How Travel Helped Me Accept My Completely Average Self
This is the first in a string of posts I’ll be writing about how travel has helped me accept certain things about myself and life in general. Okay, okay… I can hear you sighing already. Cliched as it may sound, while travelling I’ve started to deal with certain things better. I suppose it’s part travel, part getting older and part just having too much free time to ponder deep and meaningful (self-involved) things. Today’s subject is body image, of course!
This isn’t going to be an eating disorder confessional or a super positive YOU GO GIRL type motivational read. It’s just going to be a bit of a brain dump I guess. If you’re here hoping for the magical secret to being Completely Confident All The Time™, I don’t have that but I may have the odd useful comment. Stick with me, even though I’ll likely be reiterating what loads of people have already said. BUT it’s my blog dammit, I’ll ramble on if I want to.
Teenage Imogen vs Frijj Milkshakes
My first brush with self-loathing came (not so coincidentally) after I discovered at the age of 16 that no one would stop me if I drank an entire litre of chocolate fudge milkshake for breakfast before school- every single morning. Also, because I was a British teenager, I started drinking alcohol around this time too. The result, if we’re being frank, was me turning into a bit of a chubster. Also, at this point I hadn’t discovered the power of high-waisted jeans. My days and nights were spent fretting over flattering outfits and how many chins I had at certain angles (on a good day, two; on a bad day, four to six.) I wasn’t overweight. I was just unhealthy and didn’t feel great about myself. Nearly a decade later, those hours of worry and self-hatred seem ridiculous. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop caring what other people think about how I look and stop doing stupid ‘diets’ where I’d stop eating completely for two days before caving and buying four litres of chocolate fudge milkshake. Have some fun, teenage Imogen! Just enjoy drinking that cheap cider at the local tyre swing!
I’d be lying if I said all that self-consciousness washed away the moment I hit twenty years of age. While at university, I was left to my own devices food-wise and luckily, the cravings for chocolate fudge milkshake finally became manageable. I was vegan for nearly two years. For the record, if you don’t know me personally, you can safely assume that 99% of the time, while I’m writing a blog post, I’m eating pizza at the same time. So the fact that I was vegan continues to shock me whenever I remember, like I’m having flashbacks from a previous life. I was fortunate to have a family that supported this with little questioning. To be fair, they were probably just relieved that I’d stopped raiding the kitchen for everything chocolate or cheese based whenever I visited. I thought a welcome side effect of the veganism would be weight loss and but then I found out I could eat Skittles…
One day I thought about my reasons for veganism and realised that I didn’t feel like I was achieving anything by doing it. It was difficult, expensive, I didn’t feel healthier and I didn’t feel like it was having any positive impact on the world around me. Bye, Vegan Imogen. I celebrated with a chocolate brownie. Throughout my early twenties, I tried every type of diet going. When I graduated University and started a sedentary call centre job, I was terrified of getting fat. I started cycling, but I also started ‘Intermittent Fasting’ where I’d not eat or drink anything except coffee for 16 hours at a time. I felt rubbish constantly, but because it was a real type of diet that was touted as being perfectly fine and healthy, I assumed I just had no willpower. I lost no weight. I had a recurring dream where the I would find an unlocked vending machine and just go to town on it. To be fair, I still have that dream sometimes…
But What Has Travel Got To Do With Anything?
Let’s skip forward to just before I started travelling. If I can just quickly sum up where I was at this point: I was 24 years old, at an average weight (bit of a muffin top) I hardly ever got my legs out (I shudder to remember the amount of flesh coloured tights I owned) and I was Googling ‘exercises that target armpit fat’ several times a week. I wasn’t obsessed with how I looked but it did take me about two weeks to decide on an outfit for any type of event. At this point, I felt pretty healthy. I was cycling about 100 miles a week and didn’t get out of breath walking up the big hill near my house (as opposed to needing a break halfway up when I first moved there.) I was excited to move to Australia but actually packed more jeans and tights than shorts. I packed ONE bikini even though I was starting my travels in Queensland, right on the Whitsunday Islands. In my mind, I would just wear a t-shirt and shorts on the beach. Seriously.
Well, I don’t know if you’ve moved from dreary England to Queensland before, but the shock to my system made me learn to wear a bikini within about four hours. Humidity and thirty-degree temperatures made me less concerned about what my armpit fat was up to and more concerned about the fact I seemed to be losing eighteen litres of fluid in sweat per hour. Christ, it was warm. I had to get comfortable with how I looked pretty damn quickly.
I found out that no one cared! I realised that back in the UK, people so rarely had a chance to just hang out in swimwear or tiny shorts that there was always an underlying anxiety about it, fuelled by those trashy magazines that collect pictures of celebrities half naked with their saggy bits circled in red. This might just be me, but it feels like in England wearing something revealing is seen as an act of showing off and thus can be criticised in that very British raised-eyebrows-and-tutting kind of way. Here in Australia, revealing clothes are just bloody necessary. No one’s judging you for getting your love handles out because they understand the alternative is to sweat to death.
The Dawning Realisation That Life’s Too Short To Not Wear Shorts
Every time I wore a bikini and no one laughed, it got easier. One day, I didn’t shave my legs before wearing shorts to the shops and felt incredibly self-conscious (“Mate, be honest… is the sun glinting off my leg hair and making it look glittery?”) But no one said anything at all. Suddenly, life got SO MUCH EASIER. Girls, how exhausting is it to care what you look like all the time?! What a waste of a life. Giving fewer fucks about it all is exhilarating. I highly recommend it.
Now, I am still human and I do still have days where I’ll look in the mirror and think ‘ugh, put me in the bin where I belong.’ But those days are rare and usually come after a few days of over the top self-indulgence. I know that soon the food baby will go away and I’ll be my same old average self again. That’s the thing travel has helped me realise: I am completely average and I will likely always be average. I’m super okay with that now.
Time spent travelling around, chilling on countless beaches and hanging out in hostels shows you that everyone looks completely different and who really gives a shit anymore? You don’t even need to travel to realise that- it just worked for me. Whatever you’re doing, be happy and be average. Wear what you love and eat what you want. Take too many photos and get people to take pictures of you in beautiful places. And I don’t mean overly posed, over edited Instagram selfies! Take candid, natural, FUN pictures that you can look back on in years to come and actually relive the moment rather than just remember how many ‘likes’ it got. Embrace the chins. Life’s far too short to do anything else.