If you’ve looked at Instagram lately, you might be feeling a lot like I am: deflated and defeated. Although I keep my feed full of mostly outdoor and van life folks to inspire me, seeing thin, young, confident women standing on summits, scaling boulders or waking up in beautiful places in their van with wood paneled walls and a glass tile back splash behind the sink can sometimes make me feel really crappy about where I am. Sometimes I’m honestly a bit sad and bitter about not being their already myself (usually I’ve got at least 10 years on some of the people in these pictures), but sometimes I get kind of angry about it and just really want to scream. Where are all the 40-something and older ladies with a little extra around the middle who look exhausted from a full work week and are just trying to get outside and find some peace while maybe getting some exercise? Where are people just enjoying neighborhood parks instead of National Parks and BLM land? Where are the people of color, the overweight people, the LGBTQ people, the folks with disabilities? What the hell kind of camera do these people use to capture these amazing shots and how in the hell do they get all these great selfies if they are doing this all by themselves? (Who carries a tripod or selfie stick in the wilderness? Really.)
Part of the reason this has gotten me so down lately is because I have been dealing with a hip injury, one that hasn’t stopped me completely but has made anything more than a 2-3 mile walk on flat terrain pretty uncomfortable. I can’t even think about stairs right now, so all those sublime vistas, even the great ones here in northeast Ohio, are pretty much out of my reach. And while I’ve been sitting here having traded by Merrells for cross trainers for a bit, although I recognize my privilege as a cis white woman and because I will eventually heal, it has really made me wonder how many other people see this lack of representation and just give up altogether on having an active outdoor life. I’ve found myself sitting here a lot of days not even wanting to try and finding all kinds of reasons why I can’t. It’s depressing and defeating as hell, and it also makes me want to rage against this unrealistic ideal that the outdoors only belongs to the thin, straight, extremely athletic and photo-shopped.
But I also am noticing this when I do go out on the trail. Especially where I live now, there’s not a ton of diversity. Even when I can get out and do things, I don’t see a lot of people like me, and that in itself is also sad and disheartening. Although I like to be alone, it sometimes makes me not say hi to others and try not to draw attention to myself and I want to hide and stay still like a frightened deer. I start to wonder some days why I’m even trying to hike and if I even belong there or if the trail and nature really belongs to someone else. Someone not like me.
The fact that many of us don’t match this unrealistic portrayal of life in the outdoors really is okay because it isn’t real. You know, right now I can’t climb mountains or wade to Havasupai Falls. I don’t have the physical ability or the financial means. And I seriously don’t know anyone who can. All the people I know that want to are a lot like me: limited to local places because of other factors in their lives or their health or hell, even just their fear because they don’t think they can do it or feel like they belong.
As frustrated as I am by my challenges right now, this injury has been a great reminder to me that being active outdoors really is only a matter of degrees. There are a lot of things I still can do. The only way I will ever see greater representation on the trail of the people who deserve to be there as much as anybody else is to keep showing up and, when I can, bring my friends. Another thing I can do is encourage others to just start, even if they are afraid they can’t do it or aren’t enough. That’s what I’m hoping to do with this blog, is to encourage regular women, not perfectly presented and airbrushed ones to get outside and get empowered, all of us who might feel like we can’t or don’t belong: women who aren’t straight, including trans women, disabled women, women of color, beautiful women with bigger bodies.
Let’s show up and not be afraid anymore to be in nature. Let’s just begin, you and me, to find our confidence to be outside, even if that’s just in a city park 20 minutes from home, on a country road or camping at a campground alone or with friends. These are our spaces too and just because we don’t always match what we see on social media, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to connect with our wild selves.
(Stay tuned for more from me on some ways to ease into the outdoors if you need ideas on how to start small and locally now and as I recover.)