Let’s face it, hiking isn’t an Olympic sport and for most casual hikers you don’t need to be necessarily skinny, shredded etc, you just need a bit of fitness. Having said that, you do need a pair of strong legs!
When I was a kid I took up Karate, I did it for a number of years and eventually graded and achieved my black belt. After a break, I was old enough to finally use the gym. I loved it, but my asthma didn’t. I cannot do any high cardiovascular exercise without my lungs swelling shut within a few minutes. It’s what always held be back from running, rowing, cycling, HIT training, basically all the stuff that you would usually do to keep in shape.
So, what did I do? I took up powerlifting. You know what – I was bloody good at it too. It was the first sport where week on week I would get stronger. It became an obsession, diet was very important, especially as a veggie and I had a very low body fat for a woman (but typical of a weightlifter). I’m 5 ‘2 and quite petite, so people would look at me in disbelief when I stacked 160kg onto the leg press. It was quite a proud feeling, and as you can imagine, my body was changing too (for the better in my opinion).
I was pretty toned, but my legs were muscular and my triceps were getting pretty big. To be honest I quite liked how it changed my body, until I got to University. I was told by a guy I liked that ‘muscles weren’t attractive’ – and being pretty self conscious anyway it stuck with me.
I guess I need more context here before I move on (this is about to get all mental health, so if you don’t want to read I would skip this paragraph). When I was about 14, I started self-harming for a number of reasons I won’t go into. By the time I was 16, it got pretty bad and continued like that for another few years. Powerlifting definitely helped a lot, but what I realised is self-harming was changing my body image. I didn’t start self harming for any reason related to how I looked, but what it did was make me super conscious of my body. You are constantly thinking about hiding marks/scars until one day, you realise that all your really hiding is yourself.
It then just consumes you and manifests into you hating absolutely everything about the way you look at your body. A few negative comments from people to solidify your views, suddenly a simple comment like ‘muscles aren’t attractive’ really stick with you. Especially when you feel like it’s a choice between looking good and doing something you enjoy. Some people might just call me out here and say I’m just vain, but firstly, aren’t most women? Secondly, mental health isn’t always rational.
Anyway, once I got to uni I didn’t continue to powerlifting, nothing to do with the comments but because the gym wasn’t set up for it. Instead I joined the women’s rugby team. I loved watching rugby, I was strong, so why the hell not. It still required power, strength and strong legs. I struggled with my asthma slightly, but women’s rugby is a lot slower so I managed to muddle through thanks to scrums, rucks and heavy forward play. So this didn’t really help the muscle issue, and I continued to feel big and chunky all the way through uni.
End of University / post uni – I lost so much weight! I stopped playing rugby, figured I didn’t need to eat because I wasn’t exercising, my anxiety and depression was just getting worse and what happened? I was ‘skinny’. I had lost over one and a half stone, I became anaemic and I was getting ill all the time. The only positives were that the self harm had slowed down and I was getting compliments on how ‘good I looked’. So, the only way to meet everyone’s expectations and standards was to be something my body physically wasn’t made to do. Fabulous.
I put the weight back on and took up hiking properly when I was 21. For some reason I put on muscle so much easier than other women, for me this has always resulted in big legs (and when I was hiking all the time) big calves too.
I never wore dresses or skirts because I hated my legs. My friends told me that I cant assume I will get negative comments about my body and its important to put yourself out there. All I will say is they were wrong, maybe I am just unlucky in my encounters.
I imagine a lot of women don’t have the same problem, because I’m short I’m always going to have slightly bigger legs and live with the fact I don’t look good in hot pants. But I am sure there are situations for many women where to be good at whatever sport they want to do, it comes with some body changes, ones that we might not always like.
Do you just give up what you love because you wont like your body?
No, you don’t give it up what you love for the comparatively small number of people who will say negative things. We are our own worse enemy, its us we need to convince. Thankfully, I have come a long way in the past few years, and I guess getting older does put things into perspective. I now know that I looked great when I was weightlifting and I shouldn’t have let anyone get inside my head.
So no, I won’t give up my hiking!