In October of 2017, I travelled to Iceland. Iceland is a Nordic island nation that feels like it is the top of the world. It has a population around 350k, and most of the people live in the capital city of Reykjavik. Seeing Iceland was one of the goals I had when I planned my European Sabbatical. I travelled to Iceland at the invitation of the Icelandic Association for Body Respect and Gyða Pétursdóttir at the University of Iceland.
At the University of Iceland, I gave a session during their “Equality Days”. My session, called What’s size got to do with it? Bodies, Fatness, and Fairness, explored fat politics and the oppression experienced by fat people. It followed a session by a member of the Association for Body Respect, Sólrún Larusdóttir; she spoke about the association and work they were doing in Iceland. Both sessions were great, and the audience was very enthusiastic. Afterwards, we met up with many of them (including some other Americans!) and decided to grab drinks.
I was honoured to join the Icelandic Association for Body Respect for a dinner while I was in Iceland. It was a lovely meal, and we discussed common issues in the fight for fat rights, including the tensions between the body positive movement and fat liberation. A few nights later, the Association held a cocktail party for me, where I experienced other Icelandic treats like eðlan/lizzard (cream cheese, salsa, and melted shredded cheese) and ALL of the liquorice. They are serious about their liquorice here!
One member, Tara, spent a great deal of time with me while I was in country.
She was an excellent tour guide, driving me around the Golden Circle, and making sure I experienced proper Icelandic things like ice cream at Ísbuð Huppu (kinda like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen).
She even took me to the hot pools near her family’s home; it was a smaller (and less touristy!) place than the Blue Lagoon. One thing that I knew to expect (thanks to Google!) was that you had to shower naked in a communal shower area before putting on your suit and going out to the pool. I was a bit nervous about that part; I had never showered naked in public beforehand. I found, though, that the casualness of the rest of the Icelanders, helped me relax quite quickly. By the time we exited the pool and had to do it again, I had no anxiety about my super fat body being nude and on display.
On my free days, I wandered around the town, exploring the sites. I enjoyed the large flea market, Kolaportið and had a hot dog at the famous Bæjarins Beztu. I found a lovely Icelandic nutcracker to add to my collection. One surprise for me was all the American things to be found in Iceland (including brands, stores – even a Taco Bell!), but I learned while I was there that the US had a base in Iceland during the Cold War. I also spent a day on the Hop On/Hop Off bus (I LOVE those).
My final night, I did a Northern Lights tour. I had been lucky to see them my very first night; about two hours after I checked into my AirBnB, my host Arthur sent me a text to let me know they were out. I peeked from the window, and they were fantastic. Having already been in bed, and just exhausted from the day of travel, I went back to bed and promised myself I’d look more closely (and try to get pictures) on another night. Of course, they did not come out again before I left!
The Northern Lights tour was okay; it was useful to have something to keep me up until my 4am bus ride back to the airport (the airport is about an hour away from the city). The bus made many stops to look for the lights, including a stop with a café for refreshments and restrooms. If you wanted, though, you could stay on the bus the entire time. Since it was pitch black, I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts and playing on my phone during the tour.
Getting there and getting around
I flew Icelandair and found the seat was an okay fit; I had no issues with getting checked in or during the boarding or flight. I did not use public transport while I was there, but I did find that most places were accessible (much more than Europe, to be sure). Most of the eateries I visited had appropriate seating, and room to move around the space. I did not feel that I was under a great deal of scrutiny while I was in Iceland, and the Association were very welcoming.
I stayed in an AirBnB run by Arthur and his wife. Arthur was a gem, picking me up from the bus station the night I arrived and offering to drop me in town on any day I’d like. The AirBnB itself is a nice studio apartment above the garage (so there were a few stairs to climb, but they were gentle stairs and I did okay, even with my luggage). It had a comfy bed, a sitting area, dining table, kitchenette, wardrobe, and bathroom. Very fat friendly on all counts. It was right down the road from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral of Iceland, and Stop #4 on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus, so I was able to hop right on the bus. It was not too much further to walk into town, but I hopped the city bus instead.
The things to see and do
I found most of the main attractions, such as Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area, Gullfoss waterfall, the Perlan museum, Hallgrímskirkja, etc, to be accessible for super fat people. Many of them require walking, if you want to see most of the attraction, but the walkways/ground are relatively even and would probably not cause any issues for mobility aids. Much of them, especially the National Park, can be enjoyed from within the car while driving. The Perlan Museum has a “walk through a glacier” exhibit, for which they provide large parkas to keep you warm while you walk through the ice. I was delighted to find that the largest parka they had did fit my super fat body.
Overall, I would say that Iceland is a good place for fat people to visit, and if you do go, make sure to share your own experiences with the rest of the fat community!