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.

maalifushi-como-maldives

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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. You look absolutely great! And this is such a lovely story. Everyone has their ‘something’ that will help them – it’s great that you got the help you needed as well as getting to see the world!! 🙂

  2. I completely understand! It’s taken me almost 40 years to be comfortable in my skin even though people, old and new, have told me how great I look. Thank you for sharing your story. You look rad, by the way! 🙂

  3. I can sympathize with so much of this. I still struggle with my weight and self-esteem, but your candidness and vulnerability in sharing this with the world encourages me. Thank you and God bless!

    1. That makes me so happy to hear Juliana. Just remember, everyone has days where they don’t love the way they look – I think it’s all about learning to be happy in life despite this. Thanks for reading xx

  4. I, too, have hypothyoidism, and I am waaaayyy older than you! I have been treated for this ailment for the last 61 years. Unlike you, I have never been able to lose enough weight to be at a “normal” weight, normal as defined by the BMI chart. I did lose 50 pounds a couple years ago, which I have been able to keep off with food journaling and lots of exercise. It breaks my heart to look at the photo of you in your “undies” and know that you believe you need liposuction and/or a tummy tuck. You are beautiful and perfect just the way you are. As I have aged, I have found that my friends have been ravaged by horrible diseases such as pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease,kidney failure, strokes, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, Crohn’s disease, etc. Now, hypothyroidism and extra pounds don’t seem like that big of a deal. I take heart knowing that you know longer are “despising” your body and you aren’t going to make yourself “miserable” losing more weight. And those “friends” who judged you in the past, they aren’t your friends, but you know that. Don’t give power to anyone who is mean and judgmental. As the poem Desiderata says, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself./ You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; / you have a right to be here.” Keep up the positive attitude and the lessons learned through travel. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. Hypothyroidism solidarity! 🙂 In all seriousness, thank you so much for reading. I may not have this ‘body positivity’ thing completely down pat yet, but I am getting there.

  5. I love this. I had a similar experience, but rather than weight it was with race. Being mixed race in the U.S. always seemed to be such a taboo and I grew up being so ashamed and hated my tan skin and curly hair. Traveling to India, London and eventually living in France taught me that things like tan skin and curly crazy hair are beautiful and I’m so thankful for the lessons and friends I made in those countries.

    Honestly, I think France is the best place in the world to go for self-affirmation, as a woman. I felt like women there are just so valued, and absolutely rock whatever they look like. Maybe it’s just the Parisian attitude, but their self confidence was contagious!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. I totally get the France thing! I got proposed to in Paris (more than once) and I remember feeling seriously beautiful while I was there. I thought it was just because I loved the place so much, but maybe you are right, the Parisian attitude may have played a big part!

      You are beautiful Emilee! And FYI, I would kill for your hair!

  6. I have been following your blog for at least a year or two now and I had never even considered your weight before! I always thought you were so gorgeous– your big eyes, long hair, and clear skin caught my attention. That and I have admired your confidence and bravery for traveling solo all over the world. I wouldn’t have guessed you struggled so much with weight and self-esteem.

    I can relate so much. I too battled with misery from body image issues and had an eating disorder a few years ago that took a long time to resolve. There are days I still struggle mentally. But you’re so right that other people don’t judge us for our weight nearly as much as we judge ourselves (except for some people, who are real assholes). Your story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

    1. This is such a beautiful comment, thank you so much <3

      I honestly believe everyone has days feeling totally crappy about the way they like. I am glad to hear you are recovered from your eating disorder – every day that goes by you just keep getting stronger <3 xx

  7. You are so brave and I really admire you for this post. I too suffer with terrible self esteem associated with my weight, and I don’t think I am quite at the stage where I could post about it or a photo of myself in swimmers! So good on you and I hope your positive state of mind is here to stay!

    1. Believe me, it took me a long time to get to that point – and I still feel incredibly nervous when posting such pics! Each day gets a little easier, I know you will get to that point one day 🙂

  8. Really thoughtful piece of exploring your past, your dreams and hopes.. travel indeed does open your self up to new ways of seeing, including seeing yourself.. may you travel far and wide, and keep growing 🙂

  9. Beautifully expressed! This inspires me to finally write about my own experiences with obesity and weight loss. At 55, I have only just recently put the fear and shame of being a fat child fat enough behind me to think about sharing it publicly!

  10. I love this post and I feel pretty similar about my body.

    “But despite not loving the way I look, now I don’t let the way I feel about my appearance dictate my life. ”

    This.

    I’ve always felt uncomfortable about my size but it’s worsened in the past couple of years when I’ve gained a fair bit of weight, partly due to medication I am now taking. Although I tell myself no one cares or is looking, I still changed in a cubicle at the Blue Lagoon and wore a tankini to cover my belly. (Probably didn’t help that I was there with a size 6 friend but hey..!)

    But that said, a few years ago (when I was actually a size smaller), I would have done all that I could to avoid getting into swimwear at all… Blue Lagoon? Hell, no!

    So I still feel that travel and meeting so many different people from all walks of life has given me more confidence. Like you, I am still not particularly happy in my own skin but I’ve started to care less and less what other people think about it. Because most probably don’t… 🙂

    I’m happy travel has helped you too and although it doesn’t matter what I think, I think you look great and do in fact wish I had your figure! 😉

    1. This comment really made me smile. I am so glad to hear that someone else gets it! Good for you on living your life despite any insecurities, I know firsthand how hard it is, so seriously, you are amazing! <3

  11. Thank you for sharing this! I was bullied badly throughout my teens as well, and I know how hard it is to write about this stuff. I also grew up obsessed with how I looked, and the feeling of never being ‘good’ enough is truly horrendous, especially as a teenager.

    It wasn’t really until my first experience of travel that I was able to let go of that. because as you said in your post, in reality nobody really cares what you look like. It sounds an enormous cliche but we are only ever meant to look like ourselves, and each of us is ‘just right’ exactly the way we are.

    1. It is a horrid feeling 🙁 I know kids don’t get it at the time, but it really can leave lasting damage to ones mental health! I am glad to hear that travel has helped you too, it is certainly a wonderful way to heal and move forward.

  12. Brave, to explain it, we are all complexed somehow!! We all expect to like people!! With time and experience people tend not to worry anymore for this things, it is very important to accept ourselves as we are..

  13. Amazing how the drive to travel has us prioritising our cents on that rather than spending our money on appearances. When people are shocked at me heading off yet again on my next adventure I know it is because I have not had the ipl and injectables and personal trainers that my peers are at my age. I may not look as young and glamorous but the freedom and sense of really living my life I get from travelling beats worrying about my frown line. And anyway, as my friend Kerstin says, we’ll all be compost in the end. 🙂

    1. I love this! I hope I am just like you one day! Don’t get me wrong, if I had unlimited income I am fairly sure I would get a few little nips and tucks, but alas I do not, and travel will always be a higher priority!

  14. I’ve struggled with weight issues most of my life too, so I understand all too well. Congrats on the weight loss, and remember you’re pretty awesome no matter what. AND KEEP TRAVELLING.

  15. Very insightful post Ellen. I see pictures like that last one and think you look amazing! It’s hard to look past that gorgeous smile. Confidence goes along way. I’m no one near up to posting bikini shots online!

    1. Believe me, posting them makes me feel so nervous! I have had such a positive response to this piece, it has been lovely 🙂 Thanks for reading Alanna!

  16. Seriously Ellen, I’ve followed your blog for a while, and seen you post up various bikini pictures, and you look lovely, and NEVER once have I thought about your weight upon seeing them. Not only do you look great, but you’re clearly very successful in real life, and I only hope you can realise this. You are not alone in hating how you look, or what you were born with, but that’s what we’ve got and we just have to come to terms with it and make the best of it.

    Wishing you all the best,

    Steven

    1. This is such a lovely comment Steven. Thank you so much, it is so nice to get such a positive response on this piece. It was a hard one to write (and putting up photos of myself pre weightloss was downright scary) but I am really glad I did. As always, thanks for reading 🙂

  17. I think you look Great!!!! I agree. Dont ever let anyone dictate how u should feel about urself 🙂 embrace the variations of how human beings looks like… 🙂 ur blog is really enjoyable to read 🙂 always lookingforward to new posts from u. Hugs!

  18. this is both inspirational and heartbreaking at the same time – As an older person who too has struggled with personal appearance I have so thoroughly enjoyed seeing your gorgeous beautiful happy fast in your posts as you set yourself free along the journey of life ! I have only ever seen a simply beautiful, incredibly intelligent human being in you Miss Ellen – here’s to more happy adventurous times ahead, my little forensic Scientist ! xxxx

  19. I’m glad that you have found confidence from travel. Like so many of us. I acknowledge the courage that it takes to share such a personal journey. I know that how we view our self is very personal. From the other side of my lap top, you look really fantastic, and beautiful, and you’re very talented indeed! 🙂

  20. Great read and I can definitely relate! Travel has also helped me get over most of my body issues. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one out there. 🙂 Love the blog by the way!

  21. Such a great read! Thank you for sharing your story and yet another benefit of travelling 🙂 There’s something so cool about being in a place where no one knows you and being able to introduce yourself however you want.

  22. I saw your post on GLT!

    I honestly don’t think I could love this post more, and I think I’m going to print out to keep. You are beautiful inside and out. I’m still struggling with my body. I even rescheduled a trip because I didn’t feel thin enough to be on a beach (crazy, I know). I totally connected with this. THank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing your experience.

    Alaina | http://www.pumpsandpineapples.com

    1. Wow, thank you so much, I am so glad that this is resonating with people! As for the cancelling a trip, I totally understand you! I didn’t want to go to SE Asia with my friends as a teenager because I was too self conscious, so I totally understand. I hope you get to go on that beach trip one day (and love every second of it!)

  23. I am sure this took tremendous courage for you to write about your past. In truth as I have browsed and read your stories, I was thinking that you were quite attractive, OK a hottie. I love that this format allows us to open ourselves to others and share our deepest feelings. Thanks for your story.

  24. A great post. I really think you should a write book. The way you write as well as what you write is incredibly relatable and interesting. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration.

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