion and social media. (24 minutes)

Freedom from Fat Shame! A Reading + Discussion
Where:
North Branch, 1170 The Alameda
When: Saturday, July 2, 7-9 p.m.
What: Virgie Tovar has assembled a group of writers and activists for an evening of body liberation with readings and personal stories. Let their words smash your feelings of fat-shame and help you foster acceptance in yourself and celebrate diversity your community!  Featuring Casey Gilly, Jezebel Delilah X, Baruch Porras-Hernandez, Irene McCalphin, and Dr. Kjerstin Gruys, author of Mirror, Mirror off the Wall.

Lose Hate Not Weight: A Critical Examination of Diet Culture
Where:
 North Branch, 1170 The Alameda
When: Wednesday, July 6, 6:30-8 p.m.
What: In this 60-minute lecture Virgie Tovar – author, expert and lecturer – offers a primer on the history and sociopolitical realities of our cultural obsession with weight loss. The story of modern day “Diet Culture” didn’t begin with juicing or cleanses, but more than 200 years ago with the inventor of the graham cracker.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...