On adventure, body image, and finding yourself Outdoors

Aug 15, 2017

Big Adventurers | www.nalumana.com

As my kids get a little older, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in the kinds of adventures that truly invigorate me, and allow me to feel capable and confident (aka: not just adventures like road-tripping with toddlers or using the bathroom by myself).  The topic of finding suitable outdoors gear to fit a curvier body, and more broadly, the notion of physique-ability misconceptions, came up as I was on a 16km training hike with a friend with whom I was planning a multi-day backcountry hiking trip.  Given that I have also been working on a project for the last six months to come into alignment with my body image and physical health (soon to be disclosed!), I thought I would share this article that I wrote for Misadventures Magazine a while back.  I strongly believe two things that make physique-ability misconception a relevant issue for women:

  1.  Women are meant to be connected to Mother Earth; it is where we find ourselves again.
  2. Adventure is a powerful (powerful!) medium for growth and self-discovery.  

Let us not be held back by what our overculture believes we are capable of.



I turned away from the dressing-room mirror as I pulled the wool thermal undergarment over my head, deeming it necessary to feel the shirt, tight against my skin, before facing the mirror to see how it clung to my body.  It was a form of self-esteem damage control that I had unconsciously developed over the years.  If I looked down and the garment looked doubtful, I would remove it before inspecting its fit in the mirror; no point in fuelling unnecessary negative self-talk with added visual feedback.

This time, I had hoped, after eight months of training for a long-distance swim followed, three weeks later, by an attempt at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, that my self-worth would be bulletproof, or at least thermal undergarment-proof.  They were supposed to fit snugly, I reminded myself, as I double-checked the extra-large size tag on the shirt and turned to face my reflection.

The curves of the shirt, designed to hug a woman’s waist, tightened around my ribcage as they were pushed northward by the curve of my hips.  This effect caused the entire shirt to ride high, revealing my midriff as I moved, my lower back as I bent over.  The shoulders and bust of the garment pulled uncomfortably across my swimmer’s body.  I caught myself glancing at the box the shirt was folded into, at the fit, athletic woman on the front, whose experience of the cliff she has mounted triumphantly was clearly enhanced by the impeccable fit, comfort, and dry-wicking properties of her wool technical shirt.

My initial self-doubt was swiftly overshadowed by a flood of anger, and then of the kind of get-up-and-go that has me looking for technical shirts for mountain climbing to begin with:  what’s with the insinuation that those in need of durable, high-quality, high-performance outdoors gear are slight of frame?  


Maybe it’s time that we had a conversation about yet another aspect of physical endeavour that is awash in the perspective that the type of bodies that are capable and worthy of participation are homogeneously lean (see also: yoga).


It is rather unfortunate that I feel the need to state what I believe should be the obvious here:  intrepid, able-bodied, daring, persistent, adventuresome, fierce, badass outdoorspeople come in every shape and size imaginable.  The heart it takes to climb mountains, raft rivers and surf oceans can be housed in an unlimited assortment of physical vessels.  Heck, there are even some crazy adventures best suited to those with a more ample figure.  Long distance swimmers like Lynne Cox, who, among other aquatic accomplishments, has swum in Antartica, attribute body shape, in part, to their success in the sport.  Yogi Jessamyn Stanley is defying the same physique-ability misconceptions, showing off some incredible yogic prowess on Instagram on a daily basis.  Stanley also does her part to showcase clothing manufacturers that create functional, flattering pieces that support athletes of all sizes to do their thing in comfort and style.

But the issue goes far beyond finding adventure-worthy clothes that serve larger bodies: it’s about seeing more diversity of the human form represented throughout the adventure industry – in literature, media, and gear-manufacturing alike.  It’s about time we make space for all adventurers exploring the great outdoors and acknowledge our desire to test our own boundaries and meet challenges head-on, regardless of size.