'Fat Girls Traveling' Is Making Traveling More Body-Positive and Inclusive
Fat Girls Traveling started as an Instagram account, and turned into a full-fledged movement that spread across North America.
“We're so used to being told to minimize ourselves,” says Annette Richmond, founder of Fat Girls Traveling. Feeling that both fat people, but more importantly, women, are put into a box when it comes to seeing and experiencing the world, the travel blogger didn’t sit back and complain. She did something about it.
Traveling itself isn't really fun for anyone -- transportation options can be limited, destinations overcrowded, hotels and hostels cramped or small -- but for people who identify as fat or plus-size, it can quickly become a rather intimidating experience. And this is all after being inundated with happy-go-lucky people (always thin or fit men and women) breathlessly enjoying beaches, hiking, restaurants, and theme park rides, pushed by travel brands and tourism destinations as the kind of person you’ll see whenever you get to where you’re going.
Frustrated and tired of not finding different bodies types included, recognized, and celebrated in the modern day travel influencer and blogger world, in 2017 Richmond launched her Fat Girl Traveling community, blog, and Instagram account to foster positive discussions surrounding fatphobia and to encourage fat travelers how to leave the shame and stigma behind.
The word "fat" has often been used as an insult by those attempting to bully or belittle people of size, but for many activists, and participants in the body positivity movements, fat is no longer an insult but rather a descriptor of the body they inhabit. Richmond’s intention was to create a safe space for fat women, like herself, to ask questions related to traveling. She also wanted to carve out a place for folks to feel proud of taking up space, no matter where they were on their travels or in their body liberation journey. By reclaiming this three-letter word, fat folks are empowered to remove the negative association attached to it, and for many, the concept of learning to take up space is new and even radical. Richmond wanted to be this guide, to fellow fat travelers like herself.
Fat Girls Traveling started as an Instagram account, and turned into a full-fledged movement which spread across North America. From colorful vignettes and happy faces to beautiful vistas, followers gain insightful tips on everything from how to gain confidence in themselves to tips for places to visit as a fat traveler and more importantly, how to feel seen in a world that tries to make fat people feel invisible.
Richmond recounts a story of traveling to Bali and just wanting to get a photo at the Tegalalang Rice Terrace Swing, an iconic stop on the island that sends you above lush, verdant green landscape. “I wore this maxi dress and was tripping all over myself,” she laughs telling me she needed to get the photo for her Instagram. But as she got there, hiking up the rice paddy to the swing, that’s when she discovered the operator didn’t have a harness to accommodate her waist. “I was there with three other people and all three of them were able to do it, but they had no interest in visiting the rice field until I had mentioned it.”
She shares with me that she was happy to be there, but still, she ended up crying on the spot.
All across the Instagram feed, though, you don’t see these moments. Instead, you’re greeted with bold and beautiful images promoting body positivity in travel. Take user @travelbeyondsize, who went diving off the Paklinski Islands in Croatia. The image is transcendent, with the sapphire blue ocean surrounding her fat body in motion, a huge giga-watt smile across her face. There’s a group of straight-up babely campers at Fat Camp, a fat positivity retreat organized by Richmond and her team being held for the second year in North Carolina, posing with ‘tude on jet-skis. User @stellaboonshoft takes in the Parisian sunshine in front of the Louvre in a sleeveless daisy dress. Or there’s the kaleidoscope image of @allenyashley exploring the Thean Hou Temple in Malaysia, a woman strolling into the heady and delirious riot of colors -- we could go on.
The images are bright and editorial in feel -- magazines would feature these poses, these views, these looks… or they should. Because you don’t see larger bodies in advertisements or travel features in Vogue or elsewhere, Richmond herself spends considerable time curating her feed, as much as an editor would, but with her specific mission in mind. “I just decided it was time to make some noise and make sure that they know that we're out here,” says Richmond. She wanted people to pause for thought, and really think about why #TravelInclusivity really matters in the world: Traveling is for everyone, of every skin tone and body shape. Enjoying a beach in a colorful, playful bathing suit is not limited to one type of body, and fat people can hike canyons and adventure through a jungle, too.
“Everyone assumes we can't do things just because of how we look, and it's pretty annoying,” explains Samantha O'Brochta, 27, of Brooklyn, New York. As a member of Fat Girls Traveling for the past year, she’s found the community to be incredibly supportive and positive.
Fat shaming -- abuse and discrimination directed towards people who are overweight or fat -- can take place no matter where you are in the world, which is why for Richmond it was important to create a space that combats fat hate. She has read the countless articles in the media about fat folks who have been harassed by fellow plane passengers for their weight or had followers share their personal stories about being verbally harassed in the streets about their weight or appearance. Enough was enough.
With many body positive projects and hashtags on and offline, body positivity and fat activism seem to be gaining momentum as movement. It began to break the mainstream in 2015, when size 22 plus-size model Tess Holliday debuted on the cover of People magazine and made headlines around the world. We then were delighted to find out that best-selling author Roxane Gay had teamed up with Medium in 2018 for her anthology magazine titled Unruly Bodies, which shone a spotlight on “ever-changing relationship with our bodies.”
“Society wants us to be humiliated because of our weight and our size, but I want to celebrate them.”
The tipping point came this past year when AMC adapted Sarai Walker’s 2015 novel Dietland into a show, and Hulu adapted Lindy West’s memoir, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Women, starring SNL alum Aidy Bryant. Both shows provide an accurate portrayal of the divisive experiences that fat folks face such as dieting, dating, sex and workplace bullying. It was a moment where fat bodies were being showcased in film and television without being the butt of the joke, or characters being relegated to simply playing the fat best friend.
As representation begins to widen, so does our understanding of body politics, as Richmond expounds: All bodies are valuable and worthy of representation.
On the day she spoke to Thrillist, Richmond had just finished speaking at the Women’s Travel Fest where she spoke about diversity and representation in the travel world and explains to us that she took all of these things to heart when creating her private online travel community via Facebook.
Members of the private group on Facebook can discuss and ask questions that they might be potentially uncomfortable asking in an everyday setting. Though private, with a strict “what happens here, stays here” policy, over 6,000 members talk candidly of their anxieties of the seating on airplanes. “Do you think the seats will be comfortable or in general, fit well?” But the topics can range from guiding people to asking for a seat belt extender on an air flight, to which theme parks are the best for people above a size 22, and the best activities that can accommodate bigger bodies. In one member post, someone talks about visiting a canyon and asks the group if a certain tour can accommodate fat bodies. “I might be acting irrational, but has anyone else done this before?”
O’Brochta admits this is why she was so happy to find Richmond’s group. ”It's so cool to see that people are actually being able to be bigger human beings and doing things, and getting recognition for it.” For her, it’s nice to finally have space where she sees lots of different body sizes and shapes represented. To not feel ashamed.
Simply put, having the community has been empowering and uplifting.
The group has been kept private so that it can provide a space for women who want to share personal details of their travels. “I wanted there to be a safe space where women would be comfortable sharing,” says Richmond, “where they share and they feel super empowered because they see other women like them sharing photos of their bodies.”
Carly Heyward, 33 of Atlanta, Georgia has been a member of the group since the beginning, explaining that the group has not only been a huge boost to her confidence but also inspired her to travel more. “I have never felt comfortable in front of the camera because I didn't think that's what people wanted to see,” says Heyward.
For years, she felt like her vacation photos had to be of what was around her, and couldn’t include her living and loving the moments themselves. Since joining the group, though, Heyward has found herself “very emotional and uplifted by these powerful women,” who have given her the confidence to buy a flowy, jewel-toned purple chiffon dress on her trip to Israel.
It may seem simple but “I never wear dresses, because I feel like I'm too exposed,” she tells Thrillist. “All the things I'm self-conscious about are visible.” With the help of the group, she felt emboldened and decided to “buy the dress that I always wished I could wear. These women showed me I could do that.”
“Women tell me they’re more comfortable sitting in front of the camera because they've been empowered.”
While the group is important to Richmond, she also wants to empower and showcase to people around the world how these wins for her members are so vital. “I feel like society wants us to be humiliated and ashamed because of our weight and our size, but I want to celebrate it,” she says. “I am turning what could be a negative experience for some, and turning it into something that is positive for others.”
Case in point, her Bali moment. Richmond notes that at that moment, her feelings were hurt but then she took the opportunity to write a blog post on it. “I reached out to members in the group who had been to Bali and what their experiences were like at the swing, and how it made them feel,” she recalls. Through her network and additional research, she was able to recommend alternative activity providers who accommodate bigger bodies, so others wouldn’t feel how Richmond felt.
Something of a whisper network for fat women yearning to travel, Fat Girls Traveling also provides representation. On social media, for starters, but most importantly, it’s taught members to have agency and to not feel ashamed of who they are. No longer.
“Some people are uncomfortable doing what they do because they hate their bodies, because our society has told us that we should,” says Richmond. “Literally, the most impactful thing for me as the creator is for women to keep telling me that they feel more comfortable sitting in front of the camera because they've been empowered to do so.”
Main photos by Vannia Fuentes, Nana the Third Culture Kid, and Mailee Yang.