Being plus size in South East Asia.
As you may know over Christmas my boyfriend (now Fiance ahhh) Dan and I traveled for 5 weeks across parts of South East Asia. It was perhaps the most challenging and incredible 5 weeks of our lives and was something we had been planning for months, I read pretty much every forum/blog going on the internet about what to do/see/ and eat in Thailand and Cambodia. One day I stumbled on a forum all about being Fat in Asia and the experiences of plus size people who had been made to feel uncomfortable about their size when travelling. Anxiety is something I suffer with a lot so as soon as I read this panic mode set in for me. What if I don't fit in the seats of the internal flights? What if the chairs are too small for me? What if I lose my suitcase and have no clothes... where will I buy clothes that fit me?! It got so bad that I ordered my own seat belt extender (
) and Dan and I packed half of our clothes in each bag in case one got lost. My preparation went to crazy levels and I prepared for every awkward thing that might happen, you know, just in case.
When we arrived into Bangkok and boarded our internal flight to Chiang Mai I got out my seat belt extender anticipating that I would need to use it, and it turned out that it wasn't needed at all. Air Asia 's seat belt fitted just fine, in fact more comfortably than they ever had on a budget UK airline like east jet. The flight attendants didn't look at me any differently, well not that I noticed anyway. To be honest my experience in Chiang Mai was pretty much entirely positive, people didn't seem to pay any mind to me or Dan. Our first day there we decided to get an infamous Thai massage, these two little Thai women handed me what essentially was a pair of Pajamas and they were so tight on me that when I put them on all three of us giggled. Normally, my immediate response would be to freak out and feel embarrassed but I decided to not let it ruin our fist day. When they were massaging my body they would sometimes laugh and really feel my body which I have to say was a bit weird, but honestly I think they were intrigued. A few days later because the massages were just so good we decided to have another one. This time we were in a different place and the Thai lady was plus size. I honestly was shocked because I had not seen one plus size Thai person at all. and when I arrived inside the shop a young guy who was also working there asked if he could translate something that the lady was saying to me. He began by telling me that the lady had seen me every day walking from our guest house and said she thought I was the singer Adele, he then went on to say...
"She thinks you are very fat and beautiful and she wishes she could have nice clothes like you"
Many women might find being called Fat offensive, some people just don't like that term at all but I didn't mind, in fact I left with the biggest smile on my face. You see, something I came to learn quickly was that for most people calling a person fat was the same as calling a person tall, it was just a descriptor and to be called fat and beautiful in the same sentence was something I had never ever experienced. As we moved on to the Islands a few days later, again I had no real issue, there was the occasional stare but nothing outright rude or upsetting which was shocking considering this was the place where my body was on show the most wearing swimwear and cover ups.
As a blogger think its so easy for myself, and other bloggers out there to put up this glamorised version of our lives where everything is perfect. Many never share the difficult or nitty gritty bits of their lives and even though I like to keep this space as positive as possible I think its best I also share some of the difficult and challenging things I experience as a plus size woman. I cannot not lie to myself or you (as great as my experience in Chiang Mai was) and say that at times it wasn't difficult for me when handling the way I was treated as a fat person in Asia. Cambodia was a completely different ball game altogether and I want to open up about this so other plus size people who plan on travelling are able to understand what they may come up against and how to best prepare for that.
After 27+ hours of travelling from Thailand Dan and I finally arrived into Cambodia and checked ourselves into a cute little guest house, we were exhausted and hungry and ventured into the town to get some dinner. We took a tuk tuk into the main area of town to Pub Street known for its many massage stations and restaurants and wandered along to find somewhere to try some traditional Cambodian food. It was so busy and really really warm. I was wearing a Carmakoma plain black dress with some sandals and had my hair thrown up in a bun, as we were walking I noticed at the side of my eye a group of Korean people outside of a bar point at me, they then all began laughing, pointing and shouting . Confused as hell, we carried on walking, and when out of view I looked at Dan to see if he saw what happened. A feeling of numbness came over me, my eyes began to sting as I asked Dan if he saw them laughing at me. He nodded that he did and threatened to go back over and say something but I told him no. We carried on our way and found a small restaurant and ordered our food, but I sat their pretty much in silence feeling paranoid and anxious and then I asked Dan to take me home. That night I cried because of all the time spent in Thailand I had never once been made to feel so low. In the morning we had a trip to the waterfalls of Kulen Mountain and after a good cry and a good nights sleep I felt a ton better only to arrive at the waterfall and again become a focus of peoples attention. I had monks staring at me, and a group of people taking pictures of me in my Bikini. I became acutely aware of my size more than I ever had before and decided to leave. As we walked back up the metal stairway to leave the waterfall people coming down began to point and one woman even grabbed my arms and squeezed my skin. My face flushed red and began to have what I can only describe as a mild panic attack, Dan began to get very angry and shouted to the people that were pointed whilst he found me a seat and gave me water. I had to sit there trying to stabilize my breathing whilst people continued to walk past and point at me. Finally my strength came back and wiped my tears and walked to the car, my first reaction was to ask Dan if we could go back to the hotel but then something in side me said no, I had posted the day before on
about the night in the street and I decided to re-read all the comments. There were so many lovely, wonderful thoughtful comments from women all across the world sharing the experiences of size discrimination, many talking of experiences in South East Asia and it made me really stop and think about what I would be gaining by leaving for hotel again.
So here's the thing, I thought that my experience was all about me when really it wasn't, cultural differences are something you cannot avoid when you visit another country and the reality is that in countries such a Cambodia people are very poor, and in their eyes fat equals wealth. I took the attention negatively and let it really hurt me when in reality they most probably weren't even thinking of me in that light. Yes you will come ac cross people who are ignorant but at the same time to have the privilege and opportunity of being able to travel the world is something that isn't accustomed to everyone. Many people are ignorant because they have never seen anything else other that their usual surroundings and they simply are intrigued and interested even if they don't show it in the politest of ways.
I want people to know that size does not stop you from doing anything you want in life, it didn't stop me whilst we were away and although at times it wasn't an enjoyable experience being stared at etc as soon as I firmly said no to people taking my pictures or smiled back when people stared, did I stop myself getting so upset. This world is a wonderful place and it would be a shame to miss out on it just because you are worried someone will be staring at you. Life goes on and in around 0.2 seconds they will have forgotten all about you and moved on to the next interesting tourist.
Flying out to Thailand as a size 22 woman was an interesting experience but,what was more of an experience was getting to do the things I
in my life I could do. Please don't let anything stop you from trying to achieve your dreams, don't let the fear of not fitting in an airplane stop you from flying, don't let the worry of being to big for a boat stop you from at least trying to get in. If you truly aren't happy and want to lose weight don't let these things shame you into doing so. Life is so short and no matter what your size you deserve to experience the absolute best of it and this is exactly what I did.
Kayaking in the Ocean
Trekking uphill through the jungle rain forest
Snorkeling in Koh Lipe
Swimming under waterfalls in Cambodia
Bathed Elephants in a river in Chiang Mai
Boat rides across huge lakes
and much much more. (as you will see in our video below)