Gay hiking

“How a year of body-positive hiking changed my life”

It started as a joke. In June 2020, a friend asked then-grad student Paige Emerson to go on a hike. But the hike turned out to be tougher for the Old Town, Maine resident than the Trail app promised. By this time, Emerson was quite sedentary and an inexperienced hiker.

“I think I went once when I was a kid, then maybe two or three times before the pandemic,” she says of her previous hiking experience.

Emerson says she always wanted to be a regular hiker, but the awareness of her speed and size held her back. “I really had this image in my head of what the perfect hiker looked like, and it was just someone who is on the leaner side, Emerson says — “athletically built and really muscular.”

Since the app review was so pointless, she and her friend started thinking that maybe the app wasn’t designed for hikers like them. They joked that Emerson had launched his own guide, with “chubby hiker reviews”.

Emerson laughs at the idea. But that afternoon, she opened an Instagram account under the name @chubbyhikerreviews. The description on his page reads: “Reviewing hiking trails in Maine and rating them for chubby hiker friendliness. Showing that anyone can be a hiker.

Now, more than a year later, 26-year-old Emerson’s body-positive hike has helped her feel healthier than ever. “I started hiking in June of the pandemic and have been hiking all summer,” says Emerson, who has since obtained a conditional clinical social worker license.

She lost 25 pounds in the fall of 2020, she says, “I wasn’t even trying to lose weight. I wasn’t on a diet or anything like that. It was just to be more active.

Emerson says she had some reservations when she started posting on the Instagram account, and wasn’t sure she would attempt many more hikes. She worried that her body was too big for hiking. “The friends I went with were all athletic and much shorter than me,” she says.

But she hopes others will benefit from her sharing her story and her hikes.

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Overcoming Body Struggles

Body image can definitely be a barrier to physical activity for many people, says Paula Atkinson, a licensed clinical social worker in Washington, D.C., who teaches body justice activism as a lecturer at the University. George Washington and has clinical expertise in helping people. with food, nourishment and body struggles. Many of her clients learn to be body positive after years of an unhealthy relationship with exercise, she says.

A big part of that is focusing on what you like to do and what your body can do, rather than how your body looks, Atkinson says. It’s not about forcing yourself to do a specific type of movement. It’s about choosing something you like. “When you focus on ability, health improves exponentially. When you focus on fitness and weight, health decreases,” she says.

For Emerson, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst that has helped her deal with her bodily struggles. She suffered from depression and spending a lot more time indoors was not helping. She says she was desperate to get out of the house more. She thought spending time in nature would help.

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And indeed, research shows that spending time outdoors is linked to numerous health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced stress levels, according to a review article published in the issue of July-August 2018 magazine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

For Emerson, the feedback from his online community of Instagram followers was encouraging. She says she learned that many would-be hikers were like her. People identified with the body-positive posts Emerson shared in his first @chubbyhikerreviews post — and they told him. It gave her the boost she needed to keep going. “Maybe I should do this,” she said, she thought.

After that, Emerson would take on a new hike each week, mostly those rated “easy” on her hiking app, but occasionally challenge herself with those rated “moderate,” she says.

After each hike, she felt a sense of accomplishment. A year later, she says she feels stronger than ever: “I feel it in my thighs. I’m like, yeah, I actually have muscles here that I never had before!”

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The benefits of hiking go far beyond the physical benefits

Emerson says she soon realized her criticisms weren’t just about physical health. She also commented on body positivity and mental health. Now, she says, the two subjects are the ones that really interest her.

Emerson suffers from both anxiety and depression, and she says the hike has helped her cope with both. “I was super depressed and just needed to get out of my house,” she says.

The hike offered a healthy escape from nonstop bad news during quarantine, she says. “It’s been incredibly healing for my depression and anxiety.”

“Just having this to look forward to gave me something else to focus on,” she says, which ultimately helped her through the darkest days of the pandemic. “It was so nice to go somewhere and have that peace.”

Being a force in the body-positive hiking movement is also important to Emerson, she says. She wants to get the message across that people of all sizes can hike. Some hiking apparel companies, for example, don’t make gear in sizes large enough for plus-size hikers, she says. “There are people who want out who are bigger than that.”

Atkinson agrees. She highlights a number of new hikers and size-inclusive hiking groups that are helping redefine what it means to have a hiking body.

A group of 20 plus-size women trekked Mount Kilimanjaro in 2019, documenting the journey on Instagram (their story is the subject of a new documentary). Body-positive ultra-runner Mirna Valerio has more than 137,000 followers on her Instagram account, where she documents her hiking, biking, running and other activities. She gives motivational speeches on the subject, teaches workshops and is the author of a memoir, A nice work in progress.

Emerson says a big lesson was that body-positive hiking is as much about adjusting to what your body needs that day as it is about climbing a mountain. Sometimes you resist the urge to stay home and just go out, she says. But some days she recognizes that the conditions aren’t safe to hike or that she really doesn’t want to go, and that’s okay either. She has learned to feel at peace with any choice she makes. “It’s a lot to have grace for yourself,” she says.

Community support has been great

For Emerson, joining a Facebook group for other hikers in her area has helped her stick with it, she says. The group members were encouraging. Some suggested places to hike and gear to buy, she says.

And the group’s comments have helped Emerson find his voice in terms of mental health and body positivity, especially when it comes to hiking. When she posts about how she would like to see more inclusive options from hiking companies, the hikers in her group agree, she says.

“I realized I had a community of people who wanted to support me,” she says. “They’re not surprised I’m doing this,” she said. “They’re like: Of course you can do that.”

Lately, her commentators have even urged her to tackle Mount Katahdin, one of Maine’s highest peaks. She doesn’t feel ready yet. But she will get there, she says. “Something in that range is going to be my next goal.”