real life

“The night before I was due to go on holidays, I was hit with an embarrassing fear.”

It was around 2am on a Tuesday night when a knot of worry the size of an overfed cat began to paw incessantly at my insides and woke me from a deep sleep.

The culprit behind this somewhat-dramatic wake-up call was not immediately evident. My apartment was not on fire, nor was my phone buzzing with calls from distressed relatives and for one blissful moment I actually couldn’t hear my neighbour snoring peacefully in his sleep through our adjoining paper-thin bedroom walls.

I should have been dreaming away happily with the knowledge that the next day I was setting off on a holiday where I planned to down cocktails in Los Angeles, gaze upon the sea lions in San Francisco and casually reenact moments from my favourite movies on the streets of New York.

On the surface everything about the planning of this trip indicated that it would probably not be added to my already extensive list of travel horror tales.

On the floor of my dimly lit bedroom, my suitcase lay somewhat neatly packed, my passport was tucked away safely in my bedside table drawer and I was confident that the vat of hand sanitizer I had purchased would protect me from even the strongest of airport germs. Yet, I suddenly didn’t want to set foot on that plane anymore.

The weeks leading up to this holiday had been a blur of long work hours and commitments that went on through the night and then crashed angrily into the weekends. It was one of those spans of time where you only seem to exist within the walls of your office or for a few fleeting moments on your couch long after the sun has gone down. Nights when you’re so tired you can only manage to eat a jumbled dinner of whatever leftovers in your fridge look the least likely to send you to the emergency room.

Thanks to this perfect storm of bad living, I knew I had put on some weight and now suddenly I couldn’t sleep because I felt like the state of my body had ruined my holiday before it had even begun. I turned over on my pillow a dozen times as I felt the minutes tick by, waiting for the dark lull of sleep to pull me back in, but my mind was ablaze with noise as I pictured a trip that now seemed littered with emotional landmines.

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A world where the person sitting next to me on the plane might roll their eyes in despair at having to spend 14 hours sharing space with a “fat person”. I worried about the logistics of ducking out of photos taken in front of places I’d waited my whole life to see, and the looks on the faces of friends who I had not seen in such a long time as they took in my altered state.

"During those first few days of travel, I couldn't help but think that the state of my body had ruined my holiday before it had even really begun."

I'm also well aware that complaining about a few extra kilos when you have the luxury of being about to embark on an overseas holiday is akin to a princess complaining about her diamond necklace being too heavy, but when it comes to moments of emotional fear there is little room for logic and perspective.

That's just the thing about those looming late night worries, isn't it? Thoughts and ideas you know you shouldn't worry about in the comforting light of day creep into your subconscious like unruly teenagers skulking into R-rated movies.

If anyone had asked me why I lying there, awake and worried for so many hours, I honestly would have been too embarrassed to admit the truth.

Not just because there are far more important things in the world to lose sleep over right now (the impeding end of the world thanks to climate change immediately springs to mind) but because these are fears that go against everything I had trained myself to believe and everything I stand against.

I would never comment on or even notice if a friend had put on weight, so why did I think that anyone I knew wouldn't do the same?

I curate my social media feeds so that I only ever have an array of diverse, body positive people staring back at me. I've never traded on my looks or my body in any part of my life so there was no loss of currency there and as long as my legs were able to walk me from A to B, why did it matter how they looked in a pair of jeans?

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But when you exist in a world that tells you to think about your body in a different, more shameful and more critical way than you know you should, it just doesn't matter how strong the walls of your personal fortress are. It just takes one small crack for everything to start tumbling down around you.

The fears from that night carried on through the long plane ride the next day and into the first day of exploring Los Angeles. A day where I draped a long, thick scarf around my neck despite the sweltering heat, dizzy from the extreme temperature but adamant that I needed it to cover my stomach and hips, especially in photos.

It would be easy to blame this bout of body shame on our society's continued reliance on and fascination with social media, as there's a lot more fear associated with how you look when you know the images are going to end up on Instagram for the world to see.

But it's also not as simplistic as that. It comes down to this ingrained belief that our enjoyment of an experience is hooked on how we look, rather than what we do.

It made me remember how a friend of mine cried on her wedding day because she hated the way her skin and hair looked, instead of being joyous that she had just wed the love her life. Or the time a colleague of mine was too ashamed to share her new family photos on Facebook, because she didn't like the way her body had changed, instead of focusing on the new little life she had created.

In these moments we were three women who should have been wildly happy and content with our circumstances, yet were struck down by shameful thoughts we knew would sound ridiculous once said out loud.

"After a few days on the trip I decided to pack the scarf away and posted a full length body shot from my holiday to Instagram. It was not a fix, but it was a start."

Now, this next part of this story is going to sound just as frustrating as the moment in The Wizard of Oz where Glinda told Dorothy she had the power to go home "all along", but here it is.

Because there is no magical cure for being ashamed of the body you have to walk around in, I simply had to work at changing my way of thinking and during those weeks of travel and exploring I found a way to give myself a bit of a reprieve from the voices in my head.

It helped to be in a new place, a new part of the world, and to know that a feeling of relaxation and happiness changes the way you feel about yourself the tiniest bit, and then you just have to push on and do the rest.

After a few days on the trip I decided I couldn't stand to make myself feel like this anymore, so I packed the thick scarf away in my suitcase and just went ahead and posted a full length body shot of myself from the holiday to Instagram.  A photo with no armour to hide the parts of myself I was ashamed of, and nothing to camouflage what I really looked like.

It wasn't a magical fix, while overseas or even now that I'm back home, but it was a start.

And if positive mental thinking and a touch of self-love won't fix your spiralling self-esteem while on holidays, I can confirm that an endless parade of cocktails might also give you a helping hand.

To see more writing from Laura Brodnik, you can follow her on Facebook.

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