There are moments when we all become particularly aware of ourselves and our bodies. This often comes when one is placed into a certain situation: perhaps sitting in the middle seat on a hot airplane, when your professor calls on you in a big lecture class, or when your dentist’s hands are in your mouth. We’ve all been there. These moments of striking self-awareness often come with an awkward “don’t-look-at-me-I’m-so-uncomfortable” sense of anxiety, even on the most confident days.

There are other times, however, when we become self-aware in a much more empowering way. For me, most recently, this came after reading “Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion,” a collection of essays compiled by Virgie Tovar, badass body-positive activist and sex educator. The essays come from activists, performers, writers, and all-around incredible, strong, fat women.

The book is divided into three sections: life, love, and fashion. All of which are necessary topics on their own, but all of which intersect. Tovar does an excellent job of elevating the voices and experiences of plus-size women of all sizes, women of color, and lesbian women. Many of the topics strike an emotional chord: family, childhood, sexuality, and love, just to name a few.

Heartstrings are pulled, but strength is built. While these pages are a body-positive space within themselves, the essays provide lessons on creating those spaces physically through community building, fashion, and relationships.

I began reading this anthology on a 5 A.M. flight to the east coast, where I was about to interview for the job that would prompt my recent cross-country move and begin a great new journey. Suffice to say that my nerves were kicking in, and as a result, I was beginning to feel painfully aware of my every word and action.

I had already mentally psyched myself out of this potential job. D.C. is so different from west coast upbringing – will I look the part? What if I can’t zip up my dress before the interview because my arms are so short? What if it’s so humid that my hair reverts back to its naturally curly state*? (*It did. It completely did.)

Not only did the works within Hot & Heavy calm me down in those moments, but the selections in this collection have since made me incredibly aware of myself – in the best way possible.

Body-negative images infect our lives daily. Through magazines, media, and our minds – it’s difficult to avoid. Avoiding these images and ignoring these thoughts feels helpful, of course. But what I learned from Hot & Heavy is that action alone is not proactive. In order to counter these images and concepts, one can’t just ignore the negative, but actively must replace – if not double – it with positive. And more than that, it’s important to acknowledge the existence of the negative, in order to empower one another to build up the positive.

With that being said: avoiding those seemingly awkward times when we feel aware of ourselves is negative in nature. It’s tempting to shake it off, and go back to just standing by. Body positivity comes from being unapologetically aware of oneself. It starts with owning the skin you’re in, and uplifting the bodies and experiences of those around you. Taking up space is not a crime. All experiences of all bodies – both good and bad – are valid.

The lessons from Hot & Heavy tell us that in order to grow, we must acknowledge. We must support one another, and we must support ourselves. Validation can be found in whatever way fits. No physical body is wrong. Don’t postpone life simply because of the way in which you physically exist because society has said you should – celebrate it!

I hope you’ll join me in feeling empowered to have a larger outlook on life. Hot & Heavy can be found for purchase at your local independent bookstore.

If you are not able to purchase it through a local bookstore, it can also be found at your major book retailers and on Amazon.