I never would have thought that I’d feel most beautiful covered in mud and sweat while hiking through the jungle in the Philippines. In that moment, I felt confident that I was a strong woman who didn’t need to fit conventional beauty standards to be happy, but that hadn’t always come easily to me.
Body-positivity is hard to come by these days and I had to travel halfway around the world to find some.
I’ve spent most of my life feeling like an ugly duckling, but struggled most with my body image in my early 20s. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a hormonal disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. In addition to some nasty side effects, the disorder has a large effect on physical appearance– including acne, excess body hair and weight gain. Any lingering teenage angst I had about my appearance came back ten-fold.
I started doing everything in my power to hide how ugly I felt. I began rocking giant sweaters with leggings to work everyday to hide the weight that I couldn’t stop gaining despite my best efforts. I spent so much time dieting and working out but the number on the scale just kept rising. I piled on makeup to hide the acne and spent hours plucking hairs. As a low maintenance girl, it was my personal hell.
It felt like my body had turned on me. I felt trapped. I felt like I was fighting an impossible battle and it really messed with my mental state.
I began toying with the idea of taking a career break to travel. Travel had always been my passion and the need to get away had never been stronger. I thought about it and thought about it, until one day I just hit a breaking point. Boom! All of the sudden, I had a flight booked to Thailand and a rough guide of where I would spend my next few months.
I struggled with the decision to go on the trip and much of that struggle came from my body image issues. I felt I was too fat to do all the adventurous things I had in mind. I was convinced that Asia wouldn’t have a stitch of clothing that would cover me. I had nightmares where people pointed and stared as I walked through the streets. I spent many sleepless nights telling myself the thousands of reasons I should just stay home. But then I put on my big girl pants (pun intended!) and took the steps to make my dreams come true.
I packed all my makeup and my fat-hiding clothes, planning to continue my old tricks in new places. But Thailand had something else in mind. My make- up was sweating off my face by lunchtime and all my shirts shrunk or got ruined much faster than I thought. I tried all I could, but what worked at home wasn’t going to work there.
Sweaty, tired and feeling like a complete mess in the middle of a beautiful temple, I realized something had to give.
But then something sorta crazy started to happen. I started to care less and less. One day, while cruising around the Thai islands, I realized I hadn’t pulled my make up out in several days. I still had spots but less stress, a fresh food diet and some vitamin D had left my skin feeling much better.
Not only that, but I stopped hiding my body at the beach. Fresh food and an active lifestyle had helped me lose 5 pounds. It was only a fraction of the weight I had put on in recent months, but I finally felt like maybe feeling healthy again was possible.
I began to focus on the amazing experiences I was having, instead of spending all my time hating the changes in my body. I stopped inspecting my face every time I passed a reflective surface (Bless, Southeast Asia and it’s lack of mirrors ?). I stopped comparing every curve and roll on my body to the other women around me. I began loving all the non-physical things this adventure was changing about me.
I admired my newfound confidence in approaching a group of people I didn’t know. I loved how I suddenly felt a need to challenge myself at every opportunity and I couldn’t get over my ever-growing sense of adventure. I felt a personality that I had stamped down while trying to blend in, just dying to get out and explore this new freedom.
This confidence was a strange feeling for me. Before, trips to the beach were filled with worries about being labeled the fat chick in a bathing suit. I now spent them exploring coral reefs, sunbathing and genuinely not caring about what anyone thought of me. In the past, I would have never signed up for a hike because no one wants the fat girl to join. Suddenly, I was taking on every challenge presented to me because why the heck not!? I traded all the time I usually spent analyzing what others were thinking about me and spent it all having a genuinely good time. I felt good.
Seriously, even buying new shorts at a store called “Fat Girl” in Bangkok couldn’t bring me down!
I found this deep love for my body and the amazing things it can do. My arms, that I thought were weak, allowed me to swim with turtles and scuba dive amazing shipwrecks. My thick thighs brought me up mountains and through rice paddies. My back carried a backpack through 10 different countries. The smile on my acne-scarred face made me friends all over the globe. In case you didn’t know, my body is kind of a badass. It fights off this hormonal disorder while doing all of the above with ease. My body that I hated so much allowed me to have so many adventures.
In case you didn’t know, my body is kind of a badass.
I finally feel like I was set free from the sadness and self-hatred that gripped me when I was first diagnosed. Little things that sent me into a downward spiral before, no longer faze me because I’m stronger. I still struggle with many of the health aspects of the disorder. But now I take them head on because I know my body is there to fight back with me.
Travel gave me an amazing gift. It taught me tons about the world and the people in it. It taught me to have compassion and love others. Most importantly, it taught me to love myself.
How Travel Taught Me To Love My Body