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Plus Size Travel through a Health at Every Size (HAES) Lens

Although I’ve been plus size since I was a kid, I didn’t learn about HAES until I was in graduate school to become a therapist. Learning about HAE (and with it body neutrality and eventually body acceptance) transformed my relationship with my body. Over time, this experience completely transformed how I travel and see myself in the world as a plus size traveler. Today I wanted to take a few moments to introduce my crew of plus-size-traveler-followers to HAES principles and how a HAES perspective can enhance a travel experience.

Plus size hiker

What is HAES?

HAES stands for health at every size. Health at every size is an interdisciplinary movement of healthcare providers, researchers, mental health providers, dietitians, and coaches/physical therapists/personal trainers (and more) who are rejecting the oversimplistic fat = unhealthy narrative that many professionals cling to despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Health at every size providers affirm that weight is just one part of a massive number of factors that shape health. In line with countless emerging research studies, Health at Every Size affirms that it’s our genetics and or ZIP Code- far more than our body size- that predicts how much health we enjoy throughout our lifespan. (If you haven’t already heard the phrase social determinants of health, read up via the CDC’s website.)

Evidence is clear that people in larger bodies experience more stigma, delayed care, and less compassionate care from healthcare providers (source)- making it no surprise, then, that large people often avoid care and experience poorer health outcomes. Health at every size providers seek to interrupt this trajectory by committing to provide equitable, compassionate, and de-stigmatizing care for people of all body sizes.

What is HAES Travel?

Just like mainstream HAES supports the idea that all bodies deserve equal access to care and resources, Heath at Every Size-grounded travel supports travelers in large bodies in advocating for equal access to travel and to diverse travel experiences.

Many travelers in larger bodies feel limited by opportunities to travel. They may be concerned about fitting in seats in airplanes or finding accommodating seating in hotels or restaurants as they travel. Many larger-bodied people who could benefit from the personal development gained through travel are denied these opportunities because of a very real and legitimate fear that the world beyond known and familiar spaces can’t accommodate them.

Viewing travel through the lens of HAES can help us as travelers advocate for what we need (like asking a hotel in advance about seating available for larger bodies) and helping other large body travelers to grow the confidence to travel. Plus size travelers can support one another by posting our travel photos freely, blogging about our travels, joining an online travel group for plus-size travelers, or just posting reviews online of travel destinations, restaurants, and attractions that are particularly accommodating for larger bodies.

Why we need more Travelers who Identify as Plus Size, Fat, and Larger Bodied

Representation really does matter. Realizing how much it meant to me to begin seeing people of size represented in media and even store mannequins helped me understand why it’s so important to represent all kinds of bodies- including those of different races, genders, and abilities – in the spaces each of us are an individual charged with curating.

When I look at the travel influencer and travel blog realm, it’s hard to find voices and see perspectives beyond those represented by straight-sized bodies. Plus size travelers have the power to change that.

NOTE on my usage of the word fat. Like many marginalized groups, some people of size, including myself, choose to identify with the word fat as a neutral descriptor. Although the word fat has been assigned a moral value, “fat” simply describes a body type. Work to use this word with dignity and respect helps to bring dignity and respect to bodies that have been denied these basic rights.

When it comes to travel, I didn’t realize how much the presence of other large travelers empowered me until I visited Patagonia. There, as I walked the lakefront of Lago Argentina, climbed the towering stairs at Perito Moreno glacier, and took a tour deep into the heart of Torres del Paine, I noticed that in the entire month I spent in Patagonia, I saw just 2 other fat travelers (themselves traveling together, and I envied their safety in numbers).

After so long without seeing another body like my own, I found myself longing to approach them, to connect with them, to talk about the unique experience of traveling a body like ours and I felt the tension of knowing that that would probably not be welcome, that connecting on the basis of fatness in a world that often asked fat people to deny the fact that they are fat in order to fit in could be taken as offensive.

It was then that I realized that fat travelers need not just representation but community. Join me in building the foundations of a community of HAES travelers by joining my mailing list below.

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