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 fueling 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 had mounted triumphantly was clearly enhanced by the impeccable fit, comfort, and dry-wicking properties of her wool technical shirt.
My initial self-doubt is 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.
And so, my simple call to action is this: let’s start with a bold and proud demonstration of how you’re using your beautiful body in service of your love of adventure. Tweet, Facebook, or Instagram your photo with the hashtag #allsizeadventure. Let’s make a statement to the world that adventuresome badassery is possible – and happening – for people of every physique (regardless of whether or not we can find the perfect-fitting thermal underwear to help make it happen).
Jessie Harrold is a coach, doula, and adventurer whose work centres around supporting empowering experiences for women, whether that’s through personal development, birth, or on adventure retreats. She believes that adventure can empower women of any shape, size or persuasion, and runs a local monthly women’s outdoors club with that very intention. Jessie’s writing can be found in Explore Magazine, Women’s Adventure Magazine, and Mind Body Green, and she blogs about courage, adventure, motherhood and wellness at www.nalumana.com.