Hike #9 | 137m Elevation Gain | 4.1km Hiked
(Note: The photos here are from our hike to Tricouni East, they are not from the backcountry trip referenced in the story.)
I had the craziest thought a few months ago – what if I decided to love my body? What if I wasn’t waiting to love it until I was stronger, healthier, skinnier? What if I looked at it in the mirror, exactly as it is right now, and loved it?
I had been on a multi-day backcountry hike when the thought occurred to me. We were a few days, many kilometres, and more than one storm in when I realized that I hadn’t once concerned myself with the appearance of my body. Due to my ridiculous digestive issues, not only am I constantly aware and very self-conscious of my bloated belly but I also can gain weight at the drop of a hat. But here I was mid-survival-hike and while I still had plenty of tummy troubles, how I looked to others never once entered the equation. Not only that, but I actually felt beautiful and powerful. I was free of the soul sucking sadness that comes with stepping on the scale and watching the number climb or trying on everything in my closet before determining that nothing will hide my pregnant looking belly. I was free.
I have never had a diagnosed eating disorder, but I grew up with the same unhealthy expectations around body and food that I think a lot of women do. All the women in my family were constantly on diets. I knew what Weight Watchers was before I knew that I should worry about how I looked. Conversely, in my family, we celebrated everything with food, bonded over food, and tried to heal all emotional wounds with food. It’s a confusing juxtaposition.
I was a skinny kid, thanks to genetics, but that didn’t stop me from obsessing over my body. I have always had thick legs – all the way down from my meaty thighs to my cankles, and for a couple of years when I was about eleven, I stopped wearing shorts. I was embarrassed of my legs, so I hid them. Even to this day, you’re hard pressed to see me in a skirt, simply because I don’t think my lovely lady stumps should be what you find protruding from one. And don’t even get me started about displaying my girthy ankles in a pair of strappy heels. . .
When I was in my early twenties and living in the city I made a conscious decision to stop buying women’s magazines because at 110 pounds, I felt like I still couldn’t live up to what beauty actually was. I wasn’t tall enough, my boobs weren’t perfect (is there a word for lazy eye as applied to one breast?), my hair was too thin, the list went on. It’s incredible how much can be wrong with us – and weight is just one small piece of it. Not buying the magazines helped immensely and saved me a lot of money, but this messaging is everywhere – and is frequently shoved in front of us now without warning through social media.
Enter my mid-30’s when the wear and tear of life and stress catches up with me and I struggle with digestions, depression, and a lack of energy. My bloated stomach pushing on the waistband of my jeans (that fit comfortably before I ate) is a constant reminder that my self-worth is somehow less because I don’t look like a pre-teen girl in a vodka ad. But don’t worry, because now there is a movement for women to be strong. Muscle weighs more than fat, it doesn’t matter how you look, it matters how much you can lift. This is exciting, this is change, this is a new way for women to feel bad about themselves. Now I have another thing to worry about; I am neither skinny nor strong. I nearly got plowed over by my garbage bin while trying to wheel it down our (admittedly steep) driveway last week. I can’t look at my thick legs, protruding belly, or ape-index arms and think ‘I’m beautiful because I’m strong,’ because I’m not. But I don’t have to be. I eat well. I work with professionals on nutrition and health. I exercise as much as my body will allow me. I sleep. I am doing everything right. But I am not strong, and I am not skinny.
My ‘what if’ questions didn’t go away. They kept circling back, even after the hike. I had cried on the hike, cried from pure exhaustion and exertion – but not even that had taken me to the depths that feeling bad about my body can. So, what if I just accepted my body? What if it didn’t need to be anything other than what it is? What if I decided to love this lump of clay that I’ve been given? It’s the only one I’m going to get, and it gives form to this brain of mine that is powerful and determined. This body is really just the Kermit the Frog, which makes my brain Jim Henson’s hand shoved straight up the butt.
My digestion, my strength, my fat stores – none of them change who I am. None of them impact that I am a funny, caring, smart person. I still do step on the scale from time to time and I still struggle to leave the house in anything other than a potato sack. And on those days I remind myself to look at all these pieces of me and remember when I was in the middle of nowhere, away from scales, advertisements, and mirrors – and I can remember how sexy and powerful I felt because I was happy. Because at that moment I was my truest self.