Interview with Kathryn O'Halloran
Thanks to the power of Instagram, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with numerous travelers from across the world, many of them plus size and/or body positive. It’s a wonderful platform for sharing photographs and supporting one another through our shared interests. Kathryn O’Halloran is one such traveler.
A globe-trotting romance writer, Kathryn has traveled for years and now considers herself a digital nomad, making a living from her fiction. After reading her interview below, I highly recommend you check her out. She’s well worth following!
1. As an author, have your stories been inspired by the places you’ve been?
Not so much, but I am starting to write a romance series about exchange students living in various places around the world. I'm also working on an historical novel based in Japan. I think more than being inspired by places, I decide to write about places then travel there. I think I'll do even more of that since chatting to my tax accountant about deductions for travel :)
2. As a digital nomad, how do you balance work and travel?
This is one of the biggest challenges I face. Slow travel is definitely the key.
I write fiction and need to be totally immersed in the story while I'm working on it. That involves being inwardly focused and blocking the world out. Of course, travel is about the complete opposite. I can't work for a few hours then go out touristing. It's just too hard for me to switch my brain around like that. Mostly I work at home (well, my temporary home), but I do try to break up the day by going out to cafes and working there.
Once the work is done, then I plan lots of days off with fun adventures.
I'm at my most productive when I travel to places I've been to before. I'm currently in Tokyo where I've spent a lot of time. I lived here for a year and have visited many times. There's not the same need to rush out to see and do everything.
I try to mix things up, some old places and some new for that reason. Because you can't just keep going back to the same old places either. That would get a bit boring.
One thing that really shocked me when I started travelling full time was how much mental overhead a new place uses. On holidays, it's all part of the fun, but when I'm working to deadline and need to be productive, all those little things like working out how to manage public transport, what to buy at the supermarket, etc. can get time consuming.
If I'm in a place for a week or less, I've learnt that I need to just treat that as holiday time because I'm not going to get any writing done. I might work, but on the non-creative stuff like marketing and administration.
3. What does body positivity mean to you? How has your own body positivity evolved over time?
It's such a huge area, isn't it? We are fighting the huge forces of social conditioning and the massive amounts of marketing dollars spent on making us feel bad about our bodies.
To me, it means that one body or body type is not superior to any other. It's not a black-and-white, good/bad thing. One thing I've learnt traveling in Asia is how much beauty is a social construct. All my life, growing up in Australia, I got teased because I have very pale skin. I can tan, but it takes a lot of effort, and who has time for that? When I moved to Japan, suddenly that pale skin was seen as really desirable. Instead of being teased about, I got constant compliments.
You can apply that to anything. Any beauty standard is just someone's opinion, and does their opinion really matter? Beauty standards are arbitrary like that. You don't change anything about yourself, the change is in others’ perceptions of you. When I realised that, I got a whole different perspective.
Another thing that really hit me when I lived in Japan was that the Western women I knew who were overweight took body issues in their stride. If you are bigger in a Western country, being bigger in Asia isn't such an issue. Some of the women I knew who were skinny by Western standards just didn't deal with it. If you base your self-worth on being the thin one or having a "hot" (i.e. skinny) body, it’s so tenuous. I had friends who constantly bitched that they couldn't "compete," and I'd wonder what they were competing for. Is there a prize? Is it cake? If not, then I'm not interested.
At the moment, one of the things I've been thinking about regarding body positivity is speaking up and being proactive about the things I need for my personal comfort rather than suffering in silence because I'm embarrassed. When I was back home in Melbourne recently I started doing Fat Yoga classes, which are brilliant and I totally recommend. I'd always thought, after many attempts in regular classes, that I couldn't do yoga because I didn't have a "yoga body," but Fat Yoga is all about adapting the poses to accommodate your body.
That's something that works outside the class, too. For example, if you need to ask for a seat belt extender on a flight (once my greatest fear), how is that different from a short person asking for help putting their bag in the overhead locker or a tall person needing extra leg room? It's just adapting a standardised environment for a non-standard body.
4. Many plus-size women put off traveling for one reason or another (i.e., they want to lose weight, get in better shape, feel good in a bikini, etc.). What is your response to this? What would you say to a plus-size woman who has put of traveling because she thinks it will lead to challenges or embarrassing situations?
Ha, this is the kind of thing where people say, “life's short, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow.” I always think that’s really not reassuring. Adding fears about my impending doom on top of other anxieties never helps!
Any seasoned traveller will tell you that the things you fear before you take off rarely happen. It's the things you don't expect! I did a tour of SE Asia years ago and broke my bed in my hotel room in Cambodia! It was a very shonky bed and I got it all back together again, but I slept half off the edge for the rest of the night.
I think there are a couple of issues there. If your concern is about your appearance, think about this: are you travelling to see, or to be seen? Is the Mona Lisa going to smile any differently based on your body size? Is the Mediterranean Sea going to feel any differently on your skin? Is the sunset going to be any dimmer?
The pleasure you get from travel doesn't change if you lose a few kilograms.
Fitness, on the other hand, can be a challenge, especially if you want to do physical activities. I'd suggest doing some research beforehand. Contact operators and ask. I'm not really an adventurer or extreme sport person, but if I was going to do something like that, I'd want to make sure my weight would be supported (say for bungee jumping, ziplining, etc.) just from the safety aspect.
Even for more sedate adventures, getting fitter never hurts. But I think the focus should be on fitness, not weight loss. Starting some overly ambitious gym program isn't necessary, though. Making small changes before you travel is going to be much more doable.
And, if you're worried about hitting the beach, get online and check out some #fatkini inspiration! Everybody has a bikini body. There are heaps of plus size swimwear options available nowadays and, finally, styles with boob support! Boob support can make a huge difference to your confidence, I think :)
5. What has been your biggest challenge as a plus-size traveler?
On a purely practical level, the hardest thing I find is balancing travelling light with needing to take everything with me. Often "experts" say you can pick up what you need at your destination. Yeah right. I'd like to see those experts buy me a bra in Asia. Or shoes even.
Travelling long term makes it even harder. I need to pack for multi-season travel knowing it's not going to be cheap or even possible to just pop into a local shop if I've forgotten anything.
If I check luggage, I always have a change of clothes in my carry on. That way I'm not stuck if my bag goes missing. Sometimes, if I'm staying in a place for a few months, I'll use online shopping to avoid having to pack too much or even ship stuff. I shop in the men's section of chain stores like Uniqlo or H&M to get stuff that fits. Also, sometimes a bit of ingenuity is called for.
There are always workarounds like that, but the bottom line is that it's never a no-brainer like it is if you are a small size.