“Do it or die trying!” “Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going!” “Crawling is acceptable, falling is acceptable, puking is acceptable, crying is acceptable, blood is acceptable, pain is acceptable; quitting is not”.
That kind of “fitspiration” messages circulate all over the web. In the visual version, they are generally accompanied by images of body parts of very slim and fit women. Sometimes the whole woman is seen – maybe bent after a hard run. These kinds of words are supposed to inspire and motivate us to push harder. We are weak and lazy, we have to push ever more, hard and with no excuses. Some of them also give reasoning why we are supposed to do it – “because I don’t want to be anyone’s fat ex” or “so you prove those who said you can’t” or “because I prefer to be covered in sweat than in clothes at the beach”.
To me, they are terrifying.
When doing your best is not enough
A while ago I’ve read a very disturbing article on the female athlete triad. Women who wanted to compete in extreme sports – like triathlon, pushed harder and harder, ignoring their bodies’ needs. And then, yesterday, I read an article on how we should not just ignore the lies of Stacey Kozel – A handicapped woman, who lied about completing the AT and then PCT.
And I keep wondering – why do women do that? Why ignore your body’s needs to the point of collapse or serious illness? Why exaggerate the achievements you’ve done to the point of a huge lie? And I think part of it is the difficulty with accepting our limitations, being happy and proud of whatever our healthy best is. Obviously, we might dream of being the best – especially when one is already an athlete with a chance for a spot on an Olympic team or another great list… but to the point of endangering our lives? Or creating an international news-worthy lie?
Let’s start the mantra: Hike Proud. Be Proud. You Are Enough.
I wish we could learn to be happy with whatever our bodies can do. Just completing a triathlon is a damn good achievement. If that’s the best your body can do – it’s awesome. Just making a few steps in high-tech braces after a paralysis is an achievement. Completing a section of a famous trail is freaking fantastic and would be an inspiration to many anyway. Why lie to make it into a completed thru-hike? Why not being happy with what our bodies can do?
I am not saying I am perfect with it. I’m an ordinary woman with no chances (or ambitions) for big races or breaking records. I know I could push myself more without too much hurt to my body… but I already do a lot. I hike with a pretty heavy backpack and see beautiful things. I know how to pitch a tent and can take care of myself in the wild. I am able to hike peaks and walk for miles. And I am pretty satisfied with it. If my body calls for a rest – I stop. If I feel my body needs a day of rest – I do it. I give my body plenty of sleep and rest so it can take me for a few miles more the next day. I try to be my body’s biggest fan. It’s not perfect, it can’t go for more than 20 miles and it aches here and there… but I am so appreciative of what it can do. I really am. I still can’t believe the things I’ve done. And I know that many people admire me and I am an inspiration – maybe not to athletes, but to women like me – regular, middle-aged who sometimes think they are too old, too fat or too family-bound to go on adventures.
Getting rid of the internalized bullshit
We are surrounded by the “you are not enough” message since very early on and we internalize too much of it. We are never enough. Good, healthy encouragement is wonderful but if it causes you to feel inadequate, worse, a failure, not enough – it’s harmful.
I am striving to be body positive. In all that it encompasses. To love our bodies – the way they are, to give them what they need in terms of nourishment. We are allowed to be happy with our own victories – no matter if objectively they seem to be huge or minor. If it was hard for you to walk this mile but you managed – be freaking proud and happy! But if you planned on walking 1 mile but was exhausted mid-way and couldn’t push yourself any further – it’s OK. Accept the achievement of 0,5mile.
When does encouragement become dangerous?
This brings me to the, in my opinion, potentially dangerous meme-style encouragement “never quit”. I remember seeing a video a while ago from some kind of sporting event where a woman who was clearly on the brink of collapsing and possibly in danger of suffering some serious damage, pushed herself, on shaky legs, collapsing and standing up and almost crawling to the finish line. It was a movie that was supposed to give inspiration… I found it terrifying. Why don’t we teach and inspire to know when to stop? When to recognize not quitting as a serious risk to one’s body? Why if she stopped she would be considered a failure instead of a champion of self-care and sensibility?
This all-or-nothing attitude takes away the pleasure and pride we can feel from our achievements. So what we didn’t bag this peak? Why not being proud of doing 2/3 of its height? So what if you cannot do a thru-hike, why not being happy with doing multiple sections of it? The push for winning, for something spectacular, for extreme is so strong, that people might rather not even start for the fear of failure. Should you not have the right to enjoy your run even if you can never break any records?
I Am Proud. I Am Enough
As I said, I am a pretty average hiking woman. I’m 40 with some aches and pains. I puff and sweat but I put one leg in front of the other. And when I look back to see how much space I covered I’m a freaking hero in my mind. I am happy. I am proud. I feel good about myself, no matter if objectively or in comparison to some others hikers it was a big achievement or not. I try not to feel the need to do something spectacular or push myself too hard. I don’t feel I have no right to call myself a hiker or write a blog about hiking just because I am no big-miles trekker or never completed a climb up a famous mountain. I know it’s easier for me as an ordinary person with no pressure from coaches or media to push myself beyond what is healthy or safe. But there is a bit of trying to do what others (stronger, younger, fitter etc.) do and feeling a bit like a failure when I can’t. It’s there. But I try to fight it and be proud of what I can do.
One way to deal with the problem is to avoid it – it’s one of the reasons why I hike alone: it helps me to avoid immediate comparisons to others. I also know I need to accept that I won’t do a PCT or AT thru-hike, that my hiking of about 20 km per day is my upper limit if I don’t want to cry in pain. And I need to repeat to myself like a mantra: it’s enough, it’s great, it was a freaking awesome 10 km of trekking. And each time I feel tired and in some pain in the evening after a long day of hiking, I am again amazed at my body’s ability to carry me afresh the next day.
Let’s say it again: Hike Proud. Be Proud. You ARE Enough
And I would love to inspire others to do the same. To be proud and satisfied with whatever our bodies give us. To take lovely and carrying care of our precious bodies. Let’s be our bodies’ best friends. Support and encourage – but be happy with whatever it can do, no matter if it went for the planned 100% or not. Would we say to our best friend as we saw her collapsing with exhaustion, “you are a failure, move, move, move!”? No, we would hug her, tell her she was amazing, give her water and tell her to rest.
The story of the wonderful women pushed so hard by people whom they trusted – their coaches or even doctors – that they suffered the female athlete triad (disordered eating, the disappearance of the period and osteoporosis) is truly sad. And shows clearly the toxic messages we get from everywhere around. And sometimes, those messages come from people close to us – our friends and family. We might hear we should do this or that in the falsely understood “care”. Sometimes they push us into dangerous diets to “help” us. They might ooze messages of inadequacy or suggest that your dreams of travel or hiking are inappropriate for “a woman your age”. In all of it, we must be our own best friends. To learn what is truly healthy to me – to my physical and mental well-being. To be a bit selfish – because women are taught from a very early age to take care of others – not themselves.
Who decides what is “a failure”?
Today I’ve read an article about a wonderful group of six women who challenged themselves to do some “Everesting” in England. They planned on ascending the height of Mt. Everest (8848 m/29,029′) over five days of trekking in the Lake District. And you know what? They haven’t succeeded. They failed to do the planned height. They were short of about 9k feet… they managed to ascent only 20, 406 vertical feet in five days. Wait, what? “Only”?! I know right? How idiotic would it be if it were seen as a failure! Unfortunately, the title of this article says it all: “Trekking ‘Mount Everest’ In England, Falling Short”. Why not “Amazing women trekking 20,000 vertical feet in ‘Mount Everest’ challenge” – is the “falling short” the most important part of it?
The team called the expedition a huge success.
“Maybe it’s more of a challenge for me to say that I didn’t do it,” Fallon said. “We didn’t reach the goal, but we still had a great time and had an adventure”
“We were a group of ordinary women who set out to prove that anyone is capable of extraordinary things,” Read added. “I feel we accomplished that.”
Yes, Ma’am, you did accomplish that. I am inspired by your adventure as a fellow ordinary woman. I guess the author of the article saw it as a failure and “falling short”, but, thank goodness, not the participating hikers. Those women managed to walk for about 70 miles and ascend 20 thousand feet! It’s a freaking BIG thing! And I am thrilled that the ladies who participated were happy and proud of this achievement. I am in awe and am inspired by their challenge – I even started to think about doing something like that myself one day! But maybe over more than just five days…
Embrace the challenges. Be sensible about them. Put your safety and health first.
I also happened on an amazing interview with Malin Klingsell who hiked parts of the Pacific Crest Trail – she did not try to hide the fact of skipping some parts or about difficulties and challenges. Both she and her interviewer had a healthy attitude to her amazing achievement of hiking 1328 km of the extremely difficult trail – because that was enough of an achievement. She did what was healthy, she pushed herself, but also knew when to stop or skip parts of the trail to protect herself. I was really glad that it was seen as a “duh” thing, not emphasized or focused on. Because it should be!
The best thing we can do is to love ourselves. Do what brings us happiness; what makes us proud of ourselves. A woman who goes out fully loving her own body and being proud of her achievements is a freaking miracle. It’s a wonder. She’s a rebel and a queen. She doesn’t need to endanger her body to achieve it, she doesn’t have to lie and pretend she did more than in reality to feel proud and good about herself.
You are enough. I am enough. Just the way we are. And we are awesome.
Did you like the article? You might like those as well:
- Just Leave Me Alone! How Hiking Solo Calms Social Anxiety
- How to Start a Revolution: Love Yourself and Hit the Trails, Ladies!
- Hiking Solo As Therapy. Hit the Trails, Introverts!
- Why I love hiking solo: on the benefits and liberating values of hiking alone as a 40+ yo woman
What do you think? Please, share your thoughts with me!