Traveling as a Plus-Sized Woman - My Experiences

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Travel as a Plus-Sized Woman

Traveling as a Plus-Sized Woman

Being a bigger woman has presented its challenges throughout the course of my life. Growing up in Southern California took a toll on my self-esteem, as every young girl was encouraged to be skinny in order to be pretty. I spent years striving to have a body type that I was never going to have. I thought that nothing was more important than fitting society’s mold of what is “beautiful.” It wasn’t until the age of 21, during my year spent living abroad in Europe, that I finally learned to accept myself as I was. Here are some of my experiences from traveling as a plus-sized woman.

Your Shape Sets You Apart

The first time I experienced being treated differently for my shape was when I moved to New York City at the age of 18. This was before big butts and curvy bodies became popular in mainstream media. The standard was still that anything over a size 8 was “plus-size.” I felt out of place and ashamed of myself, like I wasn’t worth anything because my body was not “sexually desirable” enough. However, for the first time in my life, men began paying attention to me. I would notice them staring at me, head to toe, as if I only existed for their viewing pleasure. I doubted that men were actually catcalling me on the street until I realized they were. Sometimes when I was walking alone men would whisper in my ear as they walked past me. “Nice big white girl,” or “I’d love to eat your (insert vulgar word here).”

I was so confused by the attention, and it made me feel even worse about myself. I felt terrible when men acknowledged me and I felt terrible when they didn’t. I couldn’t see outside the brandished bubble of believing that beauty is everything. Through a few crash diets, I was able to lose 35 lbs. I feigned having confidence. I went out to bars and clubs with friends, wearing short and tight clothes, and engaging in self-destructive behavior. I hated myself. I wanted so badly to be wanted by other people that I lost my sense of identity. I was a size 12 at my thinnest, barely eating anything, and constantly scrutinizing myself in the mirror every day.

When I lost weight, I still wasn’t happy. No amount that I lost was ever enough. When people complimented me for being thinner, it made me feel disgusting. They didn’t know how much I was suffering, because I never shared it. I bottled it up, and the self-loathing deepened. This continued until I moved abroad and finally learned what it meant to truly love myself. That epiphany changed my life.

Enjoying the warm sunshine in Málaga, Spain. 

Enjoying the warm sunshine in Málaga, Spain. 

Thin People Privileges

The first time I left the United States was when I was 20, going to visit Paris, France. I remember this first experience with a European airline. The seats were so narrow that I literally did not fit. Both armrests were digging in my hips for the entire seven-hour plane ride. I felt like a giant maneuvering through the cabin, having to shimmy sideways so I didn’t bump into any of the seated passengers. The people sitting next to me shot disdainful glances whenever I adjusted to get more comfortable. I could tell they were not thrilled about sitting next to a big person.

The beauty standard in France is for men and women to be straightly thin- without much shape. I was hyper-aware of that during my first trip there. French men would stare at my ass without blinking, because they clearly don’t see big butts too often. I didn’t show any cleavage, but that didn’t stop them from staring at my chest. I got a lot of negative glares, specifically from elderly French women. They were very disapproving of my figure.

Mostly on the metro, when I tried to take a seat, people looked at me with disgust. Maybe I was taking up too much room or invading their space, but the only time I felt bad about it was during that first visit to Paris. When I was living in Paris the following year, I didn’t give a hoot if somebody acted like I was taking up too much room on the metro. I had the same right to a seat as they did. If people stared at my body with that grossed-out look on their face, I returned the same stare back to them. Although I was almost always the biggest person no matter where I was, I learned to embrace the space my body took up instead of being ashamed of it.

Global Reactions to my Size

During the majority of my traveling as a plus-sized woman I did not experience unusual treatment because of my weight, at least, I refused to accept negative treatment over it. People would stare at me, sure, but women of all sizes get stared at. I forced myself to get over being uncomfortable with my size, because stressing over what strangers think about the way I look is a complete waste of time. By habit I would still suck it in whenever in a crowded area, hunch my shoulders, and try to condense the amount of space I was taking up. Then I stopped doing that. I stood tall at 5’10, wide hips and all, minding my own business, as everyone should.

Of all the places I traveled to, Ireland, England, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and France, I felt the most uncomfortable with myself in France. Maybe because I lived there and had the most negative experiences with the opposite sex there. Being followed down the street, whispered to, catcalled, pursued, having men honk the horn at me and stick their head out of the window, and being incessantly stared at made me grow a strong backbone against sexual harassment. Once I realized my own worth I refused to accept being treated differently for the sole reason that I’m overweight. If someone was noticeably treating me differently because of that, I would just stop giving them any more of my valuable time. Such superficial people are not worth your energy.

Finally started taking more full-body photos of myself while traveling as a plus-sized woman. Here in Vinaròs, Spain.

Finally started taking more full-body photos of myself while traveling as a plus-sized woman. Here in Vinaròs, Spain.

Take Pride in Your Body

As a plus-size woman, as any woman, my body is objectified every single time I step foot from my house. Some people desire it, and others find it repulsive. This is true of any woman at any weight. Once you decide to not allow other people’s opinions to dictate your happiness, you learn to accept yourself and all your flaws as awesome quirks that make you different from everybody else.

I used to let my weight keep me from doing so many activities for so much of my life. I never went swimming at friends’ houses, never went to the beach, never wore shorts in the summer, and didn’t take full-body pictures in all the places that I traveled to. I am still learning to stop judging myself by societal beauty standards, which are made ever-more unrealistic by the onslaught of social media. The body shape of big boobs, tiny waist, and huge ass is what’s in right now, but that is as unrealistic as what was popular when I was growing up, the Paris Hilton/ Mischa Barton body.

The only body you will ever have is the one you’re in now. So love it, for everything it is, instead of wishing you had someone else’s. You can lose weight and better yourself if that's what you want, NOT from societal pressure. If you are nervous about traveling because you are a bigger woman, I hope you learn something from my story. You need to get out and have these experiences, for although there may be uncomfortable moments, you will get so much closer to yourself through it. Confidence changes everything. You feel rooted, in your core, connected to yourself, and therefore you fight harder to accomplish your goals and live your best life.

I wish I could tell my younger self not to care about what people thought of my body. In spite of having no self-esteem, I still went to live in Europe, because it was my dream. If traveling is also your dream, then do not allow what other people have to say about your body keep you from doing it. You deserve happiness at any size. Your body is beautiful no matter how big or small. It may sound cliché, but this acceptance of yourself is so important because it is rebellious. You are refusing to let society tell you who you should be and how you should look. Everybody has their opinions, but the only one that matters is what you think of yourself.

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We are a team of four feminist travelers coming together from different parts of the world to share with you what we have learned from traveling, living, loving, and exploring all over the world. Join us and tell your story about female solo travel, relationships, mental health, city guides, or whatever else comes to your mind.

Writer of this article is Heather, 24, co-founder of the Female Travel Collective.  She used to live in California, NYC, and Hawaii, and is currently traveling. Follow her along on her  Instagram !

Writer of this article is Heather, 24, co-founder of the Female Travel Collective.  She used to live in California, NYC, and Hawaii, and is currently traveling. Follow her along on her Instagram!

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