Interviews

Chubby Diaries: Empowering Plus Size Travelers

An interview with Chubby Diaries—an online community for plus-size travelers—about size discrimination, traveling while Black, and pushing through adversity.

Chubby Diaries is conquering the world one flight at a time. Jeff Jenkins founded the site in 2018 as a digital space that provides community to plus size travelers looking to build friendships, discover travel tips, and redefine the world that has been trying to exclude them. From flights, to clothing, to navigating international spaces, Chubby Diaries offers a well-spring of knowledge for novice and experienced travelers.

I first met Jeff years ago in CrossFit. We both moseyed to class in the early hours with sleep still caught in our eyes and our stomachs grumbling on the meager fruit and water we had consumed minutes before. We formed our friendship as we stretched, screamed, lifted, and lay broken on the floor. We left laughing and ready to return—hesitantly—the next day.


Jeff and I have both forgone CrossFit, but those times remain precious to both of us. They have in some ways reformed the way we think about health, exercise, and even relationships. As I have watched Jeff birth Chubby Diaries to life, I still see that same joyous individual who sang between reps and cracked jokes when the weights began to wear him down. He is laying claim to
his life in a way that brings him new life and joy to the world at-large.

***

DWM: What was your inspiration for Chubby Diaries?

CD (Jeff Jenkins): I realized that there weren’t a lot of people my size repped in the travel space. I was trying to figure out what’s my niche, what makes me unique in the travel space. I realized what set me apart and that was my size. I was like, “Hey! There’s not a lot of people my size traveling” and there’s actually people my size—plus size people—traveling.

DWM: How are you redefining travel?

CD: The travel industry has been very mono-ethnic. It has been a certain type. Fit white people. Mainly fit white women. There hasn’t been a lot of people of color or different body types. And not just plus size. Even people with special needs or who have disabilities [are not represented]. What we want to do with Chubby Diaries is redefine what it looks like for different body types to travel, bring more recognition to making things more accessible and more accommodating.

DWM: Is that what you’re doing with the tours you provide?

CD: Yes. In a lot of ways, yes. The tours will be travel inclusive. It was not until I married Neena that I realized that there are things I think about that she never thinks about. Or, she asks me, “Oh you think about that?” Like weight limits. Can I fit in this? How will people think of me when I get over there?

We want to be able to bring tours to people where they can do everything, like every excursion, they will be able to do. There are different excursions that I have been on that they didn’t allow me to do on the tour because of weight limits. I’ve been trying to find companies that have been able to accommodate us safely.

We are trying to provide a safe way to accommodate plus size people on these trips. There are ways of doing things. Like parachutes. They drop cars out of [planes with] parachutes. Ain’t nobody bigger than a car. We will find a tour company that will get you a nice strong parachute…and you can jump on out!

DWM: [laughs] And you give a more personalized touch.

CD: Way more personalized. I get a feel for what the group would love [to do] and I am taking into consideration their surveys about what people like [to do while there].

DWM: What are you providing for the countries? Are you uplifting the culture?

CD: A lot of it is navigating the space. These trips are not like mission trips that I do. We are there to be one with the culture. A lot of places we are going to are pushing tourism. So they are almost catering us than we would go to serve them. We are just experiencing life in different countries.

DWM: How often do you travel?

CD: As often as I can. Whenever there’s a deal! I’m trying to get to Southeast Asia.

DWM: Where has been your favorite place to visit so far?

CD: Hands down, Japan is my favorite country outside of the Americas. I love the culture and the traditions and the food. It’s incredible. They show me a lot of love because I am a big Black guy. But I love it.

Since I’ve been doing Chubby Diaries, Belize has been amazing. Just the people I got to meet, the people living there, the friends I got to make. Belize was my first solo trip. They treated me so well. I learned so much from the trip. It’s a gorgeous place and a simple place.

DWM: Have you experienced that extra consciousness of being a chubby traveler and being Black?

CD: Yes. I was even just thinking about Japan. There are Black people and white people there. They’re foreigners, but for some reason, people will see them and then me and just beeline to me.

That happens when I go to [redacted*]. Honestly they stare. In [redacted] it’s the worse. The people are amazing, but they stare at me all the time. I can’t knock em for it. Hey, if everybody’s doing it, I guess it’s just a part of their culture. They don’t think staring at someone is bad. I am the most uncomfortable when I am there out of any country I have been to. Kids come up to me and play with my arm fat. Just randomly! Like bruh! [laughs] Who does that?! [Redacted] is the only place that….the­­ people are cool with me, but some days I feel like a stage attraction, like a sideshow. It’s the only country that makes me feel that way.

But, still, they treat me like a king! They treat me like I’m some filthy rich guy. That’s because everyone is skinny and so for me they think I have all the money in the world. And I don’t. [laughs] For the most part, most of my experiences have been positive.

DWM: At least you take it in stride.

CD: I am taking a lot in stride. I have learned so much about me and self-actualization has kicked in. The Belize trip helped that out a lot. I always equated fat to being ugly and disgusting or being lazy. I think of fat as a derogatory word.

Ugly is a big one. Even skinny people hear fat and think ugly of themselves. Fat goes both ways and it doesn’t matter what side of the spectrum you’re on. I am not the only one that’s going through this. I have struggles. I feel more part of a community now than I did before. I never talked about being overweight with people before. And now people will mention they’re in the same boat. Chubby Diaries is teaching me. People say I am inspirational to them, but I am inspired by people on Chubby Diaries who e-mail me or contact me.

DWM: How have you experienced size discrimination while traveling?

CD: People don’t think I can do anything. In [redacted] one guy boldly came up to me. We were doing a project and the guy came up and, he said this in broken English so I had to figure it out with him saying, “Yeah that’s it!” He said, “I didn’t think you could do this because of your weight.” He said he was super impressed that I did the work. But he said at first he made a judgement about me. Even in Belize there was a guy who didn’t think I could do the snorkeling trip. It made me realize that he thought this way about me and my size before I even got started.

DWM: It’s funny, I’m not thinking about someone thinking I can’t do something because of my size. But I am thinking about it for another reason. Like oh, they probably think I can’t do this because I’m a woman. [CD: Right!] It’s interesting that we carry all of these experiences with us that are similar even though we each are going through something different. But that’s just crazy that they will come up to you and say it to your face!

CD: That right there is crazy! And just in the sense of being a woman, how crazy would it be for a man to come up to you and [says this with a slightly country accent], “I didn’t think you’d be able to do that because you’re a woman! I didn’t think a woman could do that!” And I definitely know that’s been said more than once [to you] in your lifetime.

DWM: Yes.

CD: And that’s crazy. What blows my mind and what I love about Chubby Diaries as well is that when I mention plus size travel, the majority of the people are like, “What’s different from regular travel?” And there’s definitely a difference and I’ll tell you the differences. And they are like, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

I have just been making a way out of it. I’ve just learned to become adaptable. Go through whatever works for me. Go through the embarrassment and just push through that. And that’s why I am excited that I can just share that with the world.

DWM: How do you see Chubby Diaries expanding in the future?

CD: One, with the group tours. And, I want to feature as many people and companies as possible just to let them tell their stories and make my audience go to them. We want to be a conduit between brands and consumers.

DWM: If you could leave readers with some advice, what would it be?

CD: My 2018 phrase: I am enough. Whatever that means for you, that fits in every aspect of your life. From traveling to weight to how you’re doing in your job. Are you competent in a certain area? You are enough. Not letting other things keep you from pursuing the things that you are called to do. I always used to hear back in the day that big is beautiful. [laughs] So I am going to throw that in as well.

Now an entrepreneur, Jeff Jenkins is a singer and former music teacher claiming new territory for plus size travelers. He is empowering everyone—regardless of size—to live boldly. Read his travel tips and encouragement, or schedule an international tour, on Chubby Diaries.

The interview has been condensed for space and clarity.
*The country name has been redacted at the interviewee’s request for business concerns.

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