I consider staying in bed. It’s around 7 a.m. on a Sunday in late July and Environment Canada has issued a heat warning. I debate whether I really want to drive half an hour outside the city to hike in stifling humidity with a group of strangers.
I force myself to make my way to a carpool parking lot where I meet Katherine Fequet, one of the co-founders of Curvy Girls Hiking. We leave Halifax for Polly Cove, an unmarked coastal trail with inclines and boulders to climb, where we’ll meet co-founder Nadine Hackney and her carload full of hikers who will join us.
Driving away from the city, Fequet and I bash diet culture and blast Lizzo on the stereo. And I start to realize this might not be so awful after all.
During the hike, we stop at a viewpoint, and a breeze keeps the sweat from rolling down my face. I take in the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean and rocky landscape, looking towards tourist attraction Peggy’s Cove, the lighthouse in full view until the fog rolls in. Not once do I worry about whether my tank top accents parts of my body I sometimes try to hide.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that I started viewing myself as fat and figuring that was a bad thing, but I suspect it was during highschool. My weight was a weapon that my ex-boyfriend, whom I dated when we were both in our early teens, used against me, calling me names when we’d fight. And when we weren’t fighting, his idea of a compliment was telling me that I wasn’t actually fat—just not as skinny as some girls. He once even praised me when he saw me out for a walk.
I learned, both from that relationship and from society at large, that I wasn’t supposed to be fat, and that exercise was something I needed to do to make myself smaller. I’m still working to unlearn those messages, to embrace my body in its current form and view exercise as something to do because it makes me feel good.
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Fequet says showing up to a hike and “being the only fat person there” can create a feeling of needing to prove yourself. “Like I have to prove that I have the ability to do this because everybody else thinks I don’t,” she says.
Groups like Curvy Girls Hiking are filling that void and combating that feeling of isolation, creating the spaces they want to see that include body positivity and diversity as a whole. “I need to be able to see other people doing the things that I love that are in the same boat that I’m in. It helps me just as much as it helps anybody else,” says Fequet.
It doesn’t help anyone get outside when they can’t find clothes to fit their body, either. While some workout clothing brands are beginning to recognize the average size of an American woman is 16 to 18, one of the biggest companies in the world recently experienced backlash as they made the move to embrace inclusivity. When Nike unveiled a plus-size mannequin at a store in London, England, they were accused by media of “selling a dangerous lie.”
Fortunately both mainstream and niche brands are starting to get it. You can be fit and body positive at the same time. According to the founders of new Toronto-based outdoor apparel brand alder, offering sizes up to 4X seemed obvious. “It seems incorrect not to have inclusive sizing given the diversity of size ranges across North America. It just seems like it shouldn’t even be a conversation at this point,” says co-founder Naomi Blackman. Growing up in the ’90s, Blackman says a singular body type was promoted as the ideal and she’s seen and felt the damaging effects of that. Blackman and her business partner, National Geographic explorer Mikayla Wujec want to change this message and “help young girls grow up with more positive representation.”
Alder received approximately 600 responses to a survey about their experiences with outdoor apparel, in which women expressed frustration with the lack of options that were both functional and fashionable, as well as the need for better sizing, responsible materials and more diverse representation of women who love the outdoors.
For Hackney and Fequet, representation is crucial. Curvy Girls Hiking, which welcomes people of all genders despite having “girls” in its name, has hosted four hikes so far around Halifax, ranging in numbers from two people to more than 30. They’ve received many messages of support, Hackney says. “I think that’s more important than how many show up to a hike because I think in that sense, we’re making a difference. It doesn’t matter if we hike or not, but we’re making them feel like there’s a space that they could come.” Hackney and Fequet communicate with hikers through Facebook and outline their vision and rules, which includes a belief in health at every size, no weight loss talk, and hiking at a leisurely pace.
“I think the media still portrays that ideal fitness as being a certain type of body and I think that the more we’re out there as curvy women or as curvy people, that’s how we prove that misconception wrong,” says Hackney.
The pair is also active on Instagram, joining the contingent of communities creating spaces for people who haven’t always seen themselves reflected in outdoor imagery. American groups and accounts like Unlikely Hikers, Black Girls Trekking and Fat Girls Hiking (which has chapters in Canada) are pushing back against a narrow view of what outdoor recreation looks like by featuring hikers of different sizes, people of colour, people with disabilities, as well as trans and gender nonconforming individuals.
Another Canadian group trying to encourage people to get outdoors regardless of skill or experience is Women Who Explore, an Alberta-based travel company with local meet-up communities across North America.
“Our true goal was to get more women in the outdoors and feeling more comfortable and to break down those barriers of not feeling that you’re worthy enough to get outside, not feeling like you would fit in,” says co-founder Jenny MacNevin, who started the company with her sister Lindsay.
They were inspired after a hike in 2016 in the mountains of Alberta, donning their amateur backpacks and running shoes, where they felt judged for their equipment by another hiking group they ran into. They decided to create a platform that would showcase women outdoors. Now they host trips, have meet up groups throughout Canada and the United States and have an Instagram following of more than 220,000.
While these groups have helped to create more visibility for people already out there, they’ve also inspired many like me to show up to begin with. I’ve gone on hikes with friends and family before, but never would’ve imagined joining a group before discovering Curvy Girls Hiking. And on that Sunday morning, I thought to myself, I’m comfortable in my body. I’m focusing on what it can do, instead of how it looks.