Fatphobia and travel: Debunking the myth that fat people cannot travel

Jungle brush view from hike to St Herman's cave in Blue Hole National Park in Belize off the Hummingbird Highway

I used to vehemently promise myself that I’d start traveling the world after I lost 15 pounds. 

After I had successfully shed inches off my hips and waist, a trip to Cuba would be my reward. I had this crystal-clear image of me standing in the streets of Havana. My arms outstretched, rejoicing in the fact that I finally reached one of my top bucket-list destinations. I’d be wearing for the first time that formerly-too-small, orange, paisley skirt I bought years ago. 

(I can hear that NWT skirt leering and mocking me from my closet now, “Haha, you bought me but you can’t wear me.”)

This photo would perfectly capture the immense amount of joy I felt reaching Cuba, but also the joy of shedding my life-long worry that I’m too fat. 

My worth was rooted in my weight. It has been since I was a little girl. Even then, I heard the “advice” to avoid horizontal stripes and mirrors. This hate for my body embedded itself into every crevice, imperfection, curve and cellulite field I have. 

Fatphobia consumed me. It convinced me that eliminating my stomach rolls, back fat, and zapping the cellulite from my thighs was somehow going to make traveling and experiencing the world easier. I was constantly told that traveling wasn’t meant for fat girls. There was no way I could live out my biggest dreams without losing the excess weight first. 

They were so wrong.

Debunking the myth that fat people cannot travel 

There are two main reasons that we need to debunk the myth that fat people cannot travel. First, it continues to perpetuate the idea that travel is for a select few. It also attempts to incite fear to prevent atypical people from traveling. 

Looking at me, it appears that I am just another privileged, white, millennial gallivanting around the globe without any cares. I am white and privileged. But I’m also fat and queer. Representation matters. 

Fat peoples’ experiences matter. Currently, we aren’t seeing enough travel content that involves diverse groups of people including, those who are not society’s “standard size.” Sharing fat people’s narratives about how they experience the world matters. Diverse experiences will only help shape and create equality within the tourism industry

It also isn’t bad to hear from a variety of voices. We all admire the same thing — travel. Yet, fatphobia attempts to censor travel narratives by not including fat people and their experiences. Fatphobia also attempts to keep fat people confined into their homes — out of sight and out of mind. It’s as if our fatness makes society uncomfortable. 

What is fatphobia? 

Fatphobia can take on a lot of forms including, fear of being seen as fat, fear of being seen with fat folk, or considering fat a negative trait. What it all boils down to is that fat isn’t considered beautiful but, instead, is villainized. 

Fat people can be fatphobic. Skinny people can be fatphobic. All genders can be fatphobic. Fatphobia is globally-felt fear. 

Fatphobia tries to tarnish travel experiences that fat folk have. It prevents atypical folk from embracing their greatest joys and experiencing everything the world has to offer. You don’t have to wait to travel the world until you’ve lost the weight, you deserve to travel the world right now, no matter what size or shape you are. 

Fatphobia rears its head when I walk into a dive shop looking for a wetsuit. The owner “jokes” that he might struggle to find a suit that fits my proportions. His five-minute struggle of searching the racks for a suit wide enough for my hips and thighs is nothing compared to the struggle other fat folks face while on the road. 

Fatphobia is when your significant other tells you that buying clothes in the double-digits is disgraceful. Don’t forget about those times when they shamed you for ordering food with carbs or “giving up your diet” while you’re traveling. 

Thinking that diets cure obesity or fatness is a symptom of fatphobia. 

Fatphobia is when the first thing people point out in your travel photos is your weight or girth. Nevermind that you’re standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or some other great architectural wonder in the world. 

Apparently, being fat in this world means that I’m open to everyone’s “caring” critiques about my body. Don’t try to tell me you care about my health when you prescribe “healthy weight loss techniques” that wage war on my mental health. Me, and the rest of the fat community, can see through your bullshit. 

Fatphobia is when your friends and family try to convince you that “you aren’t fat” as if being fat is the worst thing you can be. It’s far from it. 

Fatphobia in the media

If you pick up any women’s magazine, you see article callouts claiming you can lose 10+ pounds with this new fad-diet. Diet culture is one of the many things rooted in fatphobia. Society forces individuals, women, in particular, to harm their bodies in attempts to achieve unrealistic beauty standards. 

In fact, the average female body size in the United States is 170 pounds currently. This average body type would buy pants in a size large or an x-large and wear a dress in a size 18-20. 

You could fall down a rabbit hole of statistics and data that show how the media doesn’t accurately display a wide variety of bodies. (A 1996 study found that only 2 percent of magazines had models who weighed as much or more than the average-sized U.S. woman. Furthermore, magazines promote fatphobia through their “informational” content. Women were only reading and seeing skinny-centric viewpoints for decades, which was an unrealistic norm that most women could not reach.)

If these visual representations are so unrealistic, why are we still harping on women to lose weight and hate their natural bodies? It is 2020, after all. 

Because society hates fat people. Society has an even bigger heyday when they can monitor and control women. 

Where do you see fatphobia? 

You’ve heard the internet trolls hurl insults such as oink, piggy and why don’t you eat a salad. It’s everywhere. It’s even present during a worldwide pandemic because people are more worried about emerging from quarantine with a few extra pounds on their butts and thighs than dying from a deadly virus. 

These all illustrate society’s lowly opinion of fat people. 

Hating fat people leads to self-esteem issues and can even result in eating disorders. This myriad of problems is all rooted in the same problem: fatphobia. 

I’m living proof of that and so are so many others. 

My experience with fatphobia and travel

I am privileged. I get to pass as straight. I sometimes get to pass as thicc or curvy. Yet, I am still bisexual and fat. Those are adjectives that describe me that took me years to finally embrace with love and admiration. 

On my first trip to Europe, I got more comments on my selfies asking if I had lost weight rather than acknowledging the beautiful places I was visiting. As if it was so peculiar to see a fat girl traveling the world so fearlessly and not giving a fuck what society thought. 

Again, when I traveled to the Caribbean I was praised for being “so brave” and posting a beach selfie that glorified my fat curves. 

After hooking up abroad, I was “lovingly” called his chubby princess. He continued to fetishize my fatness for months asking about my “curvy, American body.” On more than one occasion, my American fatness has been a sexy bucket list item for people to check off once they’ve experienced it. 

My fatness is ogled and judged when I sit in a restaurant alone and dare to order anything other than a salad. It nearly makes people faint when I order a bowl of pasta with a side of carbs. Add on a few glasses of red wine, and I’m wasting away all my “skinny potential.” 

When I set foot on a hiking trail, people assume I hike to lose weight. They don’t care about my admiration for nature or outdoor photography. 

Asking strangers to take the cliched tourist photo is always a hassle. They ask whether I’d like to crop out my fatness, what angle makes me look best, of course, “in the nicest way possible.” 

I cannot travel and forget about my fatness because I’m sucker-punched with negative thoughts about my body daily, but always “in the nicest way possible.”  

These experiences changed me and the way I travel. It’s important to talk about them. 

What about fatphobia and travel? 

Fatphobia is my arch nemesis when it comes to travel. Unfortunately, fatphobia has dictated what destinations I would travel to, fueled self-loathing and even made me cancel travel plans altogether. So, fatphobia gets a huge middle finger from me. 

You might be experiencing this too. 

Sexist rhetoric already claims that female bodies are meant to be objectified and that they’re “always asking for it.” Add on the fear of being called fat, it’s crippling. Being fat suddenly begins to feel like a disgrace, as if we’re not allowed to exist in our own bodies. 

There are also serious obstacles for plus-sized travelers or those who do not fit what society deems beautiful. Airlines who shrink seat sizes are making travel less inclusive and even less achievable. Often, hotels aren’t size-inclusive either because they only offer small towels that truly aren’t one-size-fits-all. 

These are a few obstacles that are rooted in fatphobia, but it’s not nearly all of them. The truth is, fatphobia makes many travelers stop and consider how they’ll be treated differently while abroad. It’s having to consider whether my fatness is something that will be gawked at more than the destination’s beautiful vistas. 

I and other fat folk have to consider whether our difference will be accepted in worldwide communities. It’s the fact that I cannot exist in my own skin without being judged for where my fat sits on my body. The world has decided that they are the judge in my health and wellness just by looking at me. 

Fear of solo traveling as a fat person 

Travel can get a lot of bad press, especially when it comes to female solo travel. News media report stories that only incite fear and worry into the mind of potential travelers. Female solo travelers are even shamed for traveling the world as if our experiences are unworthy unless we are escorted by a man. The same goes for fat folk. 

One of the top reasons female travelers hesitate to travel solo is whether it’s safe. Safety is important, don’t get me wrong, but instead of advocating for safer conditions for female travelers, the numbers are twisted into threatening narratives for females. Most headlines scream, “If you travel alone as a woman, you will be murdered, raped and never return home.” We should be hearing “Women can travel too, here is how you stay safe.” We also need narratives that advocate for our joy. 

These fears are amplified when you carry anything that is considered “other.” Whether that be the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, extra fat, or numerous other atypical traits, our differences sometimes make us a target — some more than others. 

With these negative narratives taking up all the space. How can other narratives be heard? 

We need to stop silencing narratives about travelers who do not fit society’s “norms.” 

Fat travelers have conquered the strenuous hike to Machu Picchu or other physical feats. Travelers who are overweight, obese, fat, plus-size, or however they describe themselves, are beautiful. Fat folk can enjoy food while abroad and not promote “unhealthy lifestyles.” 

There’s more to travel than all the worst nightmares abroad. Focusing on only the negative hides positive travelers experiences — both fat and not. 

By continuing to only highlight narratives from individuals who are considered perfect by society’s standards, it deems that travel is for the select few. 

Unspoken fat narratives

Fat female travelers’ voices are out there. Some write to inspire curvy girls to take the plunge and travel the world. Others write to inform other curvy girls on how to improve their travel experiences. For others, writing about traveling while being anything other but normative is a revolutionary act in itself. 

I want to feel empowered and empower you to travel, no matter what size you are. No matter what race you are. No matter what sexual orientation you are. Your existence is reason enough to travel and enjoy life to the fullest. 

I’m working through my body positivity journey as a mid-sized, curvy woman. I’m learning how all my differences impact my experiences as a traveler. I’m opening my eyes not only to the beautiful wonders of the world but how the world treats those who have been considered “other” for far too long. 

I want to talk about the hardships of being fat and traveling, but I also want to let you know that you can experience the world however you want as a fat person. 

Fat folk no longer need to live in fear. Fuck that, we’re not looking for your acceptance, we’re traveling to live our best lives. Fat people don’t exist for you to critique, we simply exist with a little more body fat. We were made perfectly, even with all the excess skin flaps and fat rolls.  

Fat isn’t the worst thing in the world to be. Being ignorant is. 

About the Author

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

2 thoughts on “Fatphobia and travel: Debunking the myth that fat people cannot travel

  1. Thank you for writing this! I am also a larger person (I’m working on accepting the word “fat” as a personal descriptor) and I so resonate with that you’re saying. I remember being called brave too, or even just straight up “fat” or “big” in cultures where it’s appropriate to just say that out loud to strangers. I can also see how my internalized fat-phobia, shame and fear has held me back in my travels (and my life too!) when things come up that I don’t try. Thank you for inspiring me! I also follow a lot of fat-positive influencers and travellers on Instagram which is super inspiring to see!

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