Overcoming Negative Body Image in the Outdoors
I have always felt the most beautiful after a few days on the trail. Maybe it has to do with the natural flush of my cheeks or the way the sweat gives my hair the perfect amount of texture and bounce. Mostly though when I’m outside I’m able to shut off the negative self talk that is in my mind.
I have always struggled with my body image. Like a lot of young girls I developed early and stood out in my 5th grade class as the first girl that got breasts. From an early age I knew I was “bigger” than the other girls in class. Even though most of us evened out during highschool I still saw myself as the girl boys would not want to dance with because “she is fat”. The truth is I was never fat but those words and comments stuck with me. I was never athletic, never picked first for sports, and I never saw myself as someone who could achieve physical things.
I always loved to be outside though. Growing up all I needed for entertainment was to walk out my front door. It was not until college that I started to see my potential as an outdoors woman. As I started to log more miles on hiking trails the negative self talk started to fade away. Instead of focusing on everything I hated about my body I started to see what it was capable of.
Today I still struggle with self image and accepting my body. While being outside may not fix everything, here are five things that I have found that help shift the focus from self doubt to feeling proud about your body and what it can do.
Set goals that are not tied to how you physically look.
Instead of thinking of how you want to lose 10 pounds think about a physical goal you want to achieve. Do you want to run your first marathon, bag a 14er, or climb a harder grade than you ever have? Set those types of goals and work towards them. Love your body as the vehicle it is to achieve your goals.
Get outside everyday.
Even if it's for a 10 minute walk around your office building - go outside. Appreciate every flower and tree you see on your way. The world is full of unexpected beauty and you are a part of it.
Plan a solo hike* (or any other solo trip)
The biggest benefit I have gotten from being outside it the sense of self reliance it gives me. You are capable of so much if you put your mind to it. Planning a trip by yourself will build confidence. You also have no one else to compare yourself with, its just you and the trail. Marvel at what your body is capable of.
Get away from Cell service
Go to a campsite or backpack for a few days. Choose a place without cell service. So much of our self image issues comes from comparison. We fill our eyes with a stream of instagram photos and unfairly compare ourselves. What if we chose to cut ourselves off from this? How much better off would we be? It is possible to shut off your phone anytime but when you are out in the wilderness you have no choice but to ditch your cell and take in the scenery around you.
View your body as a sum of its parts
Whenever you have a negative thought about a part of your body change the conversation. Your legs power you up steep slopes, your abs hold you upright when riding a mountain bike, your arms pull you up a mountain cliff, your chest breaths and expands to take in the mountain air, and your eyes view all the beauty around you. Be thankful of your body and where it can take you. Your body is a beautiful capable machine.
*Always make sure to tell someone your plan and when you expect to be back. Check in as soon as you get home.