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.
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.
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.
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.