“Ooh, you’re so big! How many kilos?”
“Ooh, you’re so big! How many kilos?”
I’ve lost track of how times I’ve heard those exact words while traveling SE Asia. I didn’t get it as much in Thailand, which I figure means more plus size girls are traveling there. But in Vietnam and Cambodia, I can’t go more than 4 or 5 days without someone asking what I weigh.
Every day before I leave my hostel, I give myself a little pep talk.
“Do not respond with ‘fuck off,’ they’re just curious.”
“In their culture, asking about weight isn’t offensive.”
“You’re showing these people that there are many different body types.”
“This is the opportunity to practice being confident under any circumstance.”
“You got this girl, you can do this.”
I do this – Every. Single. Time.
Because when I didn’t start my day like this, I’d shrink back at the stares. I’d see people calling out and nudging others (even knocking on windows and then pointing at me). I would feel the constant stares and hear people exclaiming as I walked down the street and have to work real hard not be ashamed of my body. I’d hold my head high, pretending I didn’t see them and tried to ignore the negative thoughts my brain immediately went to.
Last week, it all exploded in one big crying session. I admitted on social media that traveling while plus size hasn’t been easy. That I was letting it get to me, and impact my trip, even though I knew I “shouldn’t.” The outpouring of love and support that followed warmed this weary traveler’s heart.
Truth is, I don’t know what people are thinking when they look at me. A friend pointed out that they’d probably be upset themselves if they knew they’d offended me. They are just looking. That helped me realize I am the one putting anything negative into it. I am the one who just wishes I could hide my body. This has revealed far more about the nasty things I still say to myself.
Body acceptance has been a life long journey for me. In elementary school, I gained around 40 pounds in one year because of an experimental drug I was on for my asthma. That’s when the bullying started. I was told not to let it get to me, that if I showed them it didn’t bother me, they’d stop. And for the most part, they did.
Then enter high school, and the cruelty of teenagers all lost in their own growing pains. Boys threw my binder in the garbage can. Girls would laugh in my face. Some random guy I’d never spoken to left a voicemail on my cell phone saying I looked pregnant and if they were me, they’d be too ashamed to ever leave the house.
That was when I got REALLY good at pretending. I’d shake my head and call them an idiot, or an asshole, or just roll my eyes. I’d go back to one of the million volunteer projects I did. I kept myself ridiculously busy so I never had the time to think about the pain I was in. Because as terrible as the bullies were, none of them could compete with mean, degrading things I used to tell myself every day.
My friends and family now are shocked when I tell them how I really felt back then. That proud, confident mask I wore fooled almost everyone. In reality? At 16, I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, feeling alone and worthless. The wrappers of the chocolate bars I used to numb myself would be hidden all around my room, and I dreamed of what life could be like “if only I was skinny.”
Then on my first trip to my university’s bookstore, I stumbled upon a book called “Fat! So?” I grabbed it and put it under my textbooks quickly, as if it was contraband. For weeks it would stare at me from my bookshelf until one day I finally worked up the courage to read it. When I did, my life forever changed. I started exploring what body positivity meant. I started being willing to consider that I may be beautiful. I’ve come a LONG way in the last ten years.
When I booked my ticket to Bangkok, I expected that I’d have some difficult moments. I’d hoped that it would show me how far I’ve come on my road to truly loving myself, body and all. Instead, it’s shining a great big florescent light on every single gap I have. It’s had me say the nastiest things ever to myself. I’ve had to face my own perceptions of beauty head on.
Let me be clear, I have had an AMAZING trip. The good moments far out weigh the bad. (Pun intended)
As I’m writing this now, reflecting on the tougher parts of my journey, the need to share overshadows any fear in being so vulnerable. I’m sharing not because I want reassurance, not because I need people to pat me on the head and tell me I’m beautiful and loved. I’m sharing because it’s important to me that we all step into our own greatness. To stop letting our body image fears hold us down.
I know I am beautiful, in my head and in my soul. This trip is about teaching my brain, my ego and my body the truth. They are fighting tooth and nail to drag me down, but this is me promising I will always get up. This trip is about acknowledging that part of me that defaults to hating my body, letting her know I understand her fear, but that it’s not going to fly anymore. It never really worked to play small, and I’m done with letting it run the show. I’ve got big dreams and plans for this world.
It’s time to celebrate my curves, not hide them.
I thought about waiting until “after” to share how great it felt to strut my stuff with true confidence. Instead, I’m sharing the messy middle part. Because maybe my story will inspire someone else. Maybe someone else is in the middle, or at the beginning, or starting all over again in their journey with self love.
If that’s you – you got this. Keep going. And consider traveling solo to a place that scares the shit out of you. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
Don’t let your weight stop you from experiencing this type of pure joy.