Beauty Synonyms

Words by Kyara, 22 VIC

“We have other sizes in the back,” the shop assistants say when they see me looking through the racks.

I smile and say thanks.

Slim young women and athletic young men inhabit the beaches and the bars and the streets. For both locals and foreigners, Bali feels like the place for fit, young bodies.

“Sorry, XL is the largest size,” the shop assistants inform me.

I smile and say no worries.

Not all markets have the ability to try things on. I buy a jumpsuit from a market stall that looks large enough. It’s a risk. It almost fits, if I just wriggle…

Oh. The crotch seam has ripped.

I smile and think that’s fine.

Now, I have two shirts in the same material. Innovation, am I right?

I am 96 kgs, size AU 16. And most of the time, I’m fine with that. I know what I am, and it’s good.

Fat and beautiful are not antonyms.

I like my body, it is me. It might be the reason why I like long flowing dresses and high waisted jeans. Or maybe they are just the clothes I like, and the reason doesn’t matter.

I also wear crop tops that show off my love handles, and strapless dresses that might reveal too much back fat.

And it’s not because there’s more of me to love, or that big is sexy. It’s just how I am, and I don’t owe anyone a socially appealing figure.

But every now and again, I’m caught out. Caught out because things aren’t made for me. Caught because I don’t fit the ideal. Caught on the circumference of my thighs or width of my chest. This feeling looms large when shopping, and sometimes just generally being, in Bali.

With the beach culture and a plethora of swimwear shops, you’d think I’d be able to find bikini tops with underwire. I’ve been in Bali for three weeks, and not one. Granted I haven’t been searching specifically, just idling through the stores I’ve come across. Still, it’s not confidence-inspiring. And don’t tell me to just get one-pieces, because with G cups, my breasts will sit on my navel. Even I have limits.

Other stores only stock size small on the shelves, inviting you to ask for larger ones if you need them. Which is practical, allowing an increased variety on the shelves, but it has the offset of making you feel like you have to ask permission to be large in this space.

Lithe bodies dance around the Balinese nightlife. I’m wearing a sparkly dress and I feel great.

“Oh my god, you look amazing!” a friend says to me.

I feel amazing.

“That’s such a pretty dress,” another friend compliments.

“Thank you, I bought it today.”

I’m wearing a sparkly dress that I got in Kuta, where they have Western stores: H&M, Top Shop, Mango. Places where I know my size exists. And so I bought clothes that fit, and for a little while, that felt good. But I could have bought them back in Melbourne. Global chains are nothing special. Nothing that will strike a difference in my wardrobe, nothing that differentiates this sparkly dress from the one I’ll buy once I’m home. So, I’m left feeling like a cheap tourist stuck in her comfort zone.

Maybe that shouldn’t matter, because who cares what store I brought the dress? It’ll always be my Bali dress.

So, I’m wearing a sparkly dress and I know I look great. But the space I take up on the dancefloor feels more noticeable than when I’m home. Comparison is an enemy, but I am just drunk enough to feel paranoid, and not drunk enough to forget about it again.

The only women I can see that are my size are older. And good for them being here, dancing in a club. There’s no age limit on fun. Nor a weight limit. But there’s a separation between me and them, and the wave of years between us leaves me cold.

Where are my girls? Are we not meant to come to Bali? Maybe I’m just being sensitive because I’m travelling with a group of girls whom I love, but who also have more idealised bodies than me, and I’m taking up more space in the shared cars than others.

These things don’t bother me at home where my friends are diverse, and I never feel aware of my body. I never worry I won’t find my size somewhere in the local shops. I never worry I’ll be judged for ordering more food.

I’ve never been overseas before; I didn’t know what to expect. And I still don’t, not if I go travelling elsewhere, but it’s left an itch in the back of my mind. Will I feel this way again? Should I change myself if I want to travel more? Would I be happy if I squished my body into the ready-made mould’s society, here, there and maybe everywhere, seems to prefer? Maybe deep down, under layers of bravado, somethings bother me more than I let on.

At the end of the day, none of this really matters. If anything, it prevents me from overloading my suitcase. I’ll go home and purchase clothes from stores I trust, eat whatever I feel like, and I’ll be content with myself and my size, surround by like-bodied people that I love.

There’s plenty of accessories and shoes and bags to look at. I like jewellery more than clothes anyway. Though, one may wonder why.

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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