On Fat Travel in Asia

I have spent the last three weeks travelling through parts of Southeast Asia. My trip took me through Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. I have explored new cities, walked new zoos, and spent time eating and laughing with friends.  As I was preparing to leave for my vacation, I felt anxious about how it would be to travel in SE Asia as a fat person. I had read other’s accounts about feeling enormous and about being on the end of hard stares. I have non-fat friends in Asia who feel like they are super sized. So what would be my experience?

Others have discussed what it is like to fly while fat, and some have put together resources for fat people who are interested in travelling. I thought I would share my experiences of travelling through parts of SE as a fat person. I was especially inspired by a recent post from the Fat Heffalump about flaunting our fat. So this is my story of fatting it up across SE Asia.

Kicking off my travel was the long haul flight to Singapore. I used to enjoy flying. I loved the dedicated amount of time where I was not inundated by information, or answering emails, or having to interact with anyone. I would use the time to read, or listen to podcasts, or just sit and enjoy the silence. I invested in my own seatbelt extender years ago, so I even avoided having to ask an (usually) embarrassed flight attendant for one.

And then airlines starting kicking fat people off planes. And my excitement about flying flew out the window. Who wants to be kicked off a plane? Or be forced to purchase a second seat that may not even be next to the seat you already have? I began to dread flying, especially unfortunate as I live across the world from my home and have no other way to travel to see family and friends.

I have since ‘solved’ this problem by purchasing seats in premium economy or business class. I recognize that I am quite privileged to be able to adopt this option. I spend half the year paying off my single ticket home, but for me it is worth not worrying about what might happen if I am singled out as too fat to fly. I dream of a day when the airlines offer larger seats in economy (for an increased price, I’d imagined). Similar to what some offer for taller individuals with more leg-room.

While in Singapore, I felt a heightened sense of awareness. Are people staring at me? Am I being laughed at? But this all seemed for naught. People I encountered seemed to accept me and my body as nothing unusual. Perhaps identifying me quickly as an American gave them a frame of reference. My fat body was afforded indifference.  And that can be glorious.

During my time in Thailand, I spent an afternoon at a spa. I had my very first body scrub, followed by a facial treatment. After the scrub, I was instructed to take a quick shower to wash off the exfoliating scrub before my facial. As I prepared to step into the shower, the women who brought me a fresh towel kept giggling, and then reached forward to slap my belly. I found myself giggling as well, almost like I was a real life tickle me Elmo doll. She said some words in Thai I did not understand, as she smiled and slapped my belly again. I embraced the moment and embraced my belly, smiling to let her know I was not offended by her actions and that I was comfortable and accepting of my body.

The next evening, I was walking through Patong Beach. A street vendor yelled out, asking why I was not at the (Muay Thai) boxing match. He used his arms and hands to indicate that because of my size, I should be a boxer. I smiled and put my ‘dukes’ up, imitating what I believed a boxing performance would look like. He smiled and I walked away laughing with my friends.

The last stop on my SE Asia trip was Kuala Lumpur. During my time in Malaysia, I shopped, ate good food, and saw many of the cities sites while hopping off and on the KL Explorer Bus. One night we had our driver take us out to the Batu Caves, then continue on to Kuala Selangor so we could take a boat trip and look at the fireflies. This was the part of the journey that gave me pause. What kind of boat? Would it be able to accommodate my size? Would I be able to get in and out without assistance? I even thought about begging off from the part of the trip – better to save myself any embarrassment, right? Wrong. I went and it was awesome. Sure, my life vest did not really fit and I had to use the handrail to step in and out of the boat, but my main fears went unrealised. I fit. Without any issues or encroaching on anyone else. I fit. I rode on the boat, and saw some cool fire flies. And I had a great time.

As we were riding back in the boat towards the dock, it occurred to me that in the past I had often made decisions out of the fear of what might go wrong or what might happen when my fat body tried to engage. I skipped river trips, let love slip through my fingers, and told myself it would all be different once I was someone else. I had missed out on a lot. Due to my fear and anxiety. Not due to my fat body.

Live your fat life. Right now. It is the only one you get. Live your fat life. Take vacations. Buy yourself the clothes that you want to wear. Live your fat life. Do all the things you want to do. Go all the places you want to go. Live your fat life. Eat good food. Splash in the waves. Capture your favourite moments on film. Live your fat life. Live it proud, and loud, and without apology. Live fat. Love fat. Be fat. Live your fat life.