How Travel Helped Me Stop Hating My Body

I have never been thin.

Even on the day I was born I was pulled out of my mum with forceps because I was just too big to push out without help.

When I was a little older, around four years old, one day my mum walked me from kindergarten to school so that we could pick up my older sister. When we found my sister and her friends hanging out by the side of a classroom, one of her friends commented on how fat I was. I recall feeling upset at the fact that being called ‘fat’ was obviously a bad thing, even though at the time I really didn’t understand what being ‘fat’ meant.

The first few years of my schooling were okay, it seemed that I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know about being ‘fat’ and luckily, it meant that for a couple of years, I wasn’t easily identified as a target for bullies. Of course, that eventually changed.

By the time I hit Grade 4, I was well and truly an outcast. I had a few “friends” who would be nice to me one day and then bully me relentlessly the next. I didn’t eat completely unhealthily and I didn’t eat huge portions, but I was always bigger than everybody else. This was when I started to look in the mirror and hate what I saw. This was when I started going to sleep at night wishing that I could save up enough money for liposuction.

I mean seriously, a ten year old dreaming about plastic surgery?! That is some truly fucked up shit.

By the time I started high school things had improved a bit. I was still on the curvier side of life, but puberty had helped even me out a bit, and having hips and boobs made me look a little less like a sumo wrestler. But, of course, that didn’t last.

In Grade 11 (Junior year for all my ‘Murican readers) I started to pack on weight incredibly quickly. I went from being chubby to downright obese. As it turned out, at this time I was in the process of developing Hashimoto’s disease – a form of autoimmune hypothyroidism. This is a lifelong disease which affects the ability of the thyroid to produce hormones. Hypothyroidism is heavily associated with weight gain, increased appetite, impaired metabolism, fatigue and a whole bunch of less than stellar symptoms.

At my year 12 formal (I’m third from the left) – I was about 90kg in this picture. There are no pictures of me at my biggest (102-108kg) because I was too busy hiding away at home.

Once I had a diagnosis, I could start treatment with a synthetic thyroid hormone – thyroxine. Despite my thyroid function improving, it took an incredibly long time and some seriously drastic measures to shift the 40 or so kilograms (88lbs) that I had put on.

Losing weight took a long time, and before I started seeing results, I became incredibly depressed and suicidal. I felt like I was trapped inside a body that didn’t belong to me. Whenever I looked in the mirror I would detest what I saw looking back at me. I was embarrassed of my appearance and tried to go out with my friends less and less because I was afraid of being stared at and laughed at. I hated myself so much that I actually felt the urge to apologise to people who had to look at me.

I may be smiling in this picture, but I was miserable.

Over the course of a few years I finally lost a lot of the weight I had put on and though I looked completely different; mentally, things were taking even longer to change.

When I was out of high school I began dating my second ever boyfriend. After we broke up we ran into each other one night at a pub and long story short, ended up in a fight. I said some things I regret, and he said something about the way I looked that I will not repeat here (still way too horrible) which completely obliterated the little self esteem I had managed to regain.

Smaller on the outside, but still struggling on the inside.

Not too long after, I started travelling.

Part of what made me so anxious at home was wondering what people I knew were thinking about me when I saw them. I was so worried about whether they could see my fat through my clothes and if they were mentally telling me to cut back on the carbs.

However, when I was travelling, that anxiety just seemed to disappear. I didn’t know anybody and so I didn’t need to worry about what people were thinking about me. I had this incredible sense of anonymity and with it, I felt a freedom from my own self-consciousness that I hadn’t felt since I was a little kid.

While travelling, I was continuously meeting new people and unlike back home, these people didn’t know anything about me or what I used to look like. They would look at me, and when they did, I was continuously surprised by how little judgement there was. I was finally learning how little my weight actually meant to people. Everybody I met would look at me through these new eyes, and after a while, I felt like I could see what they did – a completely normal and unremarkable human being – and it was like being able to breathe fresh air after being trapped in an elevator for hours.

Through my travels, I have gone to places where I inevitably had to show my body (*cough* Blue Lagoon changing rooms *cough*) and when I had to strip down – even though at the time it was my worst nightmare – nobody stared. Nobody looked twice. I realised that nobody else cared about what my body looked like, so why should I?

When I went home I took a little more confidence with me, and luckily, it seems to have stuck.

I will never be slender and I will certainly never have a body that anyone would look at and be like ‘yep, that’s what I want mine to look like’, but I have now learned that this is okay.

There is still a lot of stuff that I don’t like about the way I look. I still think about getting a tummy tuck and liposuction – although lets be honest, why would I blow $8k on surgery that could be better spent on travel? I still feel self conscious when I have to wear bathers in public.

But, despite not loving the way I look, now I don’t let the way I feel about my appearance dictate my life. I might not like showing my body in a bikini, but unlike before, now that won’t stop me from wearing one and going snorkelling anyway! I might feel bloated and dislike the way all my clothes look on a particular day, but unlike before, now that won’t stop me from still going out and making the most of the day.

I still might not like my body, but travel has helped me to stop despising it, and to get on with enjoying my life even on the days when I really don’t like the way I look. I would love to be about 10kgs smaller than I am now, but I am not going to make myself miserable to try and get there.

Travelling has given me a confidence (and improved my mental health in the process) that I don’t think I could have gained any other way. For that, I will be forever grateful.


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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

134 thoughts on “How Travel Helped Me Stop Hating My Body

  1. It is a sad thing about many human cultures how much stock is placed in women (and men) looking a certain way because looks are just that…looks. It is pretty shallow really. The main things is that you can find happiness in some way, because (and this is weird to say given that we’ve never met) you have such a beautiful smile in your pictures. 🙂

  2. Your story is like many of us. Where I grew up is an image obsess area, where to look good you have to be tall, thin, and tan. The three Ts. I’m short (I like to say funny size), pale ( Irish and danish), and we’ll not as thin as they would like, but hey I’m very health so go me. It took me losing a ton of weight ( a combination of a stomach virus and the flu) to make me realize that I hated how my body looked super thin. I looked like a super skinny skeleton. I now worry about keeping my body health and let the unhappy models worry about being thin.

  3. Ellen, you are a stunning and beautiful creature. Never mind the bikini shots but your love of travel and life are infectious. I also was diagnosed with Hashimotos but it was caught early and entirely by accident. I’ve also felt the freedom of travel and it makes me yearn for the open roads to get away from the box life wants to put me in so I turn to your posts for the vicarious travels. Thanks for bringing us along.

    1. Wow, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart – that is so lovely to hear. My Hashimotos was also caught by accident! Thanks for coming along on my adventures with me <3

  4. Thank you so much for writing this post!

    I still find myself despairing over photos of myself, and then weeks later I’ll go back through them and see that I look fine. I’m a healthy human being who’s travelling and is very happy.
    Crazy how we can devote so much time to bringing ourselves down.
    Thanks again. X

    1. I have totally done the same thing! It sucks how much we can bring ourselves down 🙁

      Glad to hear that you are a happy, healthy, travelling human!

  5. I learnt long ago that it’s the smile that maketh the person, the laughter, and their personality. Those people that exhibit these traits are absolutely perfect!

  6. I absolutely love this post. People (including myself) general put high expectations on themselves. We are our biggest critic. We’re either too skinny, too fat, too white, too dark, etc… I admire that you have come at peace with yourself and created a great self-confidence. I’m still getting there. It is hard to remember that most people don’t care what you look like. Thank you so much for posting this beautiful post <3

  7. Firstly, congratulations on such a beautiful blog! Bravo! Secondly, I was 200 lbs and am now slim (although old). Even after all these years, I have an element of body dysmorphia. When I was fat, I thought I looked great. When I was 130 lbs, I could see rolls of fat. Admittedly, I have a mental illness but Prozac does help me keep things in prospective but I avoid mirrors. You look fantastic!!!
    Check out my body image blog (with the worst photo…)

  8. It’s amazing to hear your story. Just remember everyone has something they wish they could change about themselves, and usually, they’re the only ones who even see it. “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

  9. This hit home for me. First off, let me tell you you’re beautiful,, because you are. Secondly, I know a few people who also suffer from hypothyroidism, and it runs in my family, and I’m sorry to hear you were dealt this hand. Thirdly, I have to say I understand you completely when you say that travel makes you, excuse the expression, no longer give a fuck about what others think. I spent my teen years hiding my body away, not due to weight, but due to hating the hair on my body – being confused with Greek or Southern Italian heritage all the time gets tedious. I don’t think I wore shorts or went to the beach for 9 years for fear of the looks on peoples faces. Travelling changed everything for me! I no longer care, I live at the beach, and if people don’t like it that’s on them. I really applaud you for putting this out there, and the honesty really made my day 🙂 Keep on smiling

    1. Firstly, let me say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Secondly, can I just say that you are fricking awesome! Good on you for not letting what other people think bother you, and even more so for embracing yourself with every little quirk and individuality – you are amazing!

  10. I just adore this post so much because of its honesty. It’s so refreshing to read because it’s so relatable! FYI, you look wonderful!

    I believe there is no greater therapy than travel! I am happy that you’ve found joy and have learned positive life lessons through your travels. There’s no greater feeling than feeling content with yourself. Continue to reinforce those positive thoughts as much as you can. The negative feelings will linger and appear from time to time, but push them as far back as you can manage and do not let them linger for long. Weight is difficult to maintain at an even scale, as we can never be 100% with our appearance, and that’s because we are not 100% perfect. If you do your best day by day to take care of your appearance, that is rewarding enough. We need to stop punishing ourselves with impossible expectations.

    Keep doing your best and don’t ever give up! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Roxi, you are so right. I don’t think the negative thoughts will ever go away completely, but at least they pop up much less often these days. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts <3

  11. Im happy that you managed to get out of your dark hole. I feel like im going through the same thing as well of not really loving what i look like unless i put on a super stylish outfit lol

  12. I think all the pictures of you here, at all weights, are incredibly beautiful. I am so glad that travel helped you regain your body confidence. I feel like my body confidence is at an all time low, and it helps to read things like this. It is always a big battle, when you are battling yourself. Stay strong, wishing you all the best 🙂

  13. Reblogged this on Belle Papillon 24/7 and commented:
    I can totally relate. Except for the part where you think you might need an 8K surgery. Noooo! You look fine. And youth is on your side.
    I just recently went on a 1 month island-hopping trip in the Philippines with my 2 daughters and I was so nervous coz I’m in my 40’s and it’s my first time to wear a 2-piece swimsuit. I just recently lost 40+ lbs and I don’t really work out plus I have stretchmarks and youth is definitely not on my side but hey I say Carpe Diem. I di think about the tummy tuch and booblift but like you I said I’d rather spend it on my trips. Props to you. You go girl!

    Namaste! and more power to you…
    <3 BP

  14. Ellen! Always with your writing and photos I’m struck by how vibrant and confidant you are. Thank you so much for sharing this. You say that when you travel, people see you as “a completely normal and unremarkable human being”. I disagree – you, my dear, are truly remarkable.

  15. I love this post! I have discovered the exact same thing while I’ve been travelling. You soon realise that no one actually cares what you look like and I’d much rather spend my time eating great food and socialising with people than obsessing about my weight and being miserable! Amy

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