I follow a lot of blogs and Instagram accounts for various female explorers and adventurers. Some, like Erin Outdoors, are doing something very similar to what I want to be doing. Some are amazing photographer/adventurers, like @missholldoll, who post their inspiring work to Insta. They come from different backgrounds and some do what they do full-time, while others do their adventuring part-time or simply as a hobby.
But there's one thing that is true for almost all of them: they don't look like me. And this can be a dream crusher if I'm not careful about how I chose to think about myself in this journey.
Most women (and men, for that matter) you see adventuring on social media are generally attractive - think thin, strong, young women who succeed in adding to the beauty of their photos, not detracting. Most of them are brand ambassadors and make some extra dough showing off the gear that they use and love. And everything they do is wonderful! They draw people in, just like traditional advertising does. And they are, indeed, inspirational. I admire them all.
But people like me (and many of you), we tend to shy away from being in the photos and want the scenery to be the focus. I'm not young. I'm overweight (but working on that!). What brand is going to pay ME to show off their gear on social media. Heck, half of them don't make outdoor clothing in sizes that fit half the people out there!
I try to be realistic, though - most adventurers look like me. Many are my age or older. Few are model-gorgeous. But all of us are strong, independent and beautiful in our own right. And, we are out there in force! The people online may not look like me, but the people I run into out there? They do!
Thankfully, there are some awesome people working hard to bring us "commoners" into the limelight a bit more. Insta accounts like @unlikelyhikers and @fatgirlshiking are showcasing the reality of outdoor adventurers - and they look a lot like my friends and me! Some of these companies are even putting pressure on the big-name gear and clothing companies to start making larger sizes, and to include more diversity in the advertisements. They are beginning to succeed!
Still, I'm human. And I used to be young and much thinner - skinny even! I scroll through photos now and can't help to think to myself, "How can I succeed?" and "Who wants to look at my middle-aged, fat ass on Instagram?" I can't help but have these thoughts, but I don't let them stand in my way. I know, somewhere in my depths, that there are normal people who WILL want to see another normal person doing what I'm doing. I know I enjoy seeing the average Joe (and Jane) on social media. I also know that I will be successful if the world knows who I am. And that requires not just being vulnerable and courageous, but also visible.
This coming Saturday, I'm hosting the very first Meetup for a new backpacking group I started for women in the San Francisco Bay Area. About 20 women are coming to a local sporting goods store's community room to meet me and hear about trips I would like to plan for all of us. And while I'm so excited, I'm also silently petrified.
I am the leader of this backpacking group, but will they judge me when they see me? Will they take one look at me and say to themselves, "Her?" I'm a strong hiker, and a very knowledgeable backpacker for someone who only started recently. But will they believe this about me when they see that I'm not this buff, in-shape specimen? Will they be expecting someone who is? And since I'm not what they expect, will I be letting them down?
It's odd how the brain can think two thoughts simultaneously. Half of me is worried about what people will think of me, and the other half thinks my first half is being ridiculous and knows that the women I meet on Saturday will be lovely and happy to have someone planning, organizing and informally leading their trips.
I represent the majority. I'm not trying to sell booze or swimsuits or a new car. I'm trying to inspire happiness, passion, fulfillment and the benefit of the Great Outdoors. You with me?