Growing up plus-size, I felt like I had a lot to prove.
I didn't let my body stop me from experiencing life, but I put pressure on it to defy people's expectations. I had to work out longer than my sisters, run faster than the other kids in school, wear all of the crop tops, and challenge all of the stereotypes. It was never-ending, and even today (although I've relaxed a bit), I still push myself to go outside my comfort zone.
But I never thought a fun BFF trip would be one of my greatest challenges ever.
Recently, my best friend invited me to travel through Europe with her. I didn't think twice before I said yes. We bought our tickets and ran to the airport.
We planned out all the places we wanted to visit and the foods we had to try, but I didn't know I had to plan for "flying while fat."
Here are four things I wish I'd known then.
1.) Don't be ashamed by the space you take up. ASK FOR A SEAT BELT EXTENDER!
Previously, on shorter flights, I never asked for an extender and flew unbuckled. This is, of course, very unsafe. I should never have allowed myself to be without a proper seat belt.
We traveled between a few countries during this trip and I asked for an extender on every flight. Each time, the flight attendant brought me an extender in a very discrete way.
Flight attendants are trained to make your commute pleasurable. Fortunately, airlines have seat belts that are long enough for us. Shout out to Brussels Airlines.
(P.S. If you want to avoid requesting an extender, you can buy your own on Amazon.)
2.) Don't be embarrassed by the things you can't do.
A year ago, I had an accident and broke my ankle. I wasn't able to walk for four months. I went from feeling like I could keep up with anyone to being left in the dust.
My BFF and I spent hours walking and running around Europe, and there were moments when I needed a break. My pride wouldn't let me complain so I walked through the pain and suffered the consequences later. After seeing my ankle swell up, I knew I had to take it easier on myself. My friend was more than helpful and understood.
I realized that I shouldn't be embarrassed about the things that my body can't do. Instead, I focused on all the wonderful things it allows me to experience.
3.) People will stare and that's OK.
Before learning to appreciate my body, I would find any possible way to be invisible in plain sight. I wore oversize clothes, sat in the back of the class, and tried to be quiet. As I grew to love myself, I cared less about what others thought about me and I became comfortable as the center of attention — I even enjoyed it.
I had planned so many cute outfits to shoot while I was in Europe, but I felt too self-conscious to actually wear them. From the moment I landed, I noticed people staring at me and taking pictures. I had become used to the idea of people looking, but being in a different country and having people blatantly stare at me made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
Then I realized that no matter where I was, people were going to stare. I wore the damn outfits and I took the damn photos.
4) Don't underestimate your physical endurance.
I consider myself pretty adventurous, especially during vacation. While visiting Rome, I really wanted to see the city on a moped. But I was scared that I wouldn't fit comfortably on the moped with a driver. My friends and I decided to download Scooterino, an app that allows you to ride a moped from one destination to another. I gave it a try and to my surprise, there was more than enough space for me to ride the moped with a driver. It was one of my favorite moments in Rome.