Body Image, Travel & The Travelgram

I’ve struggled with my body image (and subsequently my self-esteem) for as long as I can remember. If it’s not been my body type, it’s been my weight or my height that I’ve methodically picked at like an open scab. It was particularly bad during early adolescence, when of course, the primary objective was to fit in – I always stood out – and not just figuratively too, I was as some might have described as “lanky” (although the camera doesn’t always capture my scale, I’m 5ft10 ½). After those generally awkward teenage years, I assumed that all my negative self-directed feelings would just magically evaporate into thin air, and that the worst was behind me (because adulthood is an absolute breeze, right?). Oh boy, was I wrong. As an adult, my size has fluctuated more times than I can count and I’ve probably tried every diet that you can think of, in order to change one part of my body or another.

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“I reduced my body to aesthetics…”

With this context in mind, I’ll let you guys in on a little secret: in 2016, when I first conceptualized ‘The Black Girl and Her Backpack’, I was incredibly hesitant to execute. In fact, I recall giving myself multiple excuses as to why I shouldn’t start it at all. I eventually launched in January 2017, but a major reason for my hesitation was that I was convinced there was no space for me or my visual content, especially on the Travelgram. After all, none of the popular female travel bloggers looked like me.

I certainly couldn’t be categorized with the slim and petite Caucasian travel bloggers, who were going viral with pictures of them whimsically leading someone by the hand into a wanderlust paradise. In juxtaposition, I didn’t (and still do not) qualify as an “Insta baddie” whose popularised and widely praised figure can be snapped in a bikini against any tropical backdrop and shut. IG. down!!! Needless to say, I heavily associated having a thriving Instagram account with having a socially-desirable body shape or size.

As a result, the idea of putting myself out there, sharing my travel pictures and making my body subject to the opinion of thousands of Instagramers (slightly hyperbolic as my reach isn’t that large yet – but we move) and the wider internet, made me (and sometimes still does) very anxious. This is ironic because when I’m abroad (taking those same very travel pictures) I typically feel less self-consciousness. 95% of the time, travelling makes me feel more confident and free. Perhaps because being in another country reminds me of just how small a part I play in this comparatively huge world; it helps me redirect my focus away from myself and onto the exciting adventure that I’m on. I find it incredibly refreshing to not feel subject to the rigid standards of beauty that I feel somewhat paralyzed by and meticulously scrutinized against, back home. That being said, the subsequent 5% is not exempt from alternative body politics.

For example, my body has been sexualised whilst in a bathing suit at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest, I felt considerably larger than young Spanish women, whilst I was living in Seville and whenever I’m in Lagos, I’m always conscious of not being curvaceous ‘enough’. A girl just cannot win!

Why? Because body ideals are usually contingent on the cultural and societal norms of a country or geographical region; therefore, they’re subject to change depending on where in the world you are. Essentially, you can’t ‘win’ by the standards of other people, because the game is rigged and the playing field isn’t equal. I, for one, can confirm that it’s extremely exhausting to chase the concept of ‘the perfect body’ – especially when the goal post is always moving. 

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally come to the hard realisation that: self-consciousness has no expiration date, so if you don’t like the taste of it, you’ve got to actively toss it in the bin. Trust me, I know that it’s far from easy. It’s a psychological war with your own mind every single day. Because that’s how regularly you need to be reminded that you are enough just the way you are. Enough to travel, take pictures, share them confidently and ultimately thrive (regardless of how saturated the space appears).

Don’t take just take my word for it, here’s what some other incredible female travel bloggers have to say on the matter:

Becoming Montana

“Travelling has given me the body confidence I didn’t know I needed. From bikinis to parkas, when I’m abroad I now focus on enjoying the experience, the anxiety about my love-handles, stretch-marks, thick thighs and everything else doesn’t matter. I focus on the making the most of the moment, and that moment will take me as I am!

On my first trip abroad, I wouldn’t take off my mid-thigh shorts and baggy t-shirt, now I’m wearing thong bikinis. What’s helped me has been seeing people like me living and enjoying themselves. I used to be worried about people staring and talking, but majority of the time no one cares as long as I’m confident and happy.

The travelgram has helped because I’ve seen all shapes and sizes looking amazing and exploring. When I get inspired by someone’s page I’m not focused on their body, I want to know where they went, their experience and how I can go too.  

A tip for anyone who is struggling with body image is to moisturize and get dressed in front of a mirror and compliment a body part that you like. Then put on THAT song (mine is ‘Fancy’ by Drake) and strut. Whenever you don’t feel confident take yourself back to how you felt in that moment.”

Instagram: @BecomingMontana

Road2Cultredom

“Generally, travelling has made me like my body more, particularly when my skin is glowing and my legs are feeling stronger from my extensive walking and dancing!  I’ve always been slim which is great but I do feel self-conscious about my lack of feminine curves.  I’ve met and seen many women (and men) of all shapes and sizes that are out there giving their version of a beach body and this positive energy is infectious. But the majority of places I’ve visited on my travels, the curvy “real woman” body rules and I’m reminded of these insecurities. Plus the travelgram (read “Instagram models”) further reinforce this.

However, I’m glad that the traditional image of a traveller – a European looking, skinny female – is slowly being replaced by other body types and more diverse looking travellers. I’ve been blogging for a year and half and have seen the improvement in this time but we still have a long way to go.

My advice to anyone struggling with their body image is to really work on focusing on your strengths, as feeling confident will always make you look better and bring in more likes (both online and offline!)”

www.roadtoculturedom.com

Instagram & Twitter: @road2culturedom

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“I notice everything I do not have and decide it is beautiful”

Jenna’s World View

“When it comes to body image and travelling, I feel like people need to not worry about representation and represent for themselves. We all come in different shapes, skin tones and sizes, so it would be impossible to represent everyone. I don’t have a flat stomach, my hips are big like a surfboard and my breasts are far from perky.

I am so far away from the perfect beach body, but do I care? The answer is no, because I believe in making space for myself everywhere I go. Gone are the days when I would go to a beach and be sucking in my stomach. Best believe you will now catch me with my podgy belly doing the absolute most. I did not always have this approach and attitude towards my body image but my thing is if there is no room, then we owe it to ourselves to make space.”

https://jennasworldview.com/

Instagram & Twitter: @jennasworldview

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“Why are you so unkind to me…”

Efia Talks Life

“I think when you learn that from country to country there are so many different ideals of beauty it forces you to look inward and think about what beauty and an ‘attractive’ body image truly means to you. Since I left home in 2016 my body shape and confidence has changed drastically for the better, but that’s a lot to do with my mental state being better too. I have unfollowed people in the past that made me feel ‘less than’, but you have to remember than Instagram isn’t a person it’s a robot. So if the content you’re seeing makes you feel uneasy support creators who spark joy and excitement, or if you can’t find that create some of your own!

There needs to be more representation of different shapes and sizes on the travelgram. Especially as a black woman, you see similar images of slim Caucasian females, it can often feel like you’re shut out of the space. That’s what makes me even more determined to succeed.

I think this might go against what a lot of people would say, but my advice to anyone who is struggling with their body image, would be to do something about it. I don’t just mean if you’re unhappy with your weight to gain or drop a few pounds but ask yourself “why is this triggering a negative reaction?” Really delve to the root of the problem because sure you can lose some weight or gain some muscle, but if you don’t get to the heart of your issue it’s just a temporary fix to something much deeper. Through it all, remember that you’re beautiful.”

www.effytalkslife.com

Instagram: @effyshowslife & Twitter: @effytalkslife

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“What is the greatest lesson a woman should learn”

Petitely Packaged

“On the surface of the Travelgram, I am represented. It’s not hard to find skinny and short American women traveling and receiving thousands of likes on IG for doing so. However, none of them look like me and most of them aren’t Black women. When I do see Black women, the ones with the most likes often have the fetishized Black woman figure: big boobs, small waists and fat butts. Simply put, there isn’t enough representation for Black women on the Travelgram and there should be.

Representation is needed for those of us who, if we had lighter skin, would receive praise for being ‘so feminine’, but our darkness negates it and also for those who are fat-shamed and categorized as a ‘Mammy’ because of their size. Being bigger and/or darker does not make a woman masculine. We all deserve to be celebrated as we explore the world.

While I can complain about not being visually represented on the Travelgram, I know my overall traveling experiences are much better, because I am short and thin. I’m not seen as threatening and I’m often offered more help than other Black women, who are larger than I am, despite us being in the same space, both struggling to lift our bags. I’ve started to use my privilege to nudge people into being decent human beings. What’s the point of privilege if you aren’t helping others? Travel has reinforced my desire to do so.”

www.petitelypackged.com

Instagram: @petitelypackged & Twitter: @petiteaitza 

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“The lies they sell”

Mayo’s Footprints

“As an avid gym goer, I am on a pursuit to remain healthy and achieve the perfect body image for myself. I tend to have a generally positive body image, however I am more self-conscious in some countries. For example, a visit to a hot climate often leaves me more aware of how I look compared to a cold climate where I am just trying to remain warm. 

Sharing my travels on Instagram has some influence on my body image. The travelgram (especially the popular pages) is littered with beautiful, fashionable women with perfect bodies and all too often, the focus of a travel post is the person in the picture rather than the place they’re sharing. I often feel like I must achieve the bodies/images portrayed to have a successful travel page.

I strongly believe that there needs to be broader representation of different shapes and sizes on the travelgram (and in the media at large). As I’ve mentioned, we are bombarded with images that reinforce societally approved standards of beauty, and rarely receive a different narrative. For me, travelling is about immersing myself in different experiences and cultures and I believe everyone should be able to do this without the added burden of looking perfect.

I encourage anyone struggling with body imagine to accept and celebrate who you are and what you look like. Surround yourself with positive influences and remember that you have more to offer than your body.”

Instagram: @mayosfootprints

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“Focusing on the negative”

Sharde Searches

“When I began to share my own stories of travel, I did not think much about the implications of my size in telling those stories. I wanted to inspire people of color to travel more and help make the process a little less daunting. The truth is, when I travel I am hyper-aware that I stick out because my body is larger. I am only 162.5 cm (5’4 inches) tall, wear a size 14/16, and have big arms, stomach, and backside.

Attempting to replicate the dreamy and fashionable poses that I see on my feed, posing my body to look slimmer and more attractive with people pausing to look at me take my own pictures makes me even more aware of my difference. I have been tempted to just pack it up, shrinking away from telling my story and putting my pictures and videos on the interwebs for fear of criticism.

I think it is important to share my stories because the global stigma on bigger bodies still needs to change. Now there is an “acceptable” plus size that is not quite reflective of the variety of body types that exist or ways that we navigate our lives. Becoming more visible in the global landscape is a small step in reshaping the conversation on what bodies we render silent. To put one’s body out there for public consumption is more than championing “body positivity”; it is an act of rebellion. Telling my story is meant to make someone feel less alone but also to demand that all bodies be rendered human. I find that we must continue to disrupt the narratives that disparage particular bodies for being unacceptable and show that adventure, beauty, love, and anything else is not just for the few and the skinny.”

https://shardesearches.com/

Instagram: @shardesearches

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“Thank you”

My advice? Well, it’s a bit of an amalgamation of the precious gems shared above…

  • If you can and want to change something, it’s all about progress and not perfection. As long as you’re making progress towards your own personal goal, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Becoming the best version of yourself will always look different to everyone else, simply because they’re not you. Try to only use yourself as a benchmark and block out all the white noise of society.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. The little things that we all notice (and don’t like) about our bodies, are the very things others will adore about us. The quality of people who appreciate you just the way you are will always trump quantity.
  • Continue to be bold because we are the solution to the lack of representation. The more we unapologetically share our content, the more diversified the Travelgram (and Instagram as a whole) will eventually get. I strongly believe that good content is undeniable.
  • Lastly, this is a tip for all of those who can relate to this post and those who cannot – think before you speak or type! You know that old saying: “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Yeah, that’s absolute nonsense. In my experience, words hurt the most and for the longest too. So if we all made a conscious effort to not project or perpetuate toxicity, especially on social media, that would be great! Take it back to basics if you must, remember “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” You literally have no idea what insecurities someone is battling with so it’s best to just drink water, mind your business and keep scrolling!
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“Representation is vital…”

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