A Childhood Full of Vivid Imaginations and Daydreams
I was a very imaginative child, prone to daydreams filled with dragons and witches and fairies. If you had asked a teenage me what was my defining characteristic I would have said “originality, and a knack for thinking outside of the box” – which I underlined by dressing in piratey clothes and drinking water out of pickle jars with crocheted cozies. And yet despite my ability to imagine the supernatural and become lost in dreams of alternate universes I could not conceive of a world where I, a fat kid, could ever participate in sports or outdoor culture until I achieved my lifelong obsession of unlocking the thin person inside of me.
This inability to imagine myself as a happy and fulfilled fat person was not in any way a fault of my intellect or imagination. My entire life, from as early as I can remember, I was shamed for my fat body and taught to fear gaining weight over almost anything else. Weight loss was the obsession of most of the people in my family and in my school, and was everywhere in society from shows like “The Biggest Loser” to the SlimFast bars my childhood best friend was fed by her mother. This outward admonition of fatness was partnered with an absolute dearth of characters or celebrities or any kind of public figure that was both fat and content to stay that way.
Feeling Like The Life I Wanted Was Impossible To Have…
As I grew up and grew fatter I never felt welcome in sports in the body I was in and I internalized the idea that I was just not an athletic sort of person. I remember viscerally the way my elementary school PE teacher mocked me for my inability to do a full pull up because I was too heavy. I remember the shame of not being able to keep up with my high school friends in fun games of midnight hide and seek and fabricating injuries to cover up my slowness and gasping breath. In college I made friends who were into biking and hiking and backpacking and while I craved the experiences that they were having and yearned to fit in with these fit and adventurous circles I was secretly convinced that because of my tratoriously fat body and lack of experience due to my tragically fat childhood I would never be able to experience the wild beauties of Washington state.
An Aha Moment and The Process of Unlearning
The unlearning of this conviction of my un-athleticness was slow. I think it began when I started going to yoga regularly and after awhile realized that I was sometimes the strongest and most flexible person in the room. Or maybe it was in ballet class (of all things) where despite being a rather inept ballerina my teacher made me feel so welcome and celebrated. But the real “aha!” moment happened when I reached the cathedral courtyard at the end of the 500 mile Camino de Santiago after I had walked for 27 days and I felt strong and capable and completely shocked that I had made it. I came back from that trip with a new understanding of what I was capable of and a sort of retrospective righteous anger that I had been lied to about what my fat body could do.
All The Things I Wanted To Do I Could Do…Imagine That!
Bolstered by my new confidence, I started to try things I had never dreamed of: snowshoeing, rock climbing, backpacking.
Every time I tried something new I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it and incredibly self conscious that I was the only fat person doing the activity. Never once did I see another fat person at the climbing gym or in outdoor gear advertisements, and yet I found that every time I succeeded at a new thing I felt vindicated.
Via Instagram I began to discover other people that looked like me doing the things I was doing. This was another groundbreaking moment for me, and one that brought into focus why I had lacked the imagination to believe that I was an athlete. My new plus size outdoorsy friends and I had never been given any role models or representation of our bodies doing these activities. It is so much harder to dream of dragons and fairies if you have never heard of a dragon or a fairy, just as it feels impossible to be a fat climber when climbers are all thin and muscular and can do a lot of pullups.
In many ways I see my athleticism, my identity as a fat climber and mountaineer, as both a challenge to the status quo and an apology to my younger self. I strive to be the role model I needed back then by breaking barriers and smashing stereotypes everywhere I can. I call this mindset “rage confidence” because in so many ways my motivation to try new sports and show off my fat body is fueled by my anger that people like me were excluded for so long. When I feel dejected or defeated I find the tenacity to try again in my conviction that I belong here and that by showing up I may make it easier for others to follow in my footsteps.
So if you’ve found yourself resonating with my story and you also felt like you don’t see yourself reflected in the activities you want to do, may I suggest that you get a little rage confidence? Maybe be your own role model? It’s definitely not easy, but you do belong in the outdoors or in that sport.
Editorial and Photos shared by Bennett Rahn in Partnership with Gregory Mountain Products