I can’t believe I need to write this.
When Intrepid Travel asked me if I’d write an article about being an overweight woman that travels, I had no idea what to say. The reason being that it is such a non-issue to me. But I have since seen the need. And it has nothing to do with the overweight people of the world, it has everything to do with the ones judging them.
Here’s the short and sweet pep talk for my fluffy friends. You know yourself best. You know if you can climb that mountain or kayak that gorge. You know if you can ride that bike across Vietnam or zipline above the canopy in Costa Rica. If you want to do something, and weight or fitness is getting in the way, you know what you have to do. But, if you are healthy and strong, no matter what your size – then DO THE THING.
I honestly think that the road blocks to travel for overweight people have less to do with the person, and more to do with the insidious peanut gallery of judgy people that excel in making assumptions about people.
It’s an epidemic. One that is not saved for fat folks. If you look ‘different’ than some arbitrary standard then you are ‘lesser than’. Shout out to skin pigment, height and age – which also take a beating – and mean n.o.t.h.i.n.g. in terms of abilities.
Every time one of my blogs gets posted, I can be guaranteed to see comments about my size. Intrepid is pretty speedy at taking down that nonsense, but I catch a few. “You need to lose weight so that you can travel more.” Weight has never got in the way of me travelling to the last 35 countries. “This would be better if she would lose weight.” What would be better? What do you mean, random stranger?
Probably the crème de la crème insult was, “There’s nothing beautiful or inspirational about a morbidly obese whale (aka lazy woman) hiking. It’s a negative role model. Stop promoting this. Shame on you.” This was posted under an article I wrote about hiking the 4-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.
Let me tell you about that trek. It’s hard. It’s 45km, over three summits, the highest being over 4200M. It can not be done without strong legs and good lungs. I never sat down once on the hike except for lunch and when I got to camp. I had a huge smile on my face the whole time because it was mind-blowingly beautiful and fun to hike. I was the heaviest person on the mountain.
On the first day of the hike, I saw lots of 120 lbs people turn around. One that was heading back looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’ll never make it.” On day 2, I saw a woman crying and asked her what was up. She said that she didn’t know why it was so hard because she did 2 hours on the stair master every day at the gym. On day 3, I saw two porters taking shifts carrying a petite woman the rest of the way to camp because she couldn’t do it. I, however, was absolutely fine and walked through the Sun Gate on day 4 under my own power. Size meant nothing.
Yet, I’m certain that if my cyber-bully had seen an article about a thin person that failed at completing the Inca Trail, he would have had nothing to say. But I succeeded and he unleashed. How dare this ‘lazy woman’ contradict the stereotypes that he holds dear! What if other fat people thought that they could leave the house and be part of the world? Armageddon!
It’s easy for me to let this stuff go. I was pretty lucky to escape most of the bullying going through school due to my ‘be-friends-with-everyone’ strategy. But junior high was a nightmare because two individuals made it their daily mission to let me know that my size made me unworthy and unlovable. And then they spent the rest of their time making sure that all my fellow classmates were in agreement.
I hated school. I hated walking the gauntlet across the playground, feeling the cruel words stab at my sides as I scurried, head down, towards my class. And, ya know, this abuse may have taught me to hide inside my own 4 walls forever, but, I had a mom and dad that thought that I was smart and funny, beautiful and interesting. I would come home from school and tell them about what the others had said, and mom would say, “Carla, it’s none of your business what people think of you.”
I could tell that my dad would be crushed, because he adored me, and he couldn’t understand why anyone would say such hurtful things to anyone, let alone his daughter. But he told me, “those people are broken, they have sad lives and they need you to have a sad life too to make themselves feel better.”
Nothing’s changed. There are always going to be broken people seeking to tarnish your sparkle, but they are a serious minority. I think it’s absolute lunacy for someone to dedicate part of their day to tearing down someone. What a waste of their one precious life.
I wouldn’t say that I’m totally immune to the venom, more confused by it really. Seriously, why is anyone paying attention to anyone else’s pant size? I’m here to search for meaning and purpose in my life; to become better and wiser and more authentic.
And so, I ignore, and explore.
Me and my big butt have coasted through the Okavango in a mokoro, hiked up and over mountains in Romania, hiked to the Monastery in Petra, canoed to see giant river otters in the Amazon, weaved my way through the underground cities in Goreme, white-water rafted down the Kicking Horse and, most recently, danced for 10 hours through the streets of Rio for Carneval.
The world is a phenomenal place that needs you. It needs you to experience its hills and valleys, rivers and oceans, latitudes and platitudes. Your eyes need to gaze upon African sunsets and the endless expanse of silky deserts. Your lips need to taste French wine and eat food in the country of its origin.
And most of all, you need to meet the people we share this planet with. I guarantee you, most of the planet doesn’t care that you have big thighs…because it’s full of interested, good humans.
And we all know, good humans can not be found by sight, but by action and deed.
Let me be the momma that you have been waiting for and listen up. Don’t let the broken people break you. And especially don’t let the opinions of a stranger that knows nothing of your spirit dictate your path in life. Hold your head high and claim your space.
This Earth is a perfect fit – for you.
It’s time to stop making excuses and start travelling. Check out Intrepid’s top destinations for inspiration.
(All images courtesy of Carla Powell.)