Your Weight-Loss Posts May Be Harming Your Fellow Hikers
Weight-loss discussion in outdoor forums can inadvertently reinforce the idea that there's a "correct" kind of outdoors body. What should you post about where?
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My wife and I enjoy hiking on weekends in the outdoor paradise that is the Pacific Northwest. My wife found a Facebook group that she initially liked because of posts that featured trails we haven’t yet tried or great pictures of various scenic views. However, some posters have been including details about their personal weight-loss journeys that really interfere with her joy.
As a skinny, athletic dude it feels disingenuous to just tell her to ignore it or delete Facebook. She has a complicated relationship with her body image and weight but continues to trek up and down mountainsides that wear us both out. Part of her anger stems from the thought that others like her may be dissuaded from the outdoors because they don’t possess an athletic body and aren’t on a weight-loss journey. Part of it feels more personal because of her struggles.
This last weekend, mid-hike, she started telling me about a post she’s been formulating to address the issue but became unexpectedly emotional and tearful. She wants everyone to have the opportunity to have a happy, healthy relationship with the outdoors. Do you think there is a way she can address the Facebook group that might impact how others interact both with the outdoors and on social media?
Your wife sounds like an incredible person—adventurous, thoughtful, and caring in equal measure. She’s also right in her concern. For every person like her, who’s found their own connection with nature in spite of a culture that can be exclusive and discouraging, there are others who have counted themselves out of the outdoors because they’re made to feel unwelcome, fear judgment, can’t find affordable gear that fits, or simply don’t know where and how to start.
The thing is, for many people, the outdoors offer a chance to escape the kind of ceaseless judgment (about bodies and everything else) that women in particular are subject to—to step away from all those human dynamics, and simply exist, alone or with loved ones, in a beautiful place. Wilderness can be a balm for all the wounds that society opens. Not to get too cheesy here, but the outdoors are also a chance to celebrate nature for its growing, changing beauty—and part of that gift is helping us recognize that our own bodies are growing, changing nature, too. I imagine that’s the kind of joy your wife is hoping to share—the kind of joy that runs deep, and can be truly transformative.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using time outdoors for weight loss. But it’s not everyone’s goal, so if someone is trying to lose weight, they should recognize that, as with other tender topics, it’s kind to give people an out if they don’t want to hear about it. Stigma around bodies and weight has put a tremendous burden on a lot of people, so bringing weight loss into an unrelated group makes it less of an open space—that is, turns it into a space that some people will avoid, and that will be hurtful to some of those who stay. (If someone reading this column is looking for an outdoorsy place to talk about weight loss, share updates, etc., I’d just recommend finding or making a group that’s explicitly open to that.)
Which brings us to this particular Facebook group. Presumably it’s a general trail or outdoors group, but there’s nothing in the guidelines against mentioning weight loss. If your wife isn’t sure, she could check with the moderators. It might be helpful for them to know her thoughts on this anyway; they might adapt the guidelines to discourage weight-loss talk, make a general announcement to remind people to be sensitive, or enforce the rules they already have. She could also let them know about her intentions to write a post, if she wants; they might be able to back her up, or stay tuned to keep things civil.
I think your wife’s idea about making a post is a powerful one. (As for what she should say, that’s something only she can know; but the more she writes from her own heart, and her own story, the more I think she’ll move and influence readers.) Her thoughts and words will help some people feel seen or respected, and help others to understand how their posts may have effects they didn’t anticipate or intend; whether or not your wife’s post causes a major change in group dynamics, it will at least nudge it in a more thoughtful direction. If she’s up for it, I’d also encourage your wife to share the post elsewhere—maybe on her own Facebook wall, in addition to inside the group. Her story might inspire others to reach out, have new and vital conversations, or even try going for a hike themselves.
Also your wife may already be connected to inclusive outdoor communities and resources like Unlikely Hikers and Fatventure magazine. If not, she might find them a great source of connection and inspiration in the future.
I want to end with a note for you specifically. In the face of a culture that wants women to be smaller, and to view depriving ourselves as an ultimate goal, the messages we get from our partners—and the openness they have, or don’t have, to working through this stuff—matter a lot. So I want to commend you for knowing what you don’t know, recognizing that your wife is dealing with something difficult, and supporting her. Even being able to say “I can’t understand what you’re going through, but I know it’s a hard journey; I’m here for you, and I love you”—without dismissing or adding even more pressure—is huge. By listening to her, checking in, and holding space for what she’s going through, you—and other partners—can build a better culture in your own home, even if the rest of the world hasn’t caught up yet.