For many women, body-positive retreat is a chance to recapture a part of childhood
Annette Richmond has visited dozens of countries since she rebranded her popular plus-sized fashion blog to share her solo global travels — including Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and many other locales. Through her Fat Girls Traveling Facebook page, Instagram account, and Fat Girls Guide blog, she strives to inspire her more than 25,000 followers to embrace adventure and body positivity. For some, the journey to expand their world begins during an empowering, activity-packed — and often emotional — long weekend in Henderson County.
Fat Camp is most emphatically not a weight-loss camp, says Richmond, who staged the first one on the grounds of a local summer camp last year. She describes it as a “Fat Positive retreat.”
“My mom was a single, working parent, so my brother and I went to camp every summer,” she says. “I had positive experiences. But that is not true of everyone. Some plus-sized girls never went to summer camps for various reasons. Some were sent to weight-loss camps, which is typically not a positive experience. I wanted Fat Camp to be a way for women to rewrite their history, have fun with other girls who understand you, and address the issues we share. And with cocktails!”
Richmond says she’s been plus-sized her entire life, and her plus-sized mother helped instill body confidence. Being African-American in an all-white affluent area presented more challenges — although she adds, “In high school, I was a cheerleader. I was never a wallflower and was always kind of up in people’s faces.”
She pursued her love of style and clothing at the Fashion Institute in Los Angeles. “I was always obsessed with fashion, but always felt there were rules I had to follow,” she says, punctuating ‘rules’ with air quotes. “No prints on the bottom, no crop tops, nothing figure hugging. No matter what their size, women are always told to minimize the parts of our body we want to downplay.”
Following plus-sized fashion bloggers and influencers gave her the courage to try different trends and start her own fashion blog. “I got more confident in breaking the ‘rules’ and owning my look. But it’s an expensive career, because you’re always buying stuff.”
When she found her fashion passion surpassed by the travel bug, she realized experiencing different cultures was more important to her than the newest outfits, and re-prioritized her life. She began Fat Girls Traveling, traded her apartment for two suitcases, and devised a way to finance her nomadic lifestyle. “I was working as a freelance stylist for Stitch Fix and nannying for a family,” she says. “The director of a summer camp came to meet with the parents about their kids attending the camp, and ended up hiring me to work as her office assistant.”
The summer job not only covered her room and board — it also allowed her to indulge in the activities she fondly remembered from her childhood. “I was posting pictures on my Instagram of me doing camp stuff and people were envious of these simple things. I thought that maybe members of my Fat Girls Traveling Community would want to come to camp, spend the weekend with women with similar bodies to theirs, and try things they might not do in front of a mixed-size crowd.”
One of those people was Josie De Anda, the part-time manager of a women’s clothing store in Sanford, NC, who discovered Richmond via Instagram and subsequently saw a post about Fat Camp. “I didn’t get to go to camp when I was a kid,” she recalls. “What drew me to try this was the emphasis on body positivity. I wanted to push myself, to get out of my bubble of insecurity. I was determined I was going to try everything, no matter how uncomfortable it made me.”
There was plenty to try at Fat Camp 2018, from stand-up paddle boarding and yoga to a menu influenced by Richmond’s travels. Campers stay in traditional cabins, “and they get an entire bunk bed to themselves,” says Richmond, “so they can sleep on the top or bottom bunk without worrying.” Activities last summer included tie dye, rock painting, pool parties, a Murder Mystery Party, and a private screening of the documentary Fattitude, followed by a group discussion.
Key to the bonding experience were planned sessions on issues specific to plus-sized women, which led to deep-into-the-night conversations about living strong and proud in a world that dismisses and denigrates plus-sized people. And it was these intangibles that had the greatest impact on De Anda. “There was so much positivity and strength in each of us that we became one entity,” she explains. “That weekend I did not think one negative thought about myself, and I took that feeling home with me.”
She’ll bring that feeling back with her to Fat Camp 2019 this August, joining 50 other women for a transformational weekend.
“It has grown into something that is far more than I expected,” says Richmond. “I thought it would be a fun weekend with some important conversations. But the girls who were here last year say it changed their lives.”
Fat Camp is a body-positive retreat hosted by Fat Girls Traveling. It happens in Hendersonville from Friday, Aug. 23 through Monday, Aug. 26. For more information, see “Fat Camp: A Fat Girls Traveling Retreat” on Facebook or on wetravel.com, or e-mail Annette Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org.