The sky fades to a dusty blue as the sun begins to drop into the sea. I watch from my perch on our dive boat as it slices through the waves, heading back towards our beach lodge on an island in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park.
With just enough light left to see, we arrive and pull in as close to land as the tide will allow us. I join the rest of those on board, collecting the day’s gear to bring to shore.
“Hannah, don’t forget your sarong.”
I turn to face my companion, who is holding out my hot pink floral sarong which I had left tied to the wooden rail on the main deck.
“Oh.” I reach out to grab it in surprise. Not surprise that I had nearly left it behind – after all, I was going out on the same dive boat tomorrow. But because I wasn’t wearing it at all. I had somehow spent the entire day just in my swim suit, with no cover-up at all.
As a plus-size woman, swimsuits are my nemesis. I hate how my body looks in the tight, revealing fabric and always make sure to have a sundress, sarong, or even shorts and a t-shirt to wear on top.
Somehow, between the manta rays and corals, the dolphins and the warm sunshine, I had forgotten to throw on my sarong after diving and actually spent my entire time on the boat just in my one-piece.
Mindful of the fast-fading light, I throw my sarong over my shoulders and hop overboard to lug my dive kit to shore. My dive buddies are busy discussing what’s for dinner tonight, but I’m lost in thought – still shocked at the notion that somehow I had been comfortable enough to walk around all day in just a swimsuit on a dive boat full of strangers in Indonesia. How did that happen when I constantly make sure I’m covered up in front of close friends and family back home in Canada?
For me, Southeast Asia was the scariest plunge to take as a curvy girl. Of all the horrible body-shaming travel stories I’d read (because, let’s be honest, many plus-size travel stories focus on negative experiences), the majority of them seemed to be based in this part of the world. I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated and it took me a couple of years to finally pluck up the courage to book my first plane ticket. However, by the end I didn’t want to leave and less than two months after coming home, I booked another flight back.
Over the course of two years, I ended up spending nearly seven months travelling through Southeast Asia. I learned to scuba dive in Thailand and I trekked through lush Laotian landscapes. I explored the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia and went island hopping in the Philippines. I made friends with other travellers, with locals, and with numerous stray dogs. I had my palm read by a Balinese magic man, lit paper lanterns with Thai families for Yi Peng, and chatted about the most important Canadian thing – Justin Bieber – with some Burmese schoolgirls.
I absolutely loved my time exploring Southeast Asia and my adventures there hold some of my best memories. Which is funny when I consider how intimidated I was to go there in the first place.
I’m not going to lie and say that my Southeast Asia travels were perfect, but I can honestly say that the articles I read in advance were incredibly misleading – my curves ended up getting way more good attention than bad. In Vietnam, the local seamstresses gushed about their jealousy of my body and begged me to allow them to add a plunging neckline to my custom dress. I was stopped in the streets by men and woman alike commenting on my looks. And, by the end of my travels, I’d heard the word ‘beautiful’ far more than ‘fat’.
Somewhere along my second trip I even managed to find the courage to wear a bikini to the beaches in Bali, an item of clothing that I hadn’t worn since I was six years old. Southeast Asia wasn’t easy at times, but I did walk away from the experience with a more positive outlook on my own body image.
While the compliments and attention were definite confidence boosters, at the end of the day, that’s not why I travel. I travel to experience different customs and cultures, to see the beauty of Mother Nature around the world, to learn and explore. And, quite honestly, the fact that I don’t have a coveted thigh gap really has nothing to do with that. My thick thighs haven’t stopped me from hiking the rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam. My wide hips didn’t hinder my ability to dive the World War II shipwrecks in the Philippines. My jiggly arms didn’t prevent me from climbing the ancient temples of Bagan, Myanmar.
My body may not be tight, toned, and magazine-worthy, but that’s not what is important. I have a love for travel, a want to see the world, and drive to experience as much as I can. All I need is a body that will allow me to achieve these goals, and while mine may not be perfect in the eyes of others, it is perfect enough to allow me to follow my travel dreams.
Feeling inspired to visit embark on your own adventure in Asia? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours there.
(All images c/o Hannah Logan at eatsleepbreathetravel.com.)