I have to pee. I’m in a restaurant in Cusco, Peru in July of 2019. The bathroom is a small room I have to navigate to from a slightly larger room filled with a big table, crowded by people in chairs. I get up, and the person next to me scooches in their chair. I look at the space between the back of their chair and the wall. I shake my head, laugh, and say, loud enough for several of the people around us to hear, “No way am I fitting through that”. The other person laughs as well and exuberantly agrees. She gets up and moves aside while pushing her chair into the table. I extend my thanks while continuing to smile as I move toward the small bathroom next to the equally small kitchen. When I am finished, I come back out, she stands up again and I scooch my way back to my seat at the table.
This event would have been unremarkable if I were someone in a smaller body. You see, that is not the case for me. I am fat¹. For me, these types of things usually go this way: I get up, I can’t fit behind a straight size² person’s chair, I sheepishly shake my head and quietly say, “I’m sorry, I can’t fit”, they look back to check for themselves, and then scooch their chair up a few inches with them still in the chair. I look at those few inches, knowing I still won’t fit but I try anyway and say, “sorry, I still can’t”. They try not to look exasperated and move in another inch or two. I see that I still really can’t fit comfortably but I don’t want to ask again so I ram my fat body between the chair and wall or other chair just wanting to get this over with. This whole thing is repeated when I have to go back through to get to my seat. I try to be as quiet and small as I can. The least amount of people that see what’s going on, the better.
Why was the scenario I described first so easy, so nonchalant? Why were we both laughing? Why was it no big deal? It was because we both were fat. In fact, most of the people at the table were all fat as well. In this specific case, we were at a welcome dinner set up by our local Peruvian guides³ and the U.S. company⁴ the trip is run through, in preparation for starting to hike the Salkantay trail⁵ through the Andes mountains. We would be heading out the next morning early and similar scenarios as at the restaurant would be repeated by different people in our group several times in a dining tent and on the ever-changing mountainside trail over the next few days.
The hike was no joke, it ended up being on of the most difficult and one of the most rewarding adventures of my life, (so great I did it again in 2022 with another group of badasses). We were on the trail for five days with the second day being the hardest of the hike as we made it over the Salkantay pass at 15,090 feet. But, we all made it over the pass together. See, we all hiked at a similar pace which meant that we could all experience this amazing event at the same time. We would cry, hug, and dance together not thinking about anything except for the experience. We were all completely present. I am grateful to have been able to be a part of many similar but completely different moments like this in other outdoor adventures with many amazing fat adventurers over the last few years.
“What else would you be thinking about?”, you may ask. Well, I’ve been in other scenarios where I would be berating myself for being the slowest. I would be worried that I’m holding people up. I would be hiking completely alone. I would often be distracted by how my body looked or what other people were thinking about my larger body. All these things have kept me from being fully present in some really beautiful places before. Worrying about what I looked like or how people perceived me kept me anxious, stressed, ashamed, and missing out.
What I am describing is fat community. I'm specifically describing fat adventure community. Adventure for me has mostly been outdoors and travel. Things like multi-day hiking trips, rock climbing, cycling, glacier walking, and wild swimming. But, I have found that what you’re doing isn’t as important as whom you’re doing it with. Why is it so important? What makes it so healing? In a word, it is COMMUNITY where I feel I can just be. I can be all of me. I don’t have to shrink, I don’t have to make excuses, and I don’t have to worry about what anyone is thinking of me. I can actually forget about my body in all the ways except in the way that it is helping me do the activity I’m attempting.
When I have been swimming in lakes with people in similar bodies to mine, I can focus on the sensations of the water on my skin, on the warmth of the sun, on the sensation of floating, on the beautiful location I’m in. I can let go any of those body insecurities that might be hanging around. I know that these people have experienced similar feelings of othering in their lives and there is comfort in that unspoken knowing. I can wear whatever I FEEL comfortable in. I can experience one of my favorite things without even considering covering up.
When I try a new, hard, or scary thing, like rock climbing or walking on a glacier, the fear and anxiety are lessened when I do it with other fat folks. I am only thinking about the activity I’m engaged in. I am not adding to that anxiety by also thinking about my size and what people think of me in my fat body, doing the thing I’m doing. I am free to be scared out of my mind because I’m hanging off a 40-foot rock cliff, not because I am the ONLY FAT PERSON hanging off a 40-foot rock cliff.
I also appreciate fat adventure community in the preparation for a trip or an activity. As many of you reading this know, finding plus-size gear and outdoor clothing that will keep a person safe and comfortable is hard to find. When you have fat adventuring friends, everyone shares items and brands they come across so the searching and frustration are drastically reduced. We also can commiserate about that lack of resources because we all get it.
Doing hard things in fat community is life-changing. Taking up space in the outdoors is necessary. If you have questioned whether you should try something because of your body size, reconsider, because I promise you that you belong. We all belong in the outdoors, I encourage you to seek out your own fat adventurers. I’m talking about adventures here but the scenario with the chairs I described at the beginning has nothing to do with wild experiences. That could happen in any restaurant, anywhere. So even if you’re idea of adventure is chilling by a pool, I highly recommend finding yourself fat (positive) community. The freedom and joy is immeasurable.
Positionality and Privilege
I acknowledge and understand the privilege I and others have in the outdoor adventure world. Travel is expensive and not all people have the financial privilege to do these sorts of trips. I work for an adventure travel company which allows me to go on many of these trips while being paid and having the trip paid for.
I also acknowledge my privilege of being a white person in the outdoors. Traditionally the outdoors industry has been a very white and exclusive space. It is changing but there needs to be more. I will continue to learn about this and support BIPOC leaders in this space. Here are a few resources: Kween Werk , Melanin Base Camp , Black Folks Camp Too , Black Travel Alliance , Nelson Holland , Jeff Jenkins, host of Never Say Never, Mirna Valerio , Teresa Baker , Kareemah Batts , Jamicah Dawes , Latria Graham , Rue Mapp , Color Outside
I also acknowledge my privilege of being cisgender passing and straight passing. This means that the general view looking at my physical presentation is that of a cisgender woman (I use she/they pronouns) and because of my relationship with a cis-man, I look to be in a heterosexual relationship (I am queer).
I also acknowledge that I am a medium fat person. This means that I do experience oppression, gear not fitting, outdoor clothing options being limited by my size, struggling with fitting in seats on airplanes and in other public places. And, being that I am at the top of most clothing and gear at a size 3XL, the majority of companies making plus size outdoor gear will have something that fits me. I know that most brands and companies stop there. We will continue to push on companies to do better and make larger sizes. I do have an extended size clothing and gear list on my website that lists 3XL and above.
I am also a person with educational privilege and English is my first language. I am an able-bodied person and a citizen of the United States. Many of these things give me unearned proximity to opportunities, resources and power.
¹ I use the word fat to describe myself and fellow larger-bodied people. I have taken this word back for myself as a neutral descriptor the same way I would describe myself as being short, having dark hair, and green eyes. I understand not all people are comfortable with this word yet and recognize that even people I have adventured with would not use the term “fat” for themselves. I use this term in this writing for continuity and to highlight my experience with people who live in similar bodies to mine.
² ‘Straight size’ is a term taken from the fashion industry that generally goes up to a U.S. woman's size 14 or a large. ‘Plus size’ is a U.S. size 16 and up. An extra note: the average clothing size of a woman in the U.S. in 2023 is a size 16.
³ Mountain God’s Peru is the local guide company (highly recommend!)
⁴ Whoa Travel, specifically Whoa Plus. I work for and am a group adventure leader for Whoa Travel.
⁵ The Salkantay Trail/trek goes through the Sacred Valley of the Andes Mountains. It is the traditional, ancestral lands of the Quechua people, some of which are the living descendents of the Incas. The Quechua have continued to live, work, thrive and care for this sacred land to the current day. I honor and give gratitude to those who have shared their love and devotion to this beautiful land.