Hi guys! I’m back from my adventure in China this week! There’s no style this weekend for that exact reason – I wasn’t up for shooting the day after I landed, sadly! However, one thing that was clear from feedback on one of my Instagram posts, is that you’d like to hear my experiences with travelling to Asia. So today, we’re talking about plus size travel!
First things first; FAT is not a bad word.
Throughout this post I’ll use the word ‘fat’. I wanted to make sure you all know that I do not find the word to be derogatory. I am fat, my body is fat, and it’s okay. I’m sorry if it makes you personally uncomfortable, but I do believe that using the word is very important. I will not call others fat for this fact, but in relation to myself I’ll happily use the word fat.
I’d also like to mention that I’m not well-travelled in Asia. I’ve literally been to Shanghai in China and Tokyo in Japan. Rural areas in both these countries will be very different from the cities, but hopefully this will help someone else in their plus size travels!
Flying ends up being the most nerve-wracking part of travelling for a lot of people. For plus size people there’s plenty of horror stories around of other making fun of them, plane staff being rude and the dreaded tiny-seat issue.
One of the most important things for plus women especially to gain in life is their self confidence, and a sense of humour. You need to be able to fight for your right to exist, but also be able to laugh at yourself when things get a bit stressful.
My biggest tip is to get an aisle seat if you’re larger. Most airlines will allow you to request these seats when you check in. Some cheaper ones you may have to pay. But it makes the difference, I promise you. Not having to awkwardly climb in and out of the middle or window seat really reduces embarrassment and self consciousness. And having spent a 12 hour flight smushed in between two arseholes who made a fuss about being sat next to a fat woman whilst your hips are squished from all angles – you’ll take anything you can.
The Dreaded Seatbelt Extender
Over the years I’ve been travelling for work, I’ve been terrified of being “too fat” for the standard seatbelts. This trip, after a bit of weight gain, I realised I was too big for the seatbelt finally. And you know what? It’s not terrifying at all. In fact, it was so much more comfortable to not squish myself into that restricting belt in order to feel like I wasn’t “too fat”. What a bullshit thought to have, really.
I’m happy to say that requesting a seatbelt extender wasn’t an issue at all. Both Air France and China Eastern dealt with the request with grace and kindness. There was no laughing, no looks exchanged between the crew and no fuss at all. And I realised I’d been missing out all these years — with an extender I could turn in my seat and still be fastened in. Safety first, comfort second, of course, but on a long flight that comfort makes all the difference. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Public transport in both Shanghai and Tokyo is similar to most cities, just SO much busier. Half the time you don’t have to worry about the width of seats. Because you’re never going to sit on them, haha! In the last week in Shanghai, I used the metro roughly eight times. I never sat down.
Of course, if you’re disabled in any way your treatment might be different, but for the most part the metro systems are a free-for-all and you just need to push in and push off. Don’t worry about politeness in these places, please and sorry don’t exist on the metros. If you’re wondering, though, there’s no armrests on the metro in either Shanghai or Tokyo, so there’s no need to worry about fitting.
Buses are rarely used in either of these cities by foreigners, because the metros are easy to use and super quick. And cheap, too. Most journeys are between 50p and £3.
It’s also worth noting that both cities’ will have full English on their metros.
Walking in the Cities
Here’s something no one tells you; THERE ARE SO MANY FUCKING STAIRS IN TOKYO. Shanghai has a lot less, but the walks between metro lines can be long and tiring in both cities. I actively avoid stairs if possible, being a fat smoker — it saves me the embarrassment of being out of breath in public. But sometimes it’s impossible to do that. This is where your sense of humour comes in, if you can have a giggle about it, you won’t get so embarrassed. Don’t count on lifts and escalators in Tokyo, but there’s many more in Shanghai.
Tokyo, however, is densely populated. There’s a lot of people getting around a very small area at all times. You may need to walk sideways in shops. My favourite store, Don Quixote, have the tiniest aisles I’ve ever seen, and both my arse and my stomach drag things off displays as I navigate the shelves. That’s quite amusing for the most part! But can easily get on your nerves. Sometimes when I get frustrated by this, I’ll pay and leave for a bit before returning to finish my shopping.
The Infamous Chinese Honesty
So since I just got back from China, I think it’s worth mentioning here that the Chinese are incredibly blunt in the way they speak. They want to call you fat, they’ll call you fat. They want to ask how much you weigh, they’ll ask. The first time I stayed on the outskirts of Shanghai, my Chinese-speaking boss was bombarded with questions about what I eat, how much I weigh, what my size is — and also what bra size I wear. Remember that sense of humour? If you don’t laugh, you cry.
Not that these people really mean harm by it. In this particular incident, it was honest curiosity. A lot of these people had never seen a white person, let alone a fat white woman that is as pale as I am. With curly red hair and a crazy dress, too. In my recent trip, at the trade show I was asked in English by a Chinese guy if my stomach was real. I’m asked a lot if my hair is real, too, but that’s a comment I get even in London.
These could just be odd experiences I alone have gotten, you might not experience them yourselves. But the Chinese are known to be an honest bunch, so don’t be too disheartened.
Dressing Unconventionally and Dealing With Photos
I don’t dress any differently in Asia. Often, I’m actually more dressed up as I’m there for work, so I’m an extension of my brand, Vendula London. For the most part, the reaction to the way I dress is with a lot of fascination. I spend a lot of my time in China taking photos with people, honestly. The first time it really went to my head, this recent time it got on my nerves and caused me a lot of anxiety.
Here’s some photo-taking experiences from China;
In Disneyland if I stood still for a second, I’d get end up posing for photos with people’s kids.
At the trade shows I go to, for hours I’m staring into camera phones and trying to not notice how much my jaw hurts from smiling.
A woman once physically pulled me up by the shoulders whilst I was taking a photo of Paige at the Pearl Tower. Just to take a photo with me.
I was bothered whilst in multiple business conversations by people wanting to take photos. Whilst talking to a potential client, a girl got angry that I’d said no because I was busy. Luckily the potential client found it amusing, because I was livid.
When trying to network at the recent trade show I was physically pushed onto a stage whilst people queued up to take photos with me.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s times I love this attention! It feels great that people love the way I look as much as I do. I wouldn’t dress this way if I wasn’t comfortable doing so, would I? But it gets tiring quickly when you’re trying to do something important.
Tokyo isn’t quite the same — the Japanese are much more reserved, and don’t often ask for photos. When they do, it’s always incredibly polite and mostly always when they’re also dressed up, like the photo above. I find that there’s so many of them that they don’t care! I love that the most.
… And Dealing With Laughter
This one isn’t so easy to deal with. And mostly, I don’t notice. In fact, I’ve never noticed anyone in Tokyo laughing at me! I know in London I’ll experience it, though, so I’m sure it does happen.
Sadly in my recent trip to Shanghai I dealt with a lot of laughter. In a shop I went to, the whole staff burst into hysterical laughter when I walked in. Sanitary workers on the metro laughed and took photos. Maybe I was more receptive to it this trip, since I spent a lot of time on my own. This is where the self confidence comes in, although it will test that more than it’s been tested in a long time. My honest suggestion is to make use of noise cancelling headphones and plug the fuck out of the world. Also get to some wifi stat so you can cry on FaceTime to someone at home who will make you feel better.
So. Is It Worth It?
Absolutely. As I mentioned, I’ve only experienced two cities in two countries. I’ve had good experiences and bad experiences. Would I relive them to travel again? Without a doubt, yes.
I will say, this is probably not the same experience that everyone will have. Some might get some stares, some might be ignored completely. But your size should never ever stop you from living your best life. Let alone allowing your size to dictate where you will or will not travel to.