(NEW YORK) — A teacher’s TikTok series is highlighting the realities of traveling as a plus-size person.
When Mary Frances Donnelly, 27, from Hawaii, checked into her hotel on a recent family trip, she was shocked at the room’s layout. She then asked her sister to film a video of her examining the different spaces and amenities within the room and posted it on TikTok as part of a series called “Traveling as a Fat Person.”
“This video was my way of highlighting a very real stress I felt for years and have only recently begun to unpack as I have looked at my existence as a fat/plus-size person in this world,” Donnelly told ABC News’ Good Morning America.
In the first video, Donnelly points out the issues with the hotel room’s bathroom: The towels are too small, and the spacing of furniture — like the toilet’s proximity to the sink and walls — doesn’t allow for a comfortable fit.
The second and most recent installment, which has been liked over a million times on TikTok, focuses on amenities like pool-specific towels and balcony furniture.
“Towels at hotels suck,” Donnelly said in the video. “So you get to choose, are we going to cover the front or the back?”
While the tone of the videos is light, these things can affect how travelers move within that space. Donnelly said that she doesn’t travel solo out of worry that strangers will have an issue being next to her.
“Body size shouldn’t be a deterrent from traveling. It shouldn’t even be a part of the thought process,” she said. “But those anxieties are very, very real because larger bodied people, like myself, know that it’s inevitable.”
Donnelly isn’t alone. The comments section on her videos are flooded with people in solidarity, offering up similar experiences.
“I travel with my own bath sheet and pool towel to avoid the tiny towel debacle shown in the TikTok video,” Annette Richmond, founder of Fat Girls Traveling, told GMA. “I have to become a travel detective while booking accommodations, investigating the hotel chairs and bed frames. Avoiding plastic chairs, chairs with arms and metal bed frames at all costs, because they can buckle under pressure.”
The message this sends to plus-size travelers, Donnelly said, is that a vacation can’t truly be a vacation. Travelers either have to deal with humiliation or prime a trip with hours of research into what a room’s sizing and amenities may look like, she said.
“Simple things like a towel size or whether a chair is stable enough to hold a person’s weight is completely disregarded and chalked up to the traveler’s issue,” she said. “It furthers the narrative that larger bodied people are expected to roll with the punches and accept this sort of treatment because since the dawn of diet-culture time, we’ve been made to feel like we’re the problem.”
Diet culture is the root of the issue, Richmond said.
“It perpetuates the narrative that to be happy, healthy, worthy, respected or lovable, you must fit within certain beauty standards,” she said. “These beauty standards value thinness, whiteness and proximity to whiteness above all. I celebrate my big hips, curves, rolls and dips and the fact that my bigger body needs more space.”
It’s up to the hotel and travel industries to reevaluate how they think about traveler comfort and include plus-size travelers in the equation, according to Richmond.
“The bottom line for every business is money, but customer satisfaction and retention play a major role,” she said. “In order to stay in business, you must meet the changing needs of the customer. The fat traveler refuses to be body-shamed and demands to be accommodated. We’re willing and ready to give our money to those doing it willingly and consistently.”
“The travel industry bases itself on serving people and delivering an experience that’s elevated, and excluding or expecting a community of people to just deal with it is contrary to what they’re there for,” Donnelly said.
With her videos, Donnelly hopes that people know they’re not alone.
“I hope that people see these videos and can smile and laugh at my humor and know that they aren’t alone in their worries,” she said. “Even though I’m confident in my body and presence in the world, I also have moments where I get upset about hotel towels and bathrooms.”
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