Big Girl Abroad

Thailand has been amazing so far- waking up at the sun peeking through the curtains, breakfast of fresh papaya and mango pancakes, walking the streets and buying intricate handcrafts for all my friends. I have had some incredible experiences in just the four short days I have been here.
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There is one thing, though, that I hate about Thailand. The Thai bluntness- or the freedom to comment about any aspect of a person’s appearance. We hadn’t been in Bangkok for five hours before a man asked when I’d have the baby. I told him “I’m not pregnant, just fat.” He laughed heartily and changed the subject. I was wearing a billowy dress, so I shook it off, embarrassed, thinking my flowy maxi dress was maybe not a good choice. Several hours later, we were browsing the night market and I asked if a pair of sandals came in my size. The vendor looked me up and down and said, “No, you too big…big all over.” To prove his point he held his hands out wide, emphasizing the expanse of my hips.

Tears stung at my eyes but again, I brushed it off, listened to sweet words of encouragement from my husband, and tried to forget. It’s no surprise to me that I am a big girl. I see myself every day, along with the XXL tags that line my clothes. There is not an hour that goes by in my life that I don’t think about my weight. You know this as you read about my life all the time- I am fat. It’s no surprise. What’s a surprise is that in Thai culture, your appearance is fair game- something to laugh at.

Today we took an elephant riding expedition. I was already nervous about this excursion, not knowing if my weight would be an issue. Our excitement mounted as we chugged along a dusty path in an ox cart towards the platform where our elephant waited.

As we climbed atop the Howdah, a wooden seat on the elephant’s back, the driver turned around and said “Ohhhhh my Buddha, very big body!!! Oooof!” My self esteem shattered once again but I swallowed back the knot in my throat and tried to enjoy the majestic mountains and the unreal scenery around us. I mean, c’mon- I was riding an elephant!image

Eventually, our elephant lumbered into a river, and the elephant mahout (driver) on the elephant behind us took his hook and started to poke at my back. He was laughing as he poked at me, and said “Big!” I said, trying to just go along with it to get it over with, “Yes, big like elephant.” His reply was “Elephant not big, you big!”

I sat there in shock, completely taken out of my comfort zone. As I sat there I became furious, and humiliated. I may be obese, I may be big, but I am not an animal. I am a person and I do not deserve to be prodded at with a hook for the sake of a cheap laugh.

We got off the elephants and I tried to keep choking back my tears. As we stood in line for our lunch buffet (guess what? I wasn’t hungry), the great dam I had been holding back broke through, and my eyes unleashed like the river we had just been riding. I went off to the bathroom, where I sat in a smelly, dark stall with no toilet paper, sniffling, wishing for my hotel room, my bed, my mom, my cat. These things are comfortable with my fat. They know it, they understand it.

It’s like I said. I can’t deny the things they’re saying. When you’re fat, you can’t hide. Your flaw is exposed and you can’t tuck it away out of sight. All I wanted to do was run away and be alone, perhaps hug the giant sweet creature I had just ridden, tell him that unlike him, revered for his size, I am ridiculed.

Sadly, my day at the elephant camp was ruined afterwards, and even as we floated down a serene river on a rickety bamboo raft, I was hoping for it to end so I wouldn’t the subject of any more jokes. I tensed every time our guide laughed in Thai, wondering if they were making fun of the Ouan (fat) girl on their raft.

I am trying everything I can do to not let these remarks ruin my vacation, but it’s really hard to just let it go when it’s so blatantly rubbed in my face. I knew I had to write this because writing is always my therapy- my safe place.

So I ask you, dear readers, how do I avoid letting this cultural quirk ruin my vacation? At this point I want to hide in my hotel room, away from the observant eyes of the tiny Thai people. In the back of my mind, where the hurt lurks but hasn’t yet burned in, I know that I should just say “Fuck em!” I’m on vacation in Thailand and I love my life. I have not and will not let my weight stand in the way, nor repeated tactless comments. So I guess I just answered my own question. But ouch- whoever said words could never hurt you must never have been fat.image

Edit: it’s been a couple days now since this happened, and the very best thing for me was going to Patong beach in Phuket. Bodies of all sizes were livin’ it up- including women much larger than me in bikinis. It made me realize at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what three people think of me- because my weight is just what’s on the outside. The things that define ME cannot be measured by physical standards :) Happy New Year!!!

Sent from my iPhone ;)


13 thoughts on “Big Girl Abroad

  1. THANK YOU! For sharing this and being so courageous!! As you know I had a similar experience in Vietnam :( they are just a really tiny culture! Sadly I am half Vietnamese but I definitely take after my Swedish Norwegian roots. I was going to tell you that Pucket was much more diverse I even saw fat Thai people which was awesome hahha :) can’t wait to hear more of your adventure!! The photos are wonderful!!

  2. Please do not let these insensitive baboons ruin your trip …… some people are just plain ignorant …… live it up , eat , drink , enjoy everything the culture has to offer , for if you do not you will beat yourself up when you get home ….. It is difficult to put your emotions away when someone is so blatantly rude ….but know you are you and you more than deserve this holiday , and its not about size or what you weigh..that does not define you …… just wanted to let you know that …… Have fun

  3. I have tears in my eyes as I type this because I can only imagine what they’d have said to me, a girl who has at least 50-75 pounds on you. It is simply disgusting that they said those things to you. You are a beautiful, happy person and for them to comment like that is just awful. Cultural differences are one thing, but that’s just plain rude. And stupid, if you ask me, since you’re very unlikely to recommend their businesses to others after they treated you that way.

    I am SO glad you had a good time in Phuket and ended the trip on a high note.

  4. I got steamed up reading this.. but I have to remember something that was told me many years ago when I was waiting tables and would have a group of …. jerks(this is a family show Ill keep it clean ;) ) You have to deal with them once, they have to deal with themselves everyday. People that grasp at straws and can only come up with lame insults about someones physical appearance are weak minded, they cant think of anything intelligent to say. Recently I got in a car accident and some hood ladies kept saying I looked like a man, all I could do was laugh. I said RuPaul is BEAUTIFUL and rich, so if I look like a tranny Ill take it! It was just so pathetic that it was all they had. sigh.
    Advice for your current situation, fake it til you make it baby! When they say youre big, tell them with the biggest smile youre big and beautiful. Because you are. Confidence is a big deterrent for more of the same, if you dont show they that they hurt you they usually give up. Enjoy your dresses and your food and hopefully enjoy the rest of your vacation.

  5. Mean people SUCK!!!! Just look into your husband’s eyes to see how incredibly beautiful you are!! Enjoy your trip :)

  6. OMFG. Unfortunately the world has not learned much etiquette over the years. I am sorry you had the experience – it is never fun to be the butt of jokes – no matter if they are on your appearance, intellect or work habits.
    If it is still a problem it is not a bad thing to look them straight in the face and not laugh. Yes, you may be in their culture where looks is something that can be easily ridiculed, but you are also giving them YOUR money and you can take it elsewhere. Make them feel just as uncomfortable as they are making you. Just because you are “fat” doesn’t mean it is okay for anyone to put you on display. It is one thing if you start the joke, but if they just comment on it because it is normal to them then perhaps they should learn that being in tourism means catering to people of all shapes, sizes and languages.

    … I will fly to Thailand tomorrow to kick some arse if you need me too : o)

  7. I love you sooo much!!!!! I cried while reading this because ANYONE who hurts my friends deserves a very cruel kind of personal hell. You’re amazing. And I’m sending you a hug the kind of which you’ve never felt. LOVE YOU!!!

  8. I have to say – this seems to be a cultural thing, in Asian cultures. My first marriage was to a man that was Korean (mom) and German (dad). His mom was something else when it came to honesty…she just really didn’t understand “offensive.” She saw it, she said it, she wondered what your problem was when you got upset. I was told that “Americans are so hairy – YOU are so hairy!” with a look of disgust on her face. I have very light blonde hair on my arms…you can barely see it. Compared to HER, though…I was hairy. And she had to point it out. She’d say, “you have acne!” dirty skin, eat avocado.” Well, no….I didn’t have dirty skin, I had a family history of cystic acne, but thanks.

    She did this to her own daughter, who was the only one of the three kids (the other two being boys) to be tall/larger than a typical Korean. She constantly told her she was fat, told other people she was fat, talked about how big her clothes were to anyone that would listen and say things like, “Stephanie, she’ll never be married, so big!” I’m not saying all Korean’s are mean, so I hope this is taken as that by anyone reading it – but after speaking to several Asian friends (some being Korean, some not) it does seem to be the cultural norm to point out things like this. I hate that it happened to you, but take it with a grain of salt, if you can.

    Once I started to say things back to her, like “Your tattooed on eyebrows have faded…you have grey eyebrows!” or “Those pants make your butt look lumpy,” she’d just cackle and move on – she did not get offended. I don’t know if any of that helps…just know, you weren’t being targeted by bullies. It doesn’t make their behavior OKAY by any means, but hopefully you’ll see this in time to dish out some of what you’ve been given. ;) Love you!!!!!!

  9. I gotta say you have a great group of readers. You guys are awesome, thanks for supporting my daughter!
    It sounds like they have no filter. I’m sure all of us have thought negative things about people whether they are old, heavy, skinny or whatever. We probably never say it out loud though.
    Still, they were assholes and I’m glad you were able to enjoy most of the trip. You better not have tipped them!

  10. The way other cultures operate “normally” astound me. I’m sure people would say the same thing about the way we do things here in the US, but the fact that that’s just totally ok to make comments about someone’s appearance is NORMAL there is just bonkers to me! If anything, you can consider this a world cultures lesson, I suppose. A step outside of the USA comfort zone! I wonder what it would be like to GROW UP in that culture!?

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  13. I read this with Casey while we were in the car the night after the color run. To me it is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read of yours. It was so honest and raw. It made me furious and broke my heart all at the same time, but most of all, if felt real because I’ve experienced the same kind of thing so many times. Unfortunately, you don’t have to go across the world to experience this kind of insensitivity. We have our own home-grown version here, and it pops up when you least expect it. I don’t know why people think it’s okay to make any kind of comment about anybody’s physique. All you can do is grow stronger from the inside out, knowing that nobody can truly define you but yourself.

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