Student Reflections

I’ve Gained Weight Studying Abroad

April 25, 2022

The part of the year I always dread has rolled around once more: bikini season.

This time, however, I am in Italy, where stores only sell up to a size twelve and everyone eats only carbs but somehow never crosses the 120 lb threshold. And with the warming temperatures, I am starting to realize that there is nowhere to hide.

I grew up what most people would call “a little heavy”. I remember going to my mom when I was seven and asking her why everyone else was so small, and she carefully explained that people come in different shapes and sizes and that as long as I was healthy, it didn’t matter where I fell on the spectrum of very large to very small.

That’s not true though – it does matter.

My high school was a breeding ground for unhealthy habits. I was a varsity athlete expected to run a 5:30 mile at 16 years old, and I blew out a knee and my lower back trying to do it. I remember days when I didn’t eat. I remember the cutting words of bullies and the glances from girls in the locker rooms as I grew into a body that didn’t look like theirs.

I’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve come to realize that people no longer look at me and see a “big person”. They don’t think anything of my weight – a privilege I can acknowledge because I remember a time when things were different. When I told people I was afraid to go to Italy because of my size, everyone laughed at me. It’d never occurred to them that I was bigger than them. That I had been bullied, and I had tortured myself to try to look even a little bit like them, and that it hadn’t worked.

My doctor warned me that I would gain weight. She warned me not to step on a scale, not to freak when my clothes didn’t fit right. And yet here I am, realizing that I am not the size I was when I left the states, staring down the barrel of bikini season, and I am scared.

But I will still wear one. Because weight will come and go, and no one seems to notice any difference in what I look like except me. I will not regret the nights of pasta and wine and days of paninis and coffee because they have been integral to my experience. And putting on a bikini or a one-piece or whatever I decide to wear will also be integral to my experience. I will swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Adriatic Sea, and everywhere else I want to swim.

Yes, I have spiraled. I’ve had the regular bad thoughts, like “If I gain weight, I won’t be able to shop at the stores here.” As it is, I have to dig through the back of the racks while my friends’ hands pull the first pair of shorts on the stack. But if that is all I must do in order to experience the adventures of studying abroad, it’s a bargain I’m willing to make.

If you’re worried about studying somewhere because of your size, don’t worry. Yes, it’s scary to go to a place where I can’t keep a regular exercise routine, the food is different, and people drink a lot less water. And maybe my doctor was right – gaining weight was inevitable. All it means is that I’m having fun, living carefree, and experiencing a life I haven’t lived.

There will be time for diet and exercise when I get back, and once I’m back in my normal routine, I’m sure the weight will leave as fast as it has come. But even if it doesn’t, I would rather have my pants be a little tight and have these awesome memories than stick to my routines and never explore the world beyond.