How Gaining Weight Abroad Positively Impacted My Idea of Body Image

By Katelyn Moran, GA Writer

It turns out that if you eat family size Milka bars and go out for tapas a few times a week, you might gain a little weight.  I guess the chocolate diet isn’t the best choice for keeping that summer bod ready all year long.

I found out the hard way that my carefree chocolate and candy eating habits were packing on a few (or 20) pounds while I was living abroad.  It’s easy to feel like you’re constantly on vacation and that every meal can be high calorie without a care in the world because “this could be the only chance you have to try this”.  Unfortunately, when you’re traveling long term, eating like every day is vacation is going to have some consequences.

This definitely affected my body image, as I had never gained that kind of weight before, and I was not sure how to handle it.

In America, there is an obsession with health and fitness that doesn’t exist in Europe.  What I learned growing up in America was that I should feel bad about eating “bad” foods and always be working on trying to reach that beach body.  Cellulite is bad, a muffin top is bad, and don’t you even think about wearing a crop top or tight leggings in public unless you’re looking stellar.

While there is a movement to try and break the societal norm for what body types we call beautiful, there is still constant pressure to look good.  Our magazines celebrate and shame celebrities for the body they bring to the beach, as well as how they look in clothes and how they compare to each other.  The fitness industry in the USA is booming because everyone wants to lose weight, find the miracle diet, and the miracle workout to look as hot as magazine cover models do.

So, naturally, gaining weight made me feel ashamed and I wanted to hide myself.  How could I wear a bathing suit, short shorts, or anything form fitting when I wasn’t looking the way I wanted?

Before and towards the end of my travels through Europe. 

Before and towards the end of my travels through Europe. 

Something very interesting I found on my solo trip to Budapest was that I was the only one who wanted to cover up my body.  While visiting Budapest I spent some time at one of the famous thermal bath houses, the Szechenyi Baths.  I went with two wonderful women I met there, Virg from Argentina and Giulia from Italy.  Both were concerned that their bathing suits had TOO MUCH coverage, and I was thinking I should wear a dress over my suit because there wasn’t enough.  Not a single person at the bath house was hiding his or her body nor did anyone seem concerned about anyone else’s.  I realized in that moment that the way I felt about my own body was simply ridiculous and a product of the society I grew up in. 

Szechenyi Bath in Budapest

Szechenyi Bath in Budapest

The people I met abroad celebrated their bodies and felt no shame in showing them. I saw this again and again in Mallorca, then Lisbon, and later in Croatia. It opened my eyes to how differently I too can feel, at any weight.  From that day on, I stopped feeling ashamed of my weight gain and I went to the pool and to the beach as many times as I could until I had to leave for home.


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