Monday, 31 August 2009
A few months ago, my friends Alastair McKenzie (Travelling Online) and Jeremy Head (Travelblather) gave a great talk to the British Guild of Travel Writers on Web 2.0, inspiring and terrifying in equal measure. Since then I've been doing my homework. It seemed obvious to me fairly early on that to survive this brave new world, you must blog and tweet, but to be a successful blogger, you need a catchy handle and an angle that makes you stand out from the crowd. And that was where I stuck - until about 4am this morning. So this may be a really bad idea. 4am ideas do have that reputation!
I have been to an awful lot of places in the world and I do tend to attract attention. My size is not small (except in Miami, where I felt positively sylph-like). Small children and old men across the world from Manchester to Mumbai feel it is their God-given right to walk up to me, look at me and say, often in very considered tones, "I think you are very fat." My answer is usually simply "Yes", though I made great friends with some children in Marrakech when I managed to persuade them I was the fattest woman in the world (not true, I wouldn't want to usurp someone else's hardwon title). Some also offer gratuitous advice on going to the gym or diets. Men in Africa and the Caribbean get very over-excited. Women in Europe are self-consciously over-sensitive and wonder about glandular problems, while the English invariably mention Dawn French (God bless Dawn, her company makes great fat lady clothes). But everyone comments. You learn to develop a thick skin and get the joke in first. I'm currently Chair of the British Guild of Travel Writers - it really makes people squirm when I call myself the Guild sofa! It's very funny.
However, digression aside, it seemed to me that while other people are ranting, being grumpy, discussing online travel writing etc with enormous success and great interest, there is a huge and largely silent constituency out there - the single travellers, the over fifties, the overweight, the ones with dodgy knees. As a longterm traveller who has now proudly hit all of those milestones at some point (your turn will come for one or all, if it hasn't already) but is still travelling, it seems to me that it's time to speak out bluntly and honestly about the issues, not as a complaint or a moan or even to try and change minds. It isn't a celebration of overweight or, God forbid, an apology, but perhaps with all the jokes flying about the fat person in the seat next to you on the overcrowded plane, it's time someone talked back. So fat woman travelling...