There is a growing online community called Outdoor Women’s Alliance on Facebook, which has a presence in a number of areas including, of course, the Front Range of Colorado where I live. OWA is a place where women (ostensibly of all ages but mostly in their twenties and thirties) interact, connect, and support each other around human- powered sports. Horseback riders and air sports and the like need not apply, although there are many of us who do all of that and sneak in on the fringes.
OWA is quite often a place for these women to chase down roommates, sell or buy used gear, get advice, find a trip mate, or engage in a full on rant. I’ve weighed in every so often when women take sports companies to task for photographing too-skinny models who do not look like us to sell their sports gear, women who are photo-shopped beyond any semblance of reality, and far too young anyway. These women, some of them celebrities, wouldn’t likely survive where most of us OWA ladies hike, climb, paddle, SUP, cycle, and adventure. We’ve gotten pretty heated about how, if REI and others want to show “authentic women” in their so called force of nature campaign highlighting us ladies in the outdoors this year, perhaps they might find real women doing real things.
Yesterday after a similar rant, one of our number offered up an idea. She invited us to submit a photo of ourselves having done something epic.
My god, the response.
The thread nearly exploded. I watched with delight as women posted shots of themselves doing every conceivable sport, often with snippets of their stories explaining how they overcame great fear or insecurity, yet here they were: on top of this mountain, at the end of this 48 hour hike, on this kayaking trip.
Women wrote that the thread caused them to cry.
As the resident Old Fart (I am quite proud of that, thank you) at 64, I also weighed in, often popping a compliment here or there, and engaging in a conversation with women whose stories really moved me.
If REI or any other sports company wants to sell us gear, THESE are the photos they need to take. Sweaty, bloody, messy, tangled-haired real life badass women who have accomplished something they often didn’t think they could do. Busting down stereotypes. Rewriting their impossibles. Basically throwing down the gauntlet and saying “watch me!”
We are frankly not interested in seeing unrealistic photos of unrealistic women in unrealistic, sexualized photos trying to sell us gear. We like seeing US, with our thighs and biceps and bloodied knees and sweat dripping into our eyes. Because folks, we’ve earned it. We are tired of being told to look pretty and smell pretty and have the “right colors” on the trail. Man, we just wanna get out there and be in the wild.
And frankly, if someone wants to wear a skirt, that’s her choice. But yesterday’s impressive thread of joyful, exhausted, accomplished women, pregnant, injured, having just lost 50 lbs, a hundred different stories, that’s US. Not some 12-year-old anorexic freak of a model who likely will never set foot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
That’s OUR playground. Just as are the rest of the world’s wildernesses.
Wake up, sports companies. You wanna sell to us? Stop pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Because WE are standing on top of the mountain, kissing the sky. WE are putting bandaids on our torched fingers after scrambling the cracks. WE are wrapping RockTape on our knees after completing epic MTB trails.
WE are standing on the cliff’s edge, watching the sun head down over the Continental Divide while the rest of the world is at home watching reality TV.
Come photograph us up there. Where we belong.