The idea of a “normal,” “ideal,” or “healthy” body size is culturally defined and changes from place to place and over time. In some places, fatness is associated with wealth, strength, and good health. In others, thinness is the ideal. These ideals can also be differentiated by gender, race, and socioeconomic status, and can be guided by pressures from local and global fashion and diet industries. 

You might also find that the appropriateness of talking about body size changes. In some countries, people are much more open to commenting on weight, or the subject may be completely taboo. 

In addition to navigating the conversation around body size and shape and reflecting on how you may be perceived in your host community, it is also important to consider the available accommodations for larger bodies. In many places, default seating (in a classroom, on a plane, etc.) can be uncomfortably small for some people.

In a world where thin privilege often prevails, fat travelers can face added challenges. Tapping into the self-knowledge and self-advocacy that you already possess about what is important for you to stay safe and healthy is therefore just as important abroad as it is at home. 

Things to Consider Before Going Abroad

  • What does my host society consider a “healthy” or “beautiful” body shape?
  • Will I be expected to conform to this standard of health and/or beauty, either by my host community or myself?
  • What do I need to do to manage my comfort on an international flight?
  • What are my airline’s policies about reserving multiple seats or bringing a seat belt extender? Will I be reimbursed for a second seat if I need it? Will the airline provide a seat belt extender for me?
  • What will be my primary mode of transportation from day to day? Might I experience fatphobia in potentially cramped spaces such as a bus or metro, and are there alternatives available?
  • What is happening at my host university in terms of accessibility in the classroom? Will there be suitable seating available to me?
  • Who will I reach out to if I need support in my living space or classroom?

Things to Consider While Abroad

  • What are the terms and definitions used in my host country to talk about body size?
  • What does my host society consider a “normal” body shape?
  • What is the perception of people who exist outside of the “normal” body shape?
  • What conversations are happening around body inclusivity in my host country? 
  • What kinds of communities or support networks exist?
  • How might I want to get involved in these conversations or movements while abroad?

Highlighted Resources

  • University of Michigan’s pre-departure presentation which “uses a fat-positive approach to discuss travel preparations an daily realities of life abroad for plus-size students…”: “Fat Bodies Go Abroad.”
  • The article “Superfat Flyers: Hello from the Other Side (of the Airport” published by Alison Z. on the blog “The Fat Lip,” provides helpful, detailed advice for every stage of the travel experience.
  • The Blog Portly Passengers features a number of helpful travel tips including advice for preparing for long flights, a list of the best seat belt extenders, and reviews of different airlines’ policies.
  • Chubby Diaries is “an online community for plus size travelers” started by blogger Jeff Jenkins.

Additional Resources

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