Black History is American History
(This is a copy of my February newsletter email. I didn't want it to just get lost there so I decided to share it here.)
This February let's decolonize! Let's decolonize our yoga, and the outdoors industry...but first, let's learn about the racist roots of diet culture!
Anti-fatness is based in Anti- Blackness.
Anti-fatness as a form of anti-Blackness has its start in the time of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. As far back as the 1600s, white people began to associate larger, curvier bodies with Black enslaved people, especially Black enslaved women. White people wanted to make sure there was a definite division between Black folks, who they deemed as lazy, inferior, and excessive (reasons they should be enslaved), and themselves, who they deemed as more intelligent, godly, and moral. Fatness was associated with Black femininity and white women did not want to be associated with that.
Don't believe me? You don't have to, here are the experts.
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia by Dr. Sabrina Strings (buy here)
Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da'Shaun L. Harrison (buy here)
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor (buy here)
Fatphobia: America's Acceptable Bias by Nicole Cardoza on Anti-Racist Daily
Book review of Fearing the Black Body by Dr. Sabrina Strings Hannah Carlan , UCLA
NPR interview with Dr. Sabrina Strings
Why Your New Diet is Anti-Black. Interview with Da'Shaun L. Harrison about Belly of the Beast
The Racist Roots of Fighting Obesity in Scientific American
Diet Culture and Weight Loss Programs are a Scam by Da'Shaun L. Harrison
Food Psych Podcast interview with Sabrina Strings #196
Fatphobia (and foodphobia)is Anti-Blackness with Da'Shaun Harrison on Rebel Eaters Podcast with Virgie Tovar
The BMI is Racist
The BMI was never meant to measure the health of individuals. It was meant to measure the average white, cisgender European man.
Read more about the BMI:
The Racist History of Fatphobia and Weight Stigma Within Health
The Racial Origins of BMI by Dominique Stewart at Anti-Racism Daily
Black folks and Black experiences aren't a monolith, and just highlighting some for a specific month feels reductive and kind of gross. My goal for this newsletter is to illuminate folks that are in white dominated fields (western yoga and the outdoors!) so that we all can expand our learning and hear from folks with different lived experiences and knowledge.
Dianne Bondy. Dianne teaches I hold such deep gratitude for all that I have learned from Dianne. If you ever think about taking yoga teacher training, may I suggest taking it from her.
Shawn J. Moore sound healing, yoga and meditation
Nikki Adams trauma informed yoga teacher
Latoya Cooper yin yoga at Asana and Wellness
Kelley Nicole Palmer a creative, a space holder and advocate. Also one of the creators of The Sanctuary in the City.
Kween Werk Parker McMullen Bushman: Social justice and outdoor activist
Melanin Basecamp "increas(ing) ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ participation in the outdoors."
Diversity Outdoors "We are a coalition of social media influencers – bloggers, athletes, activists, and entrepreneurs – who share the goal of promoting diversity in outdoor spaces where people of color, 2SLGBTQ+, and other diverse identities have historically been underrepresented."
Nelson Holland @fatblackandgettinit
Teresa Baker "Working to increase representation of underrepresented communities in our parks and within the outdoor industry" The founder of the In Solidarity Project.
OutdoorAfro.org "Outdoor Afro celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. The network also connects Black people with our lands, water, and wildlife through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation."
The above are just a small handful of folks out there doing the work of educating and making these areas more diverse and welcoming.
Content warning: dieting, food restriction, intentional weight loss (but that's all in the past)
I was dieting, thinking about dieting, about to start a diet, or in between diets for thirty years of my life 30, three, zero. I was good at dieting. I followed the "rules" to a T, the weight came off.
Slowly, I got tired of the rules and the weight slowly crept back on. Food I wasn't "supposed" to have came back in the house and I couldn't help but eat it if it was there. The weight came back on with some extra.
Exercise was always a part of it too. I used that to punish my body because it was "too big". I would lose weight and then stop exercising because it wasn't fun and didn't feel good.
Repeat that cycle for thirty years.
Remind me, what is that quote about repeating the same thing over and over expecting different results? Man, was I just banging my head against the wall over and over again or what?!
I tried every type of diet and lifestyle too. From Slim Fast to Weight Watchers to Richard Simmons to low carb to raw vegan to Herbalife. It all worked until it didn't. How fun. How boring and how frustrating.
Food is supposed to be enjoyed, food is a way to connect with loved ones here, a way to remember loved ones gone and the message we get is to make sure to moderate your ancestors??
Six or so years ago I said enough. I don't want to live this way anymore. It isn't fun and it was me constantly berating myself, chiding myself, and saying really mean things to myself every time the weight would come back on.
I finally realized that if I've been at this for 30 years, it's actually not my fault. It's actually every single diet or lifestyle that I tried. I was good at lots of things. I had very good grades in school, lots of friends, a very successful business so why wasn't I good at this?
It turns out because my body was smarter than me and all of those diet makers. My body was...is, so wise that anytime I would try to give her less food and more exercise she would be like..."ah, we have been here before! We will not be starved, we will survive this next famine by holding on to our life saving fat stores harder!"
As I let go, slowly over time, after the initial swing of the pendulum, things have come to a pause. I am at my heaviest BUT THAT IS BECAUSE OF ALL THOSE 30 YEARS OF DIETING. If I never restricted what I ate as a kid, teenager, and into my adult years I would be much smaller today. I've come to love this version of my body, now so that's okay. This fat body has done some really epic and fun things. And, I can now have chips, chocolate, ice cream and more in my house and I forget about it. How you ask? Let me demonstrate: don't think about a purple lion. What are you thinking about right now? Might it be a purple lion? We are shown constantly that what we restrict, we crave, think about and even obsess about. If everything is allowed at any time, it no longer has power. No, you won't eat all the cookies in the house forever, trust me.
I write this because I see so many people doing what I did. I hear people demean themselves for not having willpower. I see people jumping on this lifestyle trend and that one. I'm here to tell you that it's not your fault you can't keep the weight off. 98% of people gain their weight back (and usually more because of their smart bodies)after 5 years or less. 98%!
Being fat also isn't the health risk that everyone wants you to think. The risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other "fat related " illnesses are much more closely linked to weight cycling or yo yo dieting than to staying at a higher weight. Health benefits are seen when folks move regularly, eat a variety of foods, work on stress reduction* and have proper medical care regardless of body size.
*There is only so much stress reduction a person can do especially if they not only live in a larger body but have other oppressed identities. Black and brown and Indigenous people have to deal with racism, LGBTQIA people have to deal with homophobia, and transphobia. The more marginalized identities a person holds, the more social stressors there are to have a negative affect on their health.
I share this with you in hopes that it inspires you to also give up the dieting. There are way more fun/important/inspiring/interesting etc. things in this life than being a certain size.
If only I could go back and tell child, teen and young adult me.
I live in the Northeast. I specifically live within an hour and a half of Buffalo, NY. If you know anything about Buffalo, it’s probably that it gets a lot of snow. That’s because our location is directly to the east of Lake Erie and that means we get Lake Effect snow. (I’ll be interested to see what effect climate change has on this weather phenomenon). So, that means if I want to go outside in the late fall and winter months, I’ve got to like snow (maybe not like it but at least learn to live with it), and I’ve got to dress for the weather. I know so many people that have said that they have hated the cold until they started dressing for the weather. Their whole enjoyment level went up a lot.
So whether you are snowshoeing, skiing, hiking or building a snowman, I’d love to share some of my tips and the clothing and gear I have used to stay comfortable as a plus /fat person, when it’s in the low digits and I want to get outside.
First of all, I want to say that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get out there. Yes, there is technical clothing made for very cold temps and a lot of it costs big bucks, but if you’re just starting to explore winter outside, you can do so for maybe less than you think. The key things that you want to remember are: always layer and stay away from cotton. So, if you have athletic gear from Wal-mart or something you’ve had for a long time, anything that is wicking should work. You might just want to put on a few layers of those leggings or tops. When I first started getting into snowshoeing, I found some long sleeve wicking tops in the “athletic section” at Wal-Mart for around $10. I bought a few different colors and that’s what I wore as my base and mid layers. These days, another lower price option, that I’m getting a lot of stuff currently, is Old Navy. I have a pair of their fleece lined leggings (linked below) and that is all I wear when the temps are around 20 F. They have recently come out with top and bottom base layers that are a merino wool mix for a really good price ($30 to $40 and watch for sales). Merino wool tends to be the standard for base layers (the layer you wear closest to your skin) as it is naturally wicking and odor blocking. If you are allergic to wool, there are some good synthetic options out there as well. Honestly, you could outfit yourself completely in Old Navy these days. They are putting out some good stuff and their sizing goes up to a 4XL which is around a 26-28. (I’m definitely not sponsored by Old Navy, lol).
So why layer?
The reason it’s better to have lots of light weight or thinner layers instead of a couple of thicker layers is that you have better control of your temperature as you do activities. One caveat: If you are downhill skiing, that is the only activity where wearing thicker and less layers makes sense since you don’t work up too much heat when skiing downhill. There is a lot of wind there and also when you’re on the ski lift up in the air, you can get really cold. Most other winter activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing and hiking can really work up some heat. Anything where you’re moving and going through the added drag of going through snow can get the blood pumping. When you start getting warm, you want to be able to take off layers. The last thing you want when you’re out in the winter is to start sweating. The reason is if you stop moving for any reason, including for an emergency, you will get colder much faster and stay much colder. When you stop the activity, you can put back on the layers that you took off to try to stay at a comfortable temperature. This is the same reason you want to stay away from cotton. Cotton holds moisture close to the skin and can stay wet if you sweat at all. This will cause you to get cold too. Wearing moisture wicking materials is the best choice for most outdoor activities anytime, but it’s especially important in the winter.
An important note:
Outdoor clothing and gear are very personal choices. There is also a lot of trial and error to find out what works best for you. I’ve changed things over the years as my activities have changed and my body has changed. I’m going to be sharing what my current go tos are for outdoor winter fun as a suggestion of things that might work for you too. Feel free to always reach out. Here is a list of brands that that carry plus size activewear and outdoor clothing and gear. I always add to it when I find new stuff. Please share with me any brands that I don’t have on this list, that you love.
Below is what I would wear to snowshoe, hike or cross country ski for several hours, right now in the winter of 2021-22 in 20-30 degree Fahrenheit (-7 to -1 C) temps. I would add or subtract layers depending on temps and precipitation. Remember, snow will get your stuff wet so if it’s likely to snow when you go out, make sure you have waterproof layers over your warm stuff (especially if it’s down). Also, I am a warm person generally, so if you run cold, you may want to add a layer if you’re following my suggestions. I usually wear a 3XL on top and a 2XL on bottom in “women’s” clothes. I’ll link the actual clothing I have unless it’s no longer made and then I’ll link something similar. I have gathered this stuff over time too so unless you’ve got money to burn, take your time building up.
First, on top:
On the bottom:
Colder weather additions:
Here are a few additional cold weather “tips”.
Bring a thermos of your favorite hot beverage with you to drink. Especially if you find it hard to drink cold liquids in the winter. I usually bring regular water on my hike/snowshoe etc. and leave a thermos of hot tea in my car for the drive home. It is so nice to have that waiting back at my car.
If you’re going out when it’s well below freezing, and you use a water bladder and hose (like a Camelbak), the hose can easily freeze. Sometimes blowing into the tube after you drink can reduce the likelihood of that happening but I choose to use either an insulated bottle or a Nalgene bottle. If you carry the Nalgene upside down, if the water starts to freeze, it will do so from the bottom (now the top) so that the part you drink from freezes last and you can still drink from it.
This is just what I wear and what I do. I’m not coming here as an “expert” but as someone who has done this for many years. There are as many ways to dress as there are people out there so find what works for you. These are just suggestions and a possible place to start if you are wondering “what in the world should I wear to be outside in the winter?”
I hope that this inspires you to get out and enjoy the winter in some way. If you can’t beat it, join it?
*If you don’t already know, I use the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor of my body. You can describe your body however feels best to you.
I recently saw a meme on social media that said something like “note to everyone over the age of 37, you no longer need a double space after a period, we aren’t using typewriters anymore”. I laughed to myself because I am definitely over 37 and that was how I learned to type. Then popped a memory of an email exchange I had with someone that I wrote an article for a couple years ago. She said everything looked good, but was just going to edit out the double spaces. I honestly had no idea that that wasn’t how you were supposed to type anymore! I made a joke about it and said that I was going to try to get out of the habit, but I bet it will take me some time and be kinda hard. (Spoiler alert: I rarely use double spaces anymore, I mean I absolutely make mistakes, but not as often as I used to).
This isn’t really about the actual meme, about double spaces or single spaces. What got my attention and me thinking was all of the comments below the meme. Things like, “nope, I’ll always do it that way, that’s how I learned” and “sorry, it’s ingrained in my brain to do it that way” and “I’ll never change”. It sounded so much like “this is how I was raised” or “I did it this way and I’m fine” etc. Things I hear people say as an excuse when they are uncomfortable with something or don’t understand something. A way to not think past their own experiences. This is what I hear when people are presented with a different way to parent their kids, a different way to train their dogs (I used to be a dog trainer, I heard these things all the time) or a different way to exist and be in the world rather it be as a different gender or relationship type or something else. I hear it a lot when it comes to changing our language and replacing terms or words that we have been told are harmful to folks in communities we may not be a part of. Usually these are antiquated words and terms.
Why is this? Why do we push back against doing things differently? Especially when folks are saying that we’re doing harm to someone (I know there is no one being hurt if you use two spaces instead of one). Is it because we think someone is saying we’re wrong and our feelings are hurt? Is it some stubborn ego thing? I know what the larger picture answer is: it’s white supremacy, but I’m talking more on an individual level here.
I can remember many times I was presented things that flew in the face of what I had been doing all along. When I first started training dogs, I used a choke and a pinch collar. As I continued my education, I was presented with the facts that there were better ways to train a dog that didn’t have the side effects of punishment based training. The techniques “worked” but I was hurting the dog, even though that’s what many people before me had done and many people still did (and do). I even remember a few years after I had ditched those techniques, someone I had worked with early on in my career came back to me with a new dog and even after I showed them what I was doing now, they told me that they were going to use the pinch collar because that’s how I taught them with their first dog…? What? No, I had grown and learned and I was telling them a better way but their answer was “this is what I’ve always done”.
Another time was when I stopped using the R word (once used for people with an intellectual disability) as a “playful” dis to someone being annoying or goofy. A friend of mine with a brother with Down’s Syndrome had recently explained to me how hurtful and angry it made her when people used that word in that way. After hearing that, I made it a point to try and stop using that word, because I had been using it for years and I didn’t know the harm I was doing. Shortly after I was around someone who used the word that way. When this person used the word, I explained what I had learned and that although the habit might be hard to break, I was really trying not to use it. This person’s response was, “why does it matter if they’re not around?” With that logic, is it then okay to disrespect anyone as long as they’re not around? Not to mention that, if you don’t get out of the habit of using that word, you’re very likely to mess up when someone is around who will be hurt by it.
Here are two other examples I can share: One was that a close friend’s child, whom I saw grow up, came out as transgender. I saw this person for years one way but when he told me that his pronouns were he and him, I made it a point to change my language because I loved him and doing otherwise would have brought him harm. I messed up many times because it was a habit but I just kept trying and now I have changed my language fully.
The second example of changing language has been since I became a yoga teacher. I was taught in my yoga teacher training and had heard in all my yoga classes the term “Namaste” at the end of class. That is how I ended my class for a long time. I also would often site the play on words, you know the “nama-stay in bed” stuff? I then took continued education about the roots of yoga taught by yoga practitioners from South Asia who explained that “Namaste” is a greeting, not a goodbye. They explained how I could differently end my classes in order to honor the actual roots of this ancient practice of yoga, instead of doing what I was taught by my frankly white, western teachers. They also explained that it was a sacred word, so I needed to be careful of how I used it. Did I have to change it? I guess not but once I had the information, not changing it was doing knowledgeable harm (I think of this as a form of Ahimsa for those other yoga practitioners out there).
So, in conclusion, I do not give a shit if you use one space or two. Actually, don’t look at this blog post too hard, I probably mistakenly added some double spaces because it is hard to change a habit but not impossible. What I’m saying is that maybe it is good to question and challenge something we’ve always done. Maybe we could let go of an old habit. Is holding on to something because we don’t want to be wrong or told what to do or because it’s uncomfortable, causing someone else harm? All I can say is I’m going to keep trying no matter how hard it is and how many times I keep messing up. I mean, this stuff is hard, there’s no denying that but our brains are so cool and are brilliantly malleable. I bet we can do it in the name of harm reduction and empathy.
10/2/21 Women’s March
Hello, I am Andrea, she/her. Before I get started, I invite you to pause and take a breath if or when you need to. I invite you to take notice of anything I say that makes you feel uncomfortable… This is a reminder for myself to breathe too.
I identify as fat. Not fat as in “no you’re not fat, you’re beautiful” but as in I am fat AND beautiful, thank you very much. I use the term fat as a neutral descriptor, not as a disparaging, self deprecating term. I am fat, as I am short, I am white and I have dark hair. I am told by dominant culture that I should be small, I should hide, I should be quiet.
I am sorry, no thank you, I am here to take up space. I hope you are too. But enough about me.
Body liberation is a feminist issue so in turn fat liberation is a feminist issue. Fat activists rally against sexism, heterosexism, racism, ableism, and classism as these “isms” are very closely intertwined. Pushing back against dominant culture’s beauty standards go part and parcel in this work.
Fat activism work came out around the time that many other feminist movements were happening in the 60s and 70s. After the initial “fat in” in Central Park in 1967, the movement was radicalized and pushed forward by queer feminists of the time. Unfortunately, the problem of weight discrimination very much exists today in the form of medical fat bias and the lower pay and underemployment of larger bodied folks, not to mention the downright abuse, hate and disrespect many fat people face in their everyday lives. (Ask me how many people have told me to die). If we add other intersectionalities to the mix like being a fat woman, a fat queer or trans person, a fat, Black femme or a fat indigenous two spirit person, the abuse and very real danger multiplies.
Let’s talk about employment:
It is legal in 49 states for an employer to discriminate against people of a higher weight. A Time Magazine article wrote, “A 2008 study conducted by researchers at Yale University found that 10% of women and 5% of men had experienced discrimination based on their weight, including being rejected for a job. A 2014 study from Vanderbilt University found that overweight women are paid less than their male colleagues across a variety of industries.” Look at the gender pay gap, look at what Black women make in comparison to white women, add size to the mix and the pay in-equality is vast.
Weight stigma is real, but I feel that it is often left out of feminist circles, social justice conversations and activism. We are told it is our fault for being fat when really there are so many factors that contribute to body size that are out of our control. We are sometimes seen as not quite human and almost always as a “before”. Clothing companies won't make clothes to fit us, establishments won't have chairs we fit in. This says we are not welcome in society. Showing outward hatred and disdain for fat people is acceptable...acceptable…because “what about your health?”.
Tell me if you've heard this one… a fat person goes to a doctor for stomach pain and is consistently told the pain is because of their weight. The fat person dies some time later due to a massive tumor growing in their abdomen. No? It happens ALL THE TIME. Did you know that many fat people, especially women, won't go or delay going to the doctor because we know we won't be listened to about what is actually wrong. Even if NOTHING is wrong we are still looked up and down, shushed and prescribed weight loss. Weight loss, for an ear infection, weight loss for a broken arm. Weight loss for a sinus infection.(I’m not joking). Weight loss that has a 95 % failure rate! This experience is even worse for folks in higher weight categories. They are often prescribed potentially dangerous procedures, with known long term health effects, that mutilate their organs. I'm not here to debate "health" although there are many, many scientific studies that debunk the idea that weight and health are as connected as commonly accepted. No one owes anyone health and the common idea of "health " is unattainable for many people. People with chronic illness and disabilities will never be what society thinks is “healthy”. We truly do not have the control over our health that many wellness companies, healthcare professionals, personal trainers etc. want us to believe. To quote the brilliant Sonya Renee Taylor, “there is no standard of health that is achievable for all bodies. Our belief that there should be, anchors the systemic oppression of ableism and reinforces the notion that people with illnesses and disabilities have defective bodies rather than different bodies.”
Permanent weight loss is not possible for 95% of people considered overweight. Let me say that again...permanent weight loss is not possible for 95% of people. And BMI is scientifically, bullshit. So we have fat folks. You've got us, we are here to stay. So how's about society treat us with some dignity and respect?
Did you know that children can be taken away from their "obese” mothers. “Overweight” children are also taken away from perfectly loving homes because "no good mother should have a fat kid." This is unacceptable! And let me be perfectly clear, white women, myself included, stood by while Black women, Indiginous women and other women of color have had their children taken from them in the same way. Not to mention state sanctioned, forced sterilization in many cases. We must not be silent as we have been about this for so very long. If the rage you’re feeling only started after this heartbeat abortion bill in Texas, pay better attention. We need to do better.
When it comes more specifically to reproductive issues directly affecting fat folks, here is something to think about. The Plan B (or morning after) pill does not work for people over a certain weight…and they don’t tell us this outright. Also, pregnancy tests taken by larger sized people do not show a positive result as early as with smaller sized people. This is important when planning a family but also when there is a small window of time to make important decisions.
Body politics originally involved the fight against objectification of the female body, violence against women and girls, and the campaign for reproductive rights for women. Why are body politics, specifically standing up against fatphobia and ableism, so important as we stand under this umbrella of intersectional feminism? Because anti fatness affects fat Black people, fat Indiginous people, fat people of color, fat Trans people, fat white people, fat non-binary people, fat queer people and fat disabled people.And it is important to remember that anti fatness is based in anti Blackness. Anti fatness and misogyny are connected. Women and people that identify as women should be small and fair and quiet and “know their place”.
“...the current anti-fat bias in the United States and in much of the West was not born in the medical field. Racial scientific literature since at least the eighteenth century has claimed that fatness was ‘savage’ and ‘black.” Sabrina Strings, from her book, Fearing the Black Body, The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia.
Anti fat oppression is real and we must all stand against it. This isn’t just about abortion rights. This is about the rights of all (outside of the patriarchy) to have control over their own bodies and to be treated as a complete human in whatever body they’re in. And, in saying that, we need to remember that at the core of all of this is voting rights so let’s make sure we vote and make voting as accessible for as many folks as we possibly can. I stand with and listen to all fat folks but especially fat, Black Trans people and fat Indigenous people because when we talk about all of our oppression being connected these are the people who are the most marginalized. Black trans women and Indigenous women are being murdered at an alarming rate and we must stop this from happening. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, the civil rights activist, “the changes we have to have in this country are going to be for liberation of all people--because nobody's free until everybody's free."
( I originally wrote this for Fat Girl Reviews but it is no longer up so I thought I'd share it here).
I’m a fat woman and an outdoors person. I’ve always been a hiker/backpacker/skier/snowshoe-er, but I suppose I’ve not always been fat. If I look back to photos of me backpacking or skiing in my 20’s I now realize that although I had a bigger frame than some of my friends (and in my head, I thought my body was too big, ugh), I was not fat. I remember that when I went into outdoor stores, even though I wore either a size L or XL, I was still able to find clothes that fit me in the store. I admit that it was a little daunting, but I usually came home with something that would work for me. Thin privilege anyone?
This was the time before the internet, by the way. Back in the day, I had a large internal frame backpack, hiking boots, a daypack, a raincoat, rain pants, a ski jacket, ski pants, a climbing harness, a sleeping bag and everything I thought I needed to be prepared in the outdoors. Funny enough, thinking back, I don’t really remember what brands I owned. I purchased what I thought looked cool and mostly, what I could afford as a broke college student, I bought many off-brands or used what I got as birthday or Christmas gifts. This could be why I don’t remember brands as well.
Today, that is not the case. I know exactly what brands of outdoor gear I have because there are only a few that actually carry my size. For the record, I’m a small to medium fat person, wearing around a size 20, with a 3 XL on top and a 2XL on the bottom. I am writing this from my own personal experience, I know folks that are larger than me who have an even more limited selection.
I write about my experience when I was younger to illustrate the point that if you wear an XL or below, you can generally walk into an outdoor outfitter and buy clothes and gear off the rack. Herein lies the first problem that we plus size outdoor folks have to deal with. If you are above that size, and even if the company carries your size, it is rare that you can go into a store and actually try the clothes on. You have to buy off the internet. This is something that is difficult because as we all know, sizes vary from one company to another. So, often buying online requires that you either a) return items and exchange for another size, which takes time. How often do you go into a fitting room and everything fits on the first try? Or b) buy 2 or 3 different sizes of an item and then once you try them on at home, send back the ones that didn’t fit. That can be expensive and not everyone has the money to do that.
Let’s touch on the more specific issues that bigger people have when it comes to outdoor gear. Last month, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with the Curvy Kili Crew (CKC) and over the last year, there was much discussion about the specialized technical clothing and other gear we needed. I personally took this last year to upgrade my gear to be sure I had what would help me climb this mountain. Here are some things I learned and noticed.
Let’s talk about sleeping bags. Personally, since my years of backpacking in my 20s, I have mostly done a lot of day hiking and car camping with many dreams of getting back into the days when I could just walk and carry everything I needed on my back. Because I have been car camping though, I was able to purchase an inexpensive two-season double sleeping bag that my partner and I could share in our tent. (He happens to be in a thin body). The fact that most of the car camping we do is in the summer months, I didn’t have to worry if the sleeping bag could fully zip up or that it had a certain degree rating. I didn’t have to think about how small it compressed down to or how much it weighed either. However, once I signed up for the Kili trip, I knew I would need a bag that went down to 0 degrees, that could be compressed and carried. At first, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it might not fit me. Then I started reading what other women were saying in our group. So I got out my old trusty backpacking mummy bag from years-gone-by and guess what...nope, that thing did not zip past my hips. Okay, well this was something I too now had to research and worry over. Between what I found and what women in our group said, this was not a super easy task.
The majority of “regular women’s” bags (I am using women’s gear here since that is what I mostly looked at) have a hip width of 59 inches and shoulder width of 62 inches. There were a few of those that offered an additional “regular wide” size that had a hip width of 67 inches and shoulder width of 70 inches (the REI Lyra 24). This would fit me, but the problem with most of the wider width bags is that they only went down to around 20 degrees. So on top of the sleeping bag, I would have to purchase a liner. All I could picture was me, all twisted up in the morning possibly accosting my tent-mate trying to find a way OUT! This sleeping bag weighs 3 lbs. 2 oz, which is 2 ounces heavier than the “regular” size.
After following a link that a fellow Curvy Kili Crew member listed, I was able to purchase a 0-degree bag that had a hip width of 72 inches and shoulder width of 67 (the Kelty Tuck EX 0). Let me tell ya, I am in love with this bag. For me, it has just the right amount of room and I can stick my feet out of the bottom. There are drawbacks with this bag though. It is big and bulky and I had to fight to get it in the compression sack I had to buy for it, is a job. It also weighs in at 4 lbs and 13 oz. This is almost 2 pounds heavier than the other sleeping bag I tried. Although I was able to make that work for my Kilimanjaro trip, for other trips where I need warmth and am concerned about weight, this is not going to be a great option. What some folks that are larger than me have found works for them is to purchase a double sleeping bag. These are generally not rated for as low a temperature as the mummy bag style, so other layers such as adding a backpacking quilt may be necessary. Upon doing a bit of research for this article, both of the sleeping bags I mentioned above were very hard to find online. These are important pieces of equipment that we need. I wish these companies were paying attention and making what they do already offer, more readily available.
Since we’re now talking about gear here, let’s talk about the other big gear purchase for many people: a backpack. Whatever the size you need, backpacks all have similar components. The way day-packs, internal, and external frame backpacks work, are all similar. Each has a waist belt, one or two shoulder straps and a chest strap. The main problem plus size folks have with backpacks is the waist belt. The waist belt should sit at the hips, low across the belly, and too often, it doesn’t fit. There are a few companies that will send you an extender for either no cost or a low cost. There are two companies that, thanks to Christa Singleton of Travel Fearlessly, their options are known. Osprey will send them for free and Gregory Packs will charge you between $10 and $12 for an extender. Both of these have to be ordered, and as far as I know, they are not available in the store where the backpacks are sold. This seems like a place where companies could quite easily add longer belts to their packs.
Moving on to outerwear. If you’re going to be hiking, doing anything outside in any season but the milder months, (even then, you still need rain gear), you need quality outer clothing. This is stuff that is either windproof, waterproof, warm or all three. The joke (it’s funny because it’s true) with all of us in the Curvy Kili Crew is that we were all twinsies, like seriously 10 pairs of twinsies. Because there are so few options in this regard, we all had similar, if not matching outerwear. Many base layers and mid layers were the same too. The companies that were the most common in our group were Columbia and REI. Both of these companies sell quality gear going up to a size 3X. Our puffy jackets and vests, our windproof shells and our rain gear often toted these brand names. My snow pants and rain pants are Columbia and although they fit my waist and thighs because I am fat and short, I had to spend $25 to a third party on top of the original purchase to get them both shortened around 5 inches.
In addition to this “outerwear” category, I’ll add leg gaiters. Leg gaiters (not to be confused with neck gaiters or alligators), help keep rocks, sand, gravel, mud, and snow out of your boots. Gaiters for the winter, generally go up over the calves. I have used OR gaiters for years. I use them for snowshoeing and hiking in the mud and snow. I noticed that over the last few years, they were getting tough to completely close without any gaps, but they still worked. As my CKC friends met me in New York for some snow hiking, I realized that this was a piece of gear that didn’t work for many of them. Some folks opt to buy “men’s” gaiters but run into similar problems. This is so disappointing that these companies haven’t extended their gaiter sizes. Since this piece of equipment is so useful, it would be within their best interest to add larger sizes.
Hiking boots are probably the most important piece of gear that anyone would need if they wanted to spend a lot of time on trails. This is a very personal choice. If there is anything I really want to emphasize to folks is that it’s important to try them on, use them and break them in. After saying that, many plus size folks need a wider width boot. My personal favorite has been my Keen boots. I do find the wider toe box to be very comfortable. Some CKC members loved their Lowas, Merrells, Vasques (these tended to come in larger sizes) to name a few of the common ones. If you live near an REI, go in and try on all the boots and talk to someone there.
For base layers, mid layers, hiking pants, and tops, most of the technical stuff stops at a 3XL. Companies like Smartwool, Duluth Trading Co. and again REI and Columbia, all fit in this category. For hiking leggings and technical tops, there tend to be more options since here, fat folks can find more activewear. Leggings and moisture wicking shirts can be found often up to a 5XL and 6XL. Companies like Superfit Hero and Rsport carry quality gear in a large range. Even Wal-Mart online carries higher than a 3XL. If people need clothing for day hikes where the temperature extremes are not too great, there are beginning to be more options. Another thing to mention here is that some of the companies I mentioned do make plus size clothing but do not sell it directly on their own site. They sell it only through a third party. Smartwool is one of those companies. You can buy only up to an XL on their site but can get some of their base layers up to a 3 XL on REI. I have found out that this happens often in plus size fashion. I will be reaching out to some of these companies to add my voice to others who would like more options in more sizes on the company’s own websites. We have money that spends the same as anyone else.
I hope that after reading this, you can begin to navigate the world of outdoor gear as a plus size person. One of my goals has been to give some tips and tricks when starting to build up your outdoor gear as a person in a bigger body. The more important goal in writing this is to point out that there is nothing wrong with the way your body is now. You and I do not need to change in order to get into the outdoors and enjoy it! I only touched the surface of some more common outdoor activities. I could add (and maybe will in another post) information on climbing harnesses, ski boots, and kayaks, oh my!
The reason you cannot find a lot of gear in your size is not because you don’t belong, it is because companies haven’t been listening to the demand we’re creating. Outdoor companies need to do better. Those of us in “non-traditional” hiker bodies need gear too. We need quality gear and we want options. We don’t all want to look alike, we want to have some originality in outdoor plus size gear. Our money is just as good as thin folks money. There is a market that is not being tapped into. People need technical clothing and gear so they can get out and have the adventures they’re dreaming about. We all belong in the outdoors.
This is about the fifth first blog I’ve started writing. I even have several that are almost finished. I have so many ideas floating around in my head and so many “starts”. I have a blog post started about “Movement During a Pandemic” written back in April. I have a blog introducing myself, I have one I’ve started about antiracism resources, I have one about Pride. I have one about the 10 hiking essentials. I start and stop and think to myself “I’m just not saying it exactly right. People will think I don’t know what I’m talking about”. I do the same thing with videos I’ve started making for YouTube and Instagram. Hell, just photos I’ve planned to share on IG will get almost to the “post” point and then I’ll erase it all because it’s just not right.
Let’s move away from just social media and talk about other life stuff. I want to start running more but I only have one day a week now that I really have any time for that. I think, “well don’t bother then”. I have several books on my list to read and only have 5 minutes here and there so I figure that that isn’t enough time to even get into it. I won’t start any project unless I think I have time to finish it. As a yoga teacher, I always felt I must do at least an hour practice and if I don’t have that amount of time, might as well not do it.
Perfectionism is making me freeze. It’s making me not even begin a project let alone finish it. If it’s not up to my “standards” why even try? This is no way to be productive and to share the things I want to share with others.
I’ve decided to try following the mantra “done is better than perfect”. This has resonated with me for some time but I’m now going to try to live this in a way that allows me to feel like I have done the things I want to do and get done.
One method is to start using a timer. I will set a 5 minute timer and sit down to read, or do the dishes or whatever. When the timer goes off, I will decide whether I have another 5 minutes or if I have to move on to something else. I will go for a walk or a run, even if I only have 20 minutes because I know I’ll feel better after I do that instead of zoning out on social media (not that there’s anything superior about movement than sitting and doing nothing, I just want to move more right now). I know that this technique I have described has a name and I would look it up right now but what will happen is that I would go down this rabbit hole online and never get this finished….so, if anyone reading this knows the technique, please share. I will also look it up later.
It is okay if I only do a 10 minute yoga practice. Ten minutes is better for me than no minutes. Five minutes would be totally cool too. It doesn’t HAVE to be an hour or more every time.
As far as social media and goes, I will do smaller projects more often instead of these big elaborate ideas. I will also put aside a big section of one day to do more for the full week instead of trying to do it more often. I will type out all of my thoughts on a subject and do a quick edit and get it out instead of waiting until I think it’s perfect. This blog post will get one look over and boom, I’ll publish it because damn it, I have on my website “blog coming soon” for like 6 months.
Have you ever been brought down by a self perceived type of perfectionism? What have you done to overcome it? Can you relate? Is it different for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I appreciate and celebrate you.