Who I am I Proving My Femininity to?

This post comes from guest author, Celine Lussier. 

I whipped against the wall with enough force to draw gasps from below. The flames shooting down my forearms were almost enough to distract me from acknowledging that my fingers were on the verge of bleeding.

"Lower me, I'm done here." I called down.

I shrugged out of my gear, said my goodbyes and sauntered into the bathroom for a thorough cleanup. After an immense effort the scrub the chalk and blood out of my fingernails, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

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Wildly curly unkempt hair, sweaty, no makeup to be found. Imagine a manicure, and then imagine the EXACT opposite of that and you have my hands, which look like they belong to a career landscaper. Wrapped in a cozy fleece sweater completed by my signature yoga tights and folded toque - this is the quintessential image of me.

Yet, this is not the outdoor woman portrayed in the media.

This was a woman I was proud to be. This was a woman who I fought tooth and nail to bring to the surface. This was a woman who left the booze and bar scene behind, who traded in scantily clad for criminally cozy, who exchanged uncomfortable heels for equally as uncomfortable ski boots or climbing shoes and loved every minute of it (even if my toe nails were occasionally sacrifice for the send).

So if I love this woman that I have worked so damned hard to be, then why I am I still inexplicably insecure?

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Most days I slap on make-up and tight fitting clothes for my bar job in because I work in a world where the more you alter yourself, the more selective you are on what you eat, the more skin you show; the more people express how they appreciate you. I have learned to not let this world influence me anymore, so I have to ask myself, why in mother nature's name is our outdoor industry becoming equally as judgemental?

I recently went to a talk put on by @Sheventures creator Georgina Miranda, who retold a cheeky story about her climb up the legendary Denali. At one point her guide asked, "Are you wearing glitter eyeshadow?" She unabashed responded "Absolutely." She knew that other members of her expedition party had been judgemental of her, but she was comfortable enough with her authentic self to do it anyway.

So maybe my authentic self isn't holding some man’s hand, sporting perfectly tousled hair and gandering towards the most picturesque turquoise lake. My authentic self is scrambling across a ridge, probably wearing a puffy that smells like an expedition and then later you can cash' me outside pulling twigs out of my hair.

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Why are these the predominate images on my explore page?

If that turquoise lake darling is you, then I welcome you to celebrate that, but I do think it's time that we push back against these unrealistic images of what the ideal outdoor woman is supposed to be.

We have spent decades being held to an unrealistic expectation by the media of what the perfect woman is. These expectations have wreaked mental havoc on so many of us, leaving us with eating disorders, negative body image, social anxieties, and low self esteem. The isolation and exhilaration the outdoors provides us has been a long time shelter from the grasp of societal pressures, and I will not be silent as I watch that change.

Be your authentic self. Celebrate your authentic self. Share your authentic self. That is the version of you that our world needs to see. 

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You can find more of Celine's work at https://celineannmarie.wixsite.com/alwaysoutbound and find her on instagram @celineannmarie

Healing Connection

"In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you."- Andrea Dykstra

I was raised in Memphis Tennessee where I went to a private girls school. Told I could achieve anything with a great education, I was trained to become a wife and to submit to male authority in the Southern Baptist church. And don't dare be angry, ever. Submit to male autority, but don't have sex until marriage. Be nice and compliant, and don't question authority. Smile. A great conflict followed, and so did bulimia at 14 years old. I tried to follow all the rules, but deadly conflicts were ahead.

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I matured and my body changed, and I hated it. I was angry. My basic need for being valued was not being met, while my woman's anger was not feminine. I stuffed it instead. As expected, I began to date and every date was a potential suitor. Sadly I did not have any skills for protecting myself from the sexual assaults that resulted. In college I met some lesbians, and shortly afterward I realized my sexual orientation was gay. Great! And oh no! Alienated from my parents, I went down the dark ladder. Alcohol, drugs, and bulimia are a deadly combination.

I should have been hospitalized, but I was alone. I am thankful to have survived. The main reason I survived was because I was an athlete. In graduate school I discovered cycling as a sport. It  saved my life. Before cycling there was running, before running there was swimming, and
before swimming there was an active Girl Scout troop. Like others, being in movement and in the
outdoors was a relief and refuge. I could not practice my eating disorder on a bicycle where I found that I valued fitness over thinness, yet breaking through to abiding relief eluded me.

Now my mother has dementia, and the complexity of our relationship has been a surprise. Growing up, she was always on a diet and so was I. Today, in photos from the past, I see that she was not fat. She had an eating disorder, but she is a person who cannot take responsibility for my pains. Never bonded to her, I've released my grudge, and that is a gift.

At 57 years old, I have had an eating disorder for 43 years. I was bulimic for 12 years, then an addict, then anorexic, and up and down and round and round with anxiety and anger. There was joy and accomplishment, but I could not feel it. In the last 31 years, I sought counseling and prescription intervention, but there was no enduring relief. There were relapses, thankfully not the raging illness, not the vomiting two or three times a day. I lost hope, regained hope. I tortured my body, hurt myself, and chased the light though I was ready to die. Anorexia is a terrifying experience of mid-life, but I am a survivor and I found people who helped me. I found a nutritionist who held me accountable. I found an acupuncturist who treats my physiological damage. I found a spouse with whom I can live an honest life. We cycle, swim, cross-country ski, hike, garden, and give love to our pets. Food is a joy, and cooking nurtures me and those I feed.

In isolation we are able think we have the most horrible ed, but with connection we find others who suffered more, or less, or about the same. Wild and Weightless is a healing connection. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Words and photo from Sarah Brooks

Coming Out in the Outdoors

In the fall of 2015, I snapped. I was working 20 hours per week at a restaurant to supplement the low pay from my fulltime nonprofit job. I’d just finished my busiest shift of the year thanks to a nearby street fair. Finally, with the clock approaching midnight, I clocked out and checked my phone for the first time in hours…and saw that I’d been dumped via text.  I was supposed to run a half marathon the next day – my usual coping mechanism and a form of disordered self-punishment – but I said “screw it.” I rented a car and drove from Boston to the White Mountains of New Hampshire by myself to hike the Franconia Ridge trail instead.

Growing up, and especially after moving to New England for university, I’d always longed to hike the beautiful vistas surrounding me. But for equally as long, I’d surrendered to the voices in my head telling me all the reasons I couldn’t– I wasn’t strong enough, fit enough, smart enough, tough enough. Not coincidentally, many of these voices telling me I couldn’t be a hiker were the same ones that had fueled my eating disorder for the previous ten years. So to say it was a “big deal” that I drove to New Hampshire to a hike a trail I’d desired for years is an understatement.

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Pulling off I-93 in the Notch, a route I would later drive so many times it became second nature, I stared at the mountains to my right. Looming above the highway, their red and yellow foliage-speckled peaks contrasted the bright blue autumn sky. For a brief moment, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. But as I began climbing, the voices faded away, replaced by nothing but the crunch of leaves underfoot and the steady beat of my heart. Before I realized it, I broke treeline on the first summit. The trail stretched before me, tracing the entire ridgeline, and I was awestruck. It was the start of a love affair that would profoundly change my life.

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Hiking over the next two years shifted the focus from how my body looked to what it could accomplish. As opposed to running, which was dictated by quantifiable speed and numbers (yes, including weight), hiking was not something in which I could compete. For the first time, I was able to move my body in a way that wasn’t laser-focused on achieving a superficial goal. I simply wanted to reach the summit and I needed nourishment to do that.

Exploring what my body could achieve encouraged me to challenge myself in another equally important way: to embrace something I had been, to that point, unable to accept. The year before I started hiking, I began the complicated process of coming out. By the time I hiked Franconia Ridge in fall 2015, I knew I was “not-straight” and had begun discussing my sexuality with a few close friends, but I still found it challenging to explain and accept exactly what and who I was.

Lesbian authors have discussed the relationship between queerness and eating disorders. When your body (or its desires) deviates outside the norms of sexuality and gender, some people develop eating disorders in response. And while understanding the origin of an eating disorder is rarely as clear-cut as cause and effect, discomfort with my sexuality was definitely a factor in mine. I struggled with the idea that I was supposed to be straight and thought that maybe if my body “looked straight” – in other words thin, conventionally attractive, catering to the male gaze – then maybe I could have a successful hetero relationship and quell my queer desires.

Hiking alone provided me time to reflect and forced me to re-evaluate the negative beliefs I held about myself and my sexuality—beliefs informed by a decade living with an eating disorder. Confronting my fears on the trail and transforming them into strengths afforded me confidence that soon extended to other areas of my life. Perhaps, I realized, the other narratives I believed about myself were also untrue. The first time I said the phrase, “I’m gay” aloud was on a solo hike. I’d spent most of the day’s hike thinking about a girl I had a crush on and analyzing previous relationships. Sitting on a rock on an empty ledge, I watched the fog roll across the valley as I ate my granola bar. “I’m gay.” Again, I was awestruck.

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In June of this year, I completed my 37th peak of the NH48, the 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire, shortly before moving home to California. Climbing the mountain’s steep rock ledges, still slick from the previous night’s rain, I felt none of the doubt or anxiety I’d felt on my first hike. The trail was difficult, but I knew my body was adept and I was prepared to confront the challenges, including turning back if needed. As I reached the first outlook, a rainbow spread across the notch. It was Pride weekend, and though I was sad to miss the celebrations, this was exactly where I belonged.

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It’s hard to separate my coming out from my recovery from my hiking. Hiking helped me recover from my eating disorder; it also helped me recognize and embrace my identity as a lesbian. I realized that if my body didn’t have to look a certain way, then maybe I didn’t have to be attracted to certain people either (men. I’m talking about men). As I became more comfortable with my sexuality, I also found myself suffering less from disordered thoughts and behaviors. Hiking helped me embrace who I am, from how I look to who I love. Today, I know I belong on those mountain summits just as much as I belong in the gay bar. Preferably with a cute girl next to me for both – in matching flannel, of course.

Fill the Void

The reflection targets my disfigurement. If only the borders of this mirror could protect the rest of the world from my hideousness. My life’s insignificance rampages through my thoughts like an atrociously loud party that never ends. Nothing I do is good enough. I want to expunge my existence on a daily basis. Not even daily. Every damn second. With this mirror as my echo, I am repulsive. How do I disappear from my inadequacies? With countless years of too many pills mixed with too much alcohol under my belt, what is next for me? What else can I do to escape the infernal knowledge that I am worthless, that I will never be enough? I have already attempted suicide once, and I even failed at that. Every time I think about it, my one chance at escaping this ghastly life, I feel betrayed. My heart stopped that day. Clinically, I died. Yet, here I am with the mirror trapping my brittle existence in its cage, framing me for another attempt.

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I cannot bear to take up too much space in this world. I do not deserve it. I am not worth it. Standing in front of the mirror every morning, I check myself to make sure I am small enough to exist. It is better to feel hollow than to feel anything at all. Even the feeling of food in my stomach is too much to allow. The void is my only comfort. My only confidant. Before I lay my skeleton to troubled rest every night, I look at myself again in the mirror, waiting to die. I am nothing but skin dripping off bones like cheap clothes drooping from wire coat hangers. And still, even the air in my lungs takes up too much space.

I looked down at the paper in my hands. The vague directions given to me by Chris, someone with whom I had spent less than six hours, were sketchy at best. I wagered the pros and cons: Drive seven hours, become terribly lost in the middle of the Utah desert, lose cell phone service, and my sense of direction—I might end up thoroughly enjoying the experience. Or, I could foolishly deliver myself to my will-be murderers.

End decision: Whatever. I am in.

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It had been three days since I excitedly dropped everything for a spontaneous adventure. Looking down at my hands again, I saw that they were swollen and wrapped in a dismal representation of skin well held together as they gingerly gripped the steering wheel. I could not believe how bruised and battered my entire body was, but I had crawled out of the Canyonlands in one piece—well, relatively one piece. Images from that weekend with three wonderful strangers began to cloud my vision like a torrent flash flood. For the first time in my life, I taped my hands, put on a harness and climbing shoes, slung a chalk bag around my waist, and threw myself at some gorgeous sandstone crack.

As the tires of my car wove in and out of the turns of the scenic byway just outside of Moab, I reflected on the little words and phrases given to me by each person. Chris urged me to just have fun with the splitter cracks and find a little piece of desert heaven in the hot July air. Devin, whose crack-climbing motto was “get froggy with it,” always had faith in me (in everyone really) and reminded us at the end of each day to thank our hands, love our body, and be grateful for our minds, this Earth, and the privilege of simply being able to climb. And then the words that Spring casually uttered to me: “When you climb, you need to fill the void of the crack—with your body.”

Photo credit Sagar Gondalia Photography

Photo credit Sagar Gondalia Photography

My soul was imploding with a fierce vivacity that I had never experienced before. Fill the void. Fill the void. Fill the void. Those three monumental words acted like a firing squad in my body, allowing my heart to seep all of the ignored emotion locked up inside. I began thinking about how I had never in my life been on an adventure like the one I was returning from. When I was little, there was no room for play, no time for myself, and no outlet for my emotions into nature. Before embarking on this complete immersion into nature, my mind was high-strung and wired for a downward spiral fully saturated with depression, self-deprecating thoughts, and an overall under-enjoyment for my desolate excuse of a life. And before I knew it, the flash flood was trundling down my face.

For the entire hour it took me to drive along the byway that sided with the Colorado River, an entropic catharsis ransacked everything I knew about life. Where was the negativity? I realized I had never lived in a moment, let alone days on end, where absolutely no negativity existed. No, not even in thought. Never was I once told I was not going to be able to climb a crack. Never were there any utterances of not being strong enough, not being capable enough, not…being enough. Instead, there was praise and support, laughter and enjoyment. And then came the kicker, a more profound recognition: I ate. I ate and I digested and I did not analyze it once. The thoughts deepened themselves into unknown crevasses as I realized I spent an entire three days devoid of obsessing over body image, being attractive, attaining a certain look to appease society, or to satisfy my own hungry thoughts for what I delusively deemed to be beauty.

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So I wept for what seemed like hours, making a blubbering mess of my face. Somehow over the weekend, I had managed to escape myself, my destruction, and the monstrosity of a disease that consumed 90 percent of my daily thought process. At this point, the last five and a half years of my life were ruthlessly defined by bitter trench warfare with an eating disorder. If there are on average 8,765 hours in a year, I figure I devoted about 36,200 hours of those years mentally and physically degrading my health. With that degradation came the downfall of my confidence, my livelihood, and my wish to discontinue with a life I had only credited with a disgusting amount of worthlessness. Yet, in this one meager hour, the last 48,208 hours of my life unraveled.

In all honesty, the state of my malnourished body should have prohibited me from the activities of the weekend. Yet, I was successful. Foreign sensations washed over me leaving goose bumps in their wake. I found a reticent, subtle, and exotic piece of myself sitting, waiting patiently and quietly, to be discovered in the middle of a crux, a one hundred-degree hike, an amazing meal, terrifying exposure, and little moments of time so readily given to me by mere strangers. I was proud of myself. I felt tough. I felt respected. I felt like I deserved to eat. I felt beautiful. For the first time in years, I discovered a glimpse into the meaning of true health. I finally saw a way out of these shackles that bound me. I was accomplished. It was as if Indian Creek preserved a piece of me in its air-conditioned cracks that I had no knowledge of. Over the weekend, I discovered it and wholly felt it.

Afterward, it took a few days to digest the pieces of myself that I found perched just below Bandito anchors or in the depths of a crack. I unearthed strength. Strength. Physically and emotionally and mentally, I observed a soft and delicate strength that has a ferocious passion I never recognized before. Even more, I did not know it existed. And in the end, this is not a story about climbing. It is not even a story about an eating disorder. Rather, this is the hour I began to love myself for the first time.

I am enough.

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This story was originally posted in the Climbing Zine. Shay Skinner embraces the identities of being a writer, climber, and outdoor adventure photographer. She’s also semi-famous for turning a Clif Bar wrapper, a Smartwool sock, and climbing tape into a tampon while on her first big wall in Yosemite. Beginning her climbing career in Indian Creek, six years ago, it quickly became the place she turns to for emotional refuge and healing. To see more of her photography and to experience more her journey through life, struggles, and vulnerability, her blog can be found at skinpoetryphotography.wordpress.com.

A letter from my mother

Dearest Kristen,

It is such a challenge to be a woman in this society– the messages of what it means to be beautiful are really opposite to what our bodies are truly like.  We are meant to be round. We are meant to have breasts that feed babies.  We are meant to have beautiful full wide hips and thighs that support them -- to work hard, to give birth.  We are strong. We are womanly and feminine --deeply, deeply feminine.  So feminine, sensuous and womanly you can feel the earth surging through your blood. Deep and rich red.

Yet -- the images we see all around us discount that. Androgyny is celebrated.  Thin, boy-like, small hipped, tiny-breasted girl-women are the models we’re supposed to copy.  That’s not us.

Shame. We are shamed for having bodies that are voluptuous or strong.

Perhaps it’s generational -- my dear Kristen. I would like to stop the shame right here.

When I was young, a child, I was always strong and rounder.  My favorite memory is running free outside in the summer Virginia heat, barefoot on the grass…But when I was nine or 10, prepubescent, I really felt it. I did not like my body…One time, my mother was sewing me a dress. I think it was the last time she ever did anything like that for me– And as I tried it on for the finishing, my arms, which have always been strong and big, didn’t fit in the sleeves. My mom said to me, very frustrated and disgusted, “Julie, I’m going to have to buy Chubby Patterns for you from now on.”  The tone of her voice and her words struck me deeply.  I remember feeling deeply ashamed. Silent.

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Then when I was a little older, in junior high I think, I overheard her on the phone saying to someone, “yes Julie’s body is developing, and it’s such a shame that she has such big hips and saddlebag thighs.” – the words again. I was mortified – and that started me on an anorexic journey for over year. I got so skinny I stopped menstruating, developed a fuzzy hair all over my body, and weighed 105. My mother finally took me to the doctor—who looked at me, held me by the shoulders and said sternly, “Julie you will never be Cheryl Tiegs. (A skinny model at that time.) You are beautiful the way you are --You need to eat.” And having someone talk to me like that, tell me I was beautiful, who talked to me like they cared, helped me change my patterns. I started eating again – yet the words I told myself didn’t change much. Words have such power.

It wasn’t until I read the Mama Gena book and took her seminar that I really embraced my femininity and womanhood. I became a “Sister Goddess” – all on my own. I didn’t love my body truly until I was in my 50’s – then I could see how beautiful my curves are, how important it is to celebrate ourselves as women... Even now as my body is beginning to age. I appreciate having this body – I am alive!

Now that I am 59 – I embrace my womanhood in a deeper way. The only other time in my life that I did so it was when I was pregnant with you and Erica. I loved being pregnant! -- I felt the earth. I felt like one of those goddess statues from caveman time – I worshiped my pregnant body and my roundness because I was giving birth to you. I regret that I didn’t worship my body more when I was younger.

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Worshipping our bodies: the main thoughts I want to share --my dear Kristen, I was there with you when you struggled. Your words strike me so deeply because I could feel your pain, how uncomfortable you were in your body then. I remember how you towered over your friends… that you were at least 12 inches taller than everybody else – and you wanted to be petite like they were. I remember telling you how beautiful you were, how tall and statuesque, how one-of-a-kind you are.  And I also know that I didn’t know how to help you. That I said the wrong things…That I’m sure I did many, many wrong things as I tried to help you; my daughter was in pain!

I’m so sorry if I gave you messages that shamed you. Or if I modeled behavior that only reinforced your own discomfort. Your teenage years were challenging indeed – the more I tried to help you, the more you pulled away.  I think I was reinforcing your feelings at that time – of discomfort in your body.  I’m so sorry dear. – I love you. 

Knowing what I know now, and feeling what I feel now – I wish I could go back in time and do things differently…   and I know we do the best we can where we are...yet that does not erase pain.

Sweetheart.  You are so, so beautiful – and such a rare spirit. You are a gift.

So Kristen, let’s change this generational shaming of our womanhood. Let’s embrace our bodies–and jump off those rocks into a lake wearing little or nothing at all. Let’s celebrate the bodies that God gave us, every cell, every curve, and every fold of our beautiful flesh. You are beautiful and strong and tall and curvy and striking and courageous. Own your beauty my dear. You are striking. You do not have to be skinny – you can choose to be so -- or not! You bring such beauty, sensuality, presence, love and heart into every situation. Love your body now. Exude self-love. You shine!

Let’s shift the shame -- Generations -- You will have a daughter someday who will be like you–strong, smart and beautiful.  And as her mother, you will teach her to love and appreciate her body -- to be brave in the world and not care what people think, because you, as her mother, are like that.

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Kristen. Courageous and honest. Your last words spoke of compassion– and the most important person to start with is you. Be compassionate towards that teenager you were. Be compassionate to the struggling young woman you were.  Know that now you will be compassionate to yourself every single day… grateful for this life…and embrace yourself, my beautiful daughter. People are saying ‘thank you’ to you for showing them the way, for being alive, for celebrating life, for simply being you.

Kristen, you inspire me. I am for you. 

Thank you -- I love you always,

Mom

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Support and Community

Great news!

You can now donate to help turn Wild and Weightless into a nonprofit!

 Wild and Weightless aims to inspire those affected by eating disorders and negative body image to seek out outdoor activity. Through programming and an online community, we will generate awareness and ability to identify and discuss emotions that are linked to eating disorders, and make steps towards living a healthy life not controlled by food.

Learn more about WW's mission and goals by visiting the fundraising page here. 

Body Myths

myth. 

miTH/

noun: myth; plural noun: myths.

  1. a widely held but false belief or idea.

  2. a misrepresentation of the truth.

  3. a fictitious or imaginary person or thing.

  4. an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.

Synonyms: misconception, fallacy, false notion, old wives' tale, fairy tale/story, fiction

Is there a myth you have created about your body? That go-to story that you tell yourself over and over. Maybe your myth is that you are not athletic enough to be “outdoorsy”, perhaps your myth is that you could never wear formfitting activewear because you feel like everyone will look at you and question what you were thinking walking out of the house.

My myth has been that my body keeps me from finding love. All of the relationships that have failed, all of the men (boys) I have chased, all of tinder dates that disappeared after date three--I have always blamed the lack of romance on my body.

Now let’s pause and reflect...mostly because it took me a lot of therapy to realize this.

Whether or not I did this consciously or unconsciously, I blamed my body. To me, that was the only reason. There was no way that we didn’t have chemistry, our personalities didn’t jive, or that he thought my obsession for big yellow dogs was too strange. In my head it was because I wasn’t as small as his last girlfriend, or his other tinder dates.

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Of course this myth isn’t something I dared to speak out loud. It sat in the back of my head, only returning to haunt me when I was at my most vulnerable, when I felt lonely or utterly exhausted by the dating scene.

About 6 months ago, I found myself once again frustrated, and lonely. Calling my therapist for yet another session. And for the first time, I spoke my myth, my ultimate fear out loud. My body is the reason I have not found love. 

It sounded so stupid.

I wrote it down, and I hated reading it. There it was. It was out there, in the universe. Now what?

So here is the thing, myths that we create usually don’t come from nowhere. There is usually a trauma, a memory, something that you were told growing up that really stuck with you. Those memories and beliefs are hard to shake, especially when we don’t process them. Thoughts of eating disorders or negative body image often feel shameful and secretive, saying them out loud, even to ourselves is scary. But in order for us to find healing we must process, come to terms or find peace with where this false story comes from.

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When we keep these myths locked away, keep it secret, or deny that exists, the myth will always have power over us. If we acknowledge the myth, we can figure out where it comes from, work through all the shit that come with it, see where it holds us back in life, and learn and grow from it.

I processed, I cried, I was extremely kind to myself. I took hikes, I drank wine in the bathtub. I thought about how this message I had been telling myself was impacting every aspect of my life. It was hard, and glorious. So I challenge you:

Write down three myths about your body.

Sit with them.

Read them a few times.

Read them out loud to a friend.

Do your myths sound ridiculous?

Its okay.

Where do they come from?

Be compassionate with yourself during this process.

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So what happened after I acknowledged and processed my myth? I started to see other patterns in how I approached dating and men, that were unhealthy and simply not working. I also acknowledged that perhaps I wasn’t always the reason that the relationship didn’t go anywhere. Generally, I brought more awareness to how I date, and how I feel about my body.  I started making small changes in how I approached my attitude towards men, dating in general, broke some of the “rules” I had created for myself.

With the absence of this negativity, I made more space to acknowledge the men who were available and wanting to spend time with me.

I started dating a man who loved me, played no games, adored every part of me. I felt like myself in the relationship, and I wasn’t always concerned with the way I looked. He reminded me that I am loveable, and for that, I cannot thank him enough. I now walk with more confidence and joy. I am not saying that you need a another person to make you feel good or complete (I have been doing that for a long time), this love was a result of doing my own work, timing, and well, meeting a dude from a mountain town at a Superbowl party.

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Our time together was short and sweet. We no longer live in the same place, and I don’t know what will happen. But reminding me that I am lovable and capable of being adored was one of the greatest gifts I have received in a long time.

He came to visit me while i was in Idaho. We could barely see the Sawtooths, but it didn’t matter.



 

Unexpected Lessons

I spent the first week of my journey in Yosemite, one of my favorite places in the entire world. It is where I first fell in love with being outdoors, where I found a sense of confidence working as an outdoor educator, and where for the first time, I felt truly weightless and free from my eating disorder. I expected my time in Yosemite to be nostalgic, comforting and effortless. I left with pain, discomfort and anger.

I started my adventure on the road on my 29th birthday. Most comments about my birthday have sounded like this, “29, so how do you feel about that age?” Yeah, sure there were many “happy birthdays” and memories shared on Facebook. But most comments were somehow related to the fact that I am entering my last year of my twenties. Like its a final good-bye to youth, and social acceptance to be jobless, and partnerless. What makes this message even harder to hear is that it’s true, I do seek security. A job that pays me regularly, a partner, a dog, a house, a morning routine and a gym membership. There is nothing like the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with a birthday.

On my birthday, I hiked to the top of Mount Hoffman, located right above May Lake, a breathtakingly beautiful part of the park. I was joined by my dear friend Sophia (a true adventure partner in crime) and her brother who was visiting from the middle of the country and seeking adventure out west. We hiked to the top, enjoyed our sandwiches and birthday beers and headed back down to the lake to jump in. I did not jump initially, not because I don’t like water, but because I don’t feel comfortable in minimal clothing. There is so much sadness around this topic, and it is still something that I have not yet been able to shake. Since this moment there have been a number of invitations to jump in a lake, take a swim in the river, and I find myself sitting on the side. Watching and wishing that I felt free enough to let myself dive in.

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A few days later I found myself with yet another invitation to take a dip. This time in some pretty iconic hot springs outside of Mammoth. It has taken me 29 years to get there, so I figured I shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity. I sat watching the sunset over the Eastern Sierras, calm, happy, blissful. As we sat, somehow the conversation turned to my appearance, and I was mortified. Through years of teasing, when someone begins to talk about how i look, I feel my stomach drop, I am filled with fear, and shut down. One of the women with us commented on my curves, and told me that I look like “Old Hollywood.” She continued, “You know, before people cared about being perfect and thin.” I couldn’t really tell if it was a compliment or not. And although I knew that it wasn’t malicious, it hurt me. I know I am not perfect, I know I am not thin, and those two things are what I feel most sensitive about because of my eating disorder. So any acknowledgement of that feels devastating.

The rest of my time in Yosemite, I felt extremely closed. I did not laugh as much, I did not feel free like I did however many years ago, and I was angry. This was supposed to a place where I felt safe, free and joyful. This moment taught me that I could not flee from my issues, no matter how fast my truck can go.

Suddenly, I was hyper aware to all of the body comparison that existed around me. Hikes with the ladies turned into hours of conversation around what they would like to change about their bodies. I noticed strangers on the trail comment on my pace, or how sweaty I was when I got to the top. I overheard the climbers outside of the little market comparing the pace of their assents up the face of some piece of granite. Comparison seemed to be fueling all of Tuolumne Meadows, my base camp, and “home” for the week.  

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One morning after breakfast I cried. I cried like use to when I was 13 and someone would make fun of me at school. I cried because my week in Yosemite showed me how much work I still have to do on myself. I wish that I could own my curves, talk about my body without shutting down, and wear a swimsuit without hesitation. I realized how much my body affects my life, my mood, and my relationships. I believe that I am more lovable when I am thinner, and so when I am feeling heavy I retreat so I don’t need to feel rejection. It is what I believed at 13, and what creeps into my thoughts in my darker moments, when I reminded that I am 29 and still without a partner.

This first week brought so much doubt and so many questions:

Am I running from problems by jumping back into my car and driving through the North West? My issues are sure a lot easier to deal with when I am traveling. And my it seems to be signature move, when things start to get hard I tend to seek out adventure and distraction. Is being in the outdoors simply a bandaid for the deep work that needs to get done? Of course being active, breathing fresh air and the rush of adrenaline makes me feel good. But is it really helping me battle the reminisce of an eating disorder? Why am I still feel so much shame around my body? Is it just a distraction? What if I am not ready for this? Do I have any right to preach loving our bodies when there is still so much that I battle with internally? There are moments when I feel fake. I do not have all of the answers to self love and acceptance...like at all.

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On a long drive through Nevada, I was listening to a podcast with Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. Brene (the Goddess herself) who speaks to vulnerability and shame through personal stories from her life, stated that she doesn’t share stories until she has fully worked through them. She is not looking for validation or comfort from her audience. This stuck with me, because after this experience I wanted very badly to jump on my computer and shame anyone who regularly comments on other people’s bodies, who lives a life fueled by comparison, and is careless with their words.

But I didn’t.

I took time to hike. To process. To breathe.

And I found compassion.

I found compassion for the woman who made comments about my body. I actually consider her a friend, and I know that the comparison comes from a place of pain. I also acknowledge and give space for miscommunication. A better option instead of stewing over a total of 10 words, would be to talk about it. Yes, I don’t think that we should comment on other people’s bodies because we don’t know their story, their history or what kind of trauma is linked to it. But in that moment I did and said nothing, only leaving more room for anger, and self-hate to grow. And I even have compassion for myself that in that moment for not knowing what to do. It reminds me of the little 13 year-old who still lives inside of me, who is deeply sensitive and fragile, who grew up in world where her appearance has been the driving cause for pain in her life.

With this compassion I have again found a sense of purpose. The doubts and questions about my mission and goal are still there, but with a deepened knowledge that the times that challenge me most are how I will grow and learn. These unexpected lessons are what I hope to share with you and the future generations of women who find healing in the outdoors or are involved with Wild and Weightless.

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Peaks for People

I write this from a Super 8 motel room in Twin Falls, Idaho. The coffee is so bad that I'm attempting to mask the taste with a packet of Swiss Miss, but I guess half the packet isn't enough. Throughout the evening, I listened to the conversations of people outside of the bar located next door. I was impressed by their college-like drinking stamina, especially for a Monday. Although it has its quirks, lets be real--all I really look for in a hotel room is strong wifi, strong shower pressure, a place to charge my various devices, and reruns of the Kardashians. After being on the road for the last 12 days, this Super 8 is treating me great. 

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I have traded in my Subaru Forrester for a 1991 Dodge Ram, and have created my first #adventuremobile. For me, this means buying a Ikea bed frame, twinkle lights and storage boxes, one for gear, the others for all of the essentials (fanny pack, roller blades, and vintage sweatshirts that wont keep me warm at night), as well as an impressive number of Amy's Lentil Soup cans.  I will be on the road for 6 weeks total, my goal: summit 30 peaks around the North West. 

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Why 30 peaks?

30 Million people currently suffer from some from some form of an eating disorder in the United States. Statistically, only 1 out 10 with an eating disorder will seek out help. This is a problem. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. In a culture that promotes thinness, yet profits over screen time--this is an issue that will continue to plague our country.  The amount of photoshop and messaging that we receive on a daily basis reminds us of what we should be continues to make the journey of body acceptance a daily struggle. 

This starts at a very early age. 80% of 10-year olds are afraid of being fat. If they didn't get it from the TV or internet, perhaps they watched their mothers criticize their own bodies when they looked in the mirror, or watched them diet constantly. As children we absorb so much just by observing what is happening around us. This is a mental disorder that has been past down through generations. Perhaps these children will restrict their food intake, or try to indulge as much as possible while their parents aren't looking. The risk for disordered eating, and developing negative body image is higher than ever. 

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Why summit peaks?

I choose to summit peaks for so many reasons. I am one of those 30 million people. I have spent a large portion of my life either binging or restricting, and spending most of my time wishing that my body was different. Being outside, hiking specifically, has been the most healing outlet for me. It is on top of peaks where I feel the most proud of my body and all that it can do. I feel gratitude for all that it does for me. Feeling grateful for my body, is something that I had never dreamt of.

I have seen this happen for so many others as well, through experiences with my girlfriends or the Wild and Weightless platform. Building confidence through outdoor activity transcends into our daily lives, and through connection and community online we get to celebrate that together! The outdoors is an incredible tool for healing and recovery, this is the message I want to spread.

Lastly, I am summiting peaks to let go of shame. So many people don't seek help for eating disorders because they are afraid of judgement from others, they feel shame, they are afraid of letting go of something that has become such a huge part of their existence. Eating disorders are isolating, they destroy the relationships we have with others, and ourselves. And in isolation the eating disorders grow. The answer is to build community that is safe, supportive and allows us to speak about our struggles, insecurities and triumphs. Summiting peaks is a metaphor for letting go, allowing myself to be seen, working my ass off and shouting (literally) from the mountain tops that it is time we celebrate our bodies! 

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Why am I doing this? 

I'm on a mission to turn Wild and Weightless into a nonprofit, that facilitates therapeutic outdoor adventure experiences serving those who have been affected, or at risk of developing an eating disorder. Through activity in the outdoors we will foster strength and confidence that transcends into day to day life, learn how talk about and view our bodies in a more compassionate way, and develop new coping skills.

The ultimate goal for Wild and Weightless is to increase the number of people seeking treatment for eating disorders by approaching the subject in an empowering, thoughtful and approachable way. I seek to talk about the connection between our bodies and mental health in a way that is free of shame and self hate. I strive to create a supportive community that exists not only online, but also in person.

I am climbing 30 Peaks for the 30 Million People affected by eating disorders in hopes to raise money to make this dream a reality. I am working hard to create a crowdfunding platform, blog and Instagram content as well as a video footage. And of course, climbing lots of mountains. I will update you all when I launch officially. 

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 Do you have any hiking recommendations? I am new to Idaho, Montana, and Washington, I would love your wisdom. If you reside in the North West and would like to go hiking and talk about bodies, I'm your gal. Let me know, I might be rolling through your town soon.

See you on the trail,

Kristen