I can remember exactly where it happened. I was half way up the Arc de Triomphe on my Paris city break, huffing and puffing with every step. My knuckles were white from the pressure of my grip on the hand rail, and my face damp with exertion. My heart beat hard and fast, right out of my chest and the lactic acid had built up so much in my thighs that I could barely lift my foot onto the next step.
I’m 34, I thought to myself. It shouldn’t be this hard.
I kept pushing, every movement becoming more impossible, ever so aware of the people behind me. I knew the view would be worth it. I’d had a rubbish time in Paris and I was hoping that this view would help me overcome it. Suddenly I could see some light. At last. At last.
But as I climbed the last few steps I realised I wasn’t at the top. Just a landing, a floor with some exhibits on. I could have cried right there. Tears pricked my now burning face. I was exhausted. I was embarrassed.
I flopped onto a welcome bench and assessed my options, few though they were. I cursed myself for that second croissant, for my inability to just stop eating and for my lack of fitness. There was no reason why I shouldn’t have been able to climb with ease. It was just my own laziness. As my breath started to return to normal, it was time to push off, up again into the clouds. I sucked in the stale air deeply. Here we go, I thought.
More determined now, I climbed the next set of steps. I clenched every muscle in my body and pushed up and onwards. At one point I realised I was holding my breath just to get through the pain and I let out a huge, audible and shameful sigh. At last I could see the sky.
As I took my first lungful of fresh air, looking out over Paris and on to the Eiffel Tower, I promised myself that next time would be different.
It never was.Has your body shape ever defined your travel experiences? Here's why it shouldn't anymore.Click To Tweet
Beating myself up for being human
Whether it was climbing Petrin Tower in Prague or scaling Mount Vesuvius in Italy, every situation which has required some sort of physical exertion has been the same. I’ve started, determined to ascend with dignity hoping to enjoy the mere act of being there and of being part of it. But within minutes I’ve become a sweaty, exhausted mess, my inner monologue telling me it’s my fault, it didn’t have to be this way. Your fitness is your responsibility. I’ve lashed out on the side of a Volcano to my husband and taken teary, red faced selfies at the top of every place I’ve thrown myself up.
And it’s not just climbing. I’ve yelped in pain after a long day of walking around cities, and I’ve been left limp and lifeless after a weekend away, so unprepared was I for a basic level of exertion.
I’ve even promised myself that I’d eat healthily in the run up to some time away, only to arrive and spend the break constantly assessing my meals. I hit a particular low point in Italy when the internal battle around my gelato consumption was too much to bear.
Are you fucking kidding me? Gelato is awesome.
My body is ready
This time, I really have had enough. For the past two years I’ve been actively seeking out the world, one city break at a time and I’m fed up of the internal struggle around my body shape dictating what I do, how I feel and what I eat. Sure, climbing those stairs up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe wasn’t exactly easy for me, but I did it and I survived. No one died when I whipped off my shorts at the beach in Cuba and I really did enjoy that donut in Berlin. The second one was awesome too.
It’s so easy to become sucked in to the traveller aesthetic – whether that’s the chic city breaker, moving gazelle like through beautiful cobbled back streets without having to worry about chub rub or the bikini clad instagrams poolside in Bali. But that’s not the only type of traveller that exists, and it shouldn’t impact how we decide to experience our holidays either.
My body is just that – my body. And unless I’m going to forego underground tours, sunset viewpoints, city walks and aperitivo time, I’m going to have to make my peace with it. Whether it is out of shape, a bit battered or a little wheezy, this technically-obese-by-NHS-standards body has taken me to 10 countries in 18 months where I’ve scaled new heights, walked more steps, captained a boat and eaten a heck of a lot of gelato, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I’m planning to make it do (though we may hold off on that Everest climb for a bit – you get me?!).
I can’t say I’m fully cured of my internal body shaming when on holiday yet – that would be unrealistic, but I’m starting to realise that no one’s body shape should hold them back from the things they want to discover in the world. My lovely friend Beverley shared some pictures she took of me in Amsterdam, and my first thought was to cringe at the chins and the bum and the frumpiness and all those little things that literally no one gives a shit about except me. However, almost immediately my thoughts ticked over the memories of our amazing weekend away – all the walks and the chats and the updating our instagram stories uninterrupted (because bloggers gonna blog, you know?!) and somehow, the extra chin that in the last few years has planted itself firmly on my face faded into the distance.
So next time, it will be different. I’ll climb more towers, I’ll eat more gelato and I’ll whip off that body covering kaftan without feeling the warm heat of shame come over me. Because my body shape defines nothing about me, and it definitely doesn’t define how I’m going to experience travel.
And one day, I’m going to bloody conquer everest too.
**Many of the pictures included in this post were taken by the wonderful Beverley Reinemann from Pack Your Passport