It all started with a hashtag. “I rarely see girls that look like me — fat girls — featured on [major travel profiles]. But when I travel I see fat girls traveling,” Annette Richmond, a 32-year-old senior stylist for Stitch Fix said in an interview. “I’m out here traveling and I’m seeing the world — I know we’re out here. But I feel like these bigger profiles or companies don’t feature curvy or fat girls.”
This lack of representation, along with her desire to show off her incredible travels to the world, led Richmond to start marking her photos with #FatGirlsTraveling on her personal Instagram account.
The “likes” gradually increased, as did the direct messages and the followers. And soon, other women started using the hashtag. With this momentum, Richmond created an Instagram account by the same name, with the purpose of featuring adventurous women and emboldening “women in bigger bodies” to get in front of the camera.
And then came the Facebook group. From the pleading of her followers, Richmond built a Fat Girls Traveling private group that, beyond photo sharing, allows women travelers to talk about their future trips, anxieties and daily life together. It’s amassed close to 1,000 members in just a matter of months.
“I want this to be a community where we can talk about our issues and about the things we’re going through while traveling, in our daily lives, in our relationships, even just to vent,” Richmond said. “It’s for women to have a shoulder to lean on and for women who are experiencing the same thing to feel less alone.”
While she first saw some pushback to the name of the group, the self-proclaimed “fat girl” said she’s sees people embracing the word “fat,” which was part of the point. “I wanted to take the stigma out of the word,” she said.
One of the biggest topics Richmond has seen talked about in the group is flight anxiety. “I get so many members in the group who are so nervous to be on the plane,” she said. She continued:
Maybe the seat is a little too tight or maybe their leg is spilling over or they want to ask the person next to them to lift the armrest or they’re having anxiety about asking for a belt extender. People have a lot of anxiety around this stuff and it’s nice to have a community where we can talk about it and encourage each other and let them know like, “Girl the person that’s snoring is going to be worse than sitting next to someone who’s a little fluffy.”
As Richmond put it, there’s so much that goes on during a flight (think screeching babies and seat kickers) that’s worse than being fat. “I just want to encourage these women to get on that plane,” she said, explaining that this is the entry point to inimitable life experiences.
Richmond also want to help women overcome insecurities about taking photos of themselves on vacation. “So many of these women go on these beautiful vacations and all they’ll take is these landscape photos because they don’t feel confident enough to get in front of the camera,” Richmond said. “I feel like once we have more representation and more women that look like us getting in front of the camera and getting attention for that, then more people will feel comfortable doing it.”
“We have to love women the way they are now and encourage them to love themselves no matter what their weight.” — Annette Richmond
In the short time the FGT community has existed online, Richmond has been able to see its impact. Some members have celebrated buying bathing suits after years of swimming in T-shirts and shorts, and others have posted photos of themselves wearing their first crop tops. “It’s nice to be able to appreciate our bodies and ourselves for where we are — not in 10 or 20 pounds,” she said. “Everyone has their own goals, but we have to love ourselves the way we are now. We have to love women the way they are now and encourage them to love themselves no matter what their weight.”
Of course, it’s been her own travel experiences that has led Richmond to become a cheerleader for everyone else. In 2016, the stylist spent two and a half weeks exploring China and Thailand. She enjoyed her travels so much that she’s going back to live in Thailand for eight months at the of September 2017 (she’s grateful to have a job that lets her work remotely). But her time away didn’t come scar-free.
“There’s a lot of size discrimination in Asia,” Richmond said. “They don’t really see fat people. There was lot of pointing and laughing — plus I had rainbow hair last year, which automatically gets attention.”
She said that in the moment, when being stared at, it can feel frustrating, but she has to remind herself of who and where she is. She said:
I’m loud. I’m outgoing. I’m black and I’m fat. There’s so many things that draw attention to me. And I like wearing crop tops. That’s my style and I’m comfortable with it and I don’t care if other people are uncomfortable with it. But it is nice to have a space where I can go and talk to other women and they know where I’m coming from and they experience similar things.
Richmond admits that her time abroad was not without its bad days. “Sometimes my feelings can get hurt, but that’s the thing about feelings, you get over them. And you recover and you move forward and you learn about it,” she said. Being a writer — in addition to a full-time job and all of the social accounts she runs, Richmond writes a blog — has helped her channel her experiences into accounts that can help other people. “It can be something that the girls in FGT can relate to, or that they can re-read and feel like they’re not alone,” Richmond said.