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I went to Bali with 16 strangers and I was the biggest person there

TW: disordered eating

This summer, I went to Bali with my friend and 16 other people I had never met. This was a big deal for me for several reasons. I can honestly say that, up until a few years ago, this trip simply never would have happened. Or at least I wouldn’t have been a part of it.

If my friend Isabella would have suggested this, say, three years ago, I probably would have lied and said it didn’t sound like fun or that I had other plans. I wouldn’t have told her the truth, but the thought of spending a full week with a handful of strangers and possibly being the only fat person there would have filled me with dread. I would quite literally have rather set myself on fire. 

But I am not the person I was three years ago, so when I found out about this holiday and the possibility of combining it with a solo trip to Singapore (a place that had been high on my list for 15 years), the excitement won.

What if…

That’s not to say I didn’t still have some doubts. This trip meant that I would be putting myself into situations that used to be my number one nightmare. Things like walking around with both my arms and legs out, constantly being around other, thinner women, going swimming…

I have worked very hard to get to this point where I am confident about myself and my body. I guess part of me was scared that the trip would make me realise that I hadn’t come as far as I hoped. What if these things would still make me uncomfortable? What if I would still end up comparing myself to other women? What if I would cave after a couple of days and would start covering myself up because I felt ashamed?

Not for the weak

I’ve been fat most of my life, so I knew that two weeks of activities in hot weather would not be without its challenges anyway. There is the sweltering heat and, even worse, the humidity. If you’ve never been to this part of the world, let me tell you…this is no joke. The second you step outside a layer of sweat appears on your body. That’s just how it is. It was so humid I couldn’t open our balcony door without my glasses fogging up.

Keeping this in mind, I tried to pack for this trip in the smartest way possible. I knew I had to dress light, but when you’re fat you also can’t be too naked, because then skin will start rubbing against more skin. I wanted shorts but they couldn’t be too short because if my legs touch, they start sweating. They couldn’t be too loose either because then they don’t stay in place, but if they’re too tight they roll up. I wanted dresses but still needed something to cover the skin between my thighs. I like open-back clothes but I can’t not wear a bra if I don’t want my boobs to go flying everywhere every time I move. Bralettes look more comfortable but they give me underboob sweat. Oh, and even if I manage to pick shorts that stay in place for more than five minutes (and that’s a big if), I’ve also noticed that on really hot days, there are areas that get sweaty and painful no matter what I wear.

That’s how I ended up with several outfits for every possible scenario, biker shorts that could be paired with every single one of those outfits, and a shitload of plasters and baby powder. Being fat is not for the weak. 

A guilt-free holiday

On my way to the airport I realised that, for the first time since I was a child, I was going on an actual summer holiday without the guilt of a failed diet and the thought that ‘this would have been so much better if I would have lost more weight’ overshadowing the trip. It used to be the same scenario every time:

  1. Plan a trip and immediately promise myself to lose at least 20kg before I leave
  2. Write down my goal weight in my diary. Sometimes per week, sometimes per day if it needed to happen quickly
  3. Starve myself for a couple of weeks
  4. ‘Fail’, start eating again and gain the weight back (obviously)
  5. Feel like an absolute failure who doesn’t deserve to go on holiday
  6. Punish myself for the entire duration of the holiday by wearing clothes that are too hot, covering up on the beach, wearing the most impractical cover-ups during hikes that constantly get stuck in between the straps of my backpack but that I refuse to take off

I’m so happy to say that this time, none of that happened. Yes, we were a group of 18 people and there was no denying that I was the biggest person there. And I did not care one bit. I had my arms out, legs out, wore crop tops, went swimming in a bathing suit that was revealing and gorgeous and so impractical that I ended up flashing half the people there. I loved every single minute of it.

If I thought about how my body looked at all, it was only in a good way. I felt beautiful. After I went swimming in my leopard bathing suit and I looked at the pictures me and the other women had taken of each other, I realised how much this meant to me.

The Kaftan

The most symbolic moment for me though, happened after Bali. On the 5th day of my week in Singapore I wanted to spend the afternoon by the pool. I had all of my pool essentials with me: a hat, some water, a book, and a kaftan to throw over my bathing suit in case I fancied a trip to the hotel bar.

At some point I decided I needed something from my hotel room. I would only be gone for a couple of minutes, so I left most of my stuff there and just took my key. When I arrived back at the pool, I noticed that my kaftan was still on the sunbed. I had walked to my hotel room and back in just my bathing suit and I hadn’t even thought to put the kaftan on. I had simply forgotten.

I sat down and cried. I know this seems like an incredibly small thing, but to me, it was everything. I cried because of how proud I was of myself and how far I have come, but also because of how many years I have lost worrying about things like this. Younger me would probably have not even taken the kaftan off, or it would have been on my lap the whole time in an attempt to hide my hips. But that day I enjoyed my afternoon by the pool, swimming and reading and snacking and not for one second thinking about how my stomach looked or what I looked like to other guests.

Here’s to many more trips

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I cannot begin to tell you how much learning about diet culture and fatphobia and realising that there is nothing wrong with me, has changed my life. I notice it in the way I handle things, the way I communicate with people, the way I have stopped accepting anything or anyone that makes me feel bad.

If I look confident and careless in those pictures, it’s because that’s exactly how I felt. But all of this was unimaginable for so long and I still struggle with a lot of anger and sadness because I didn’t deserve that pain. Nobody does. That’s why I will keep banging on about this. I know that many people still feel this way every time they go on holiday, or every day.

You might not always see it. I’m sure my friends and family didn’t realise how much I was struggling either (or how much their comments were harming me, but we don’t have time for that today). I also think that hating your own body (especially if it’s fat) is so incredibly normalised that I didn’t even realise how much fatphobia and diet culture were limiting me until I started to break free from it.

I wish I could give everyone a one-size-fits-all solution, but just like that sort of thing doesn’t work for clothes, it doesn’t work for this either. What I will say is that a small first step can be enough, whether that’s following fat activists or anti-diet accounts on Instagram, reading a book on the topic or watching Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.

I have some more Bali stories to tell, including how I had one of the worst nights of my life there (because it’s me and I simply cannot catch a break). For now though, I just want to say: I did it. I actually did it!

Kus, 

G.

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