Body image is a weird thing, especially in our looks-obsessed society. I noticed a lot of changes in my body while I was hiking this summer, some of which I like and some which caused a sleeping giant of inner-body-shaming to awaken within me. I’m writing this post as a way of dispelling the inner hater and embracing my new digs.
Some context for those of you who haven’t been following my journey: this summer I hiked about 600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through California and Oregon.
I’m what’s colloquially known as a ‘skinny bitch.’ I have a crazy metabolism, thanks to my Dad. I’m short with tiny bird bones, thanks to my Mom. When I hike long distances, I typically lose a shit-ton of weight to the point where my body can hardly sustain life.
Two years ago, I lost 12lbs in 11 days of backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I looked (and felt) like shit after that. Sometimes bigger folks think I’m so lucky that I’m so skinny and that I lose weight so easily on the trail, but it actually sucks. I have no margin for error, because my body literally has no fat (energy) reserves.
Last year, I resolved that I would not lose a single pound on my 6-week hike. I chose the most ridiculously calorie dense food to carry. I gorged myself on burgers and ice cream in town. I force fed myself constantly. I started and ended that hike at 108 lbs. Success!
This year I had the same goal: I knew it would be harder because the hike was longer but I was determined. I had watched this video by Landmark in which she describes calculating the difference between the calories she would need for her hike and what she could carry — then proceeded to GAIN weight pre-hike to make up the deficit. Fucking brilliant!
I tried my best to put on weight. I really did. But despite drinkng a medium mocha with whole milk & whipped cream (sometimes a large, and sometimes TWO) literally EVERY DAY and eating a ton of burgers, pie, ice cream, candy, cheese, and all manner of fatty foods for months, I still weighed 108 when I started the hike in June. I did manage to develop a small pot belly, which was mildly encouraging.
When I’m hiking, I’m hungry all the time. It’s basically impossible to eat (or carry) enough calories to cover what you’re burning each day. It only takes a couple of days for my ‘hiker hunger’ to set in.
All I want is meat and candy. Fat, salt, and sugar are my best friends. So I hang out with them a lot.
After the first 200 miles or so, I’d lost the tiny pot belly I’d worked to hard to grow. I was cinching the hip belt on my backpack as tight as it would go, and worrying about it. I arrived at Red’s Meadow a starving mess. I spent the last 6 miles of the hike in practically running down the trail, endlessly jabbering about all of the foods I would eat when I got there.
I sat down at the counter and ordered blueberry pie and a chocolate milkshake. They make REAL milkshakes that bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they’re better than yours.
I inhaled them and ordered a bacon double cheeseburger.
The waitress raised her eyebrows and the guy sitting next to me smirked, “you’re gonna eat all that?”
“Yep.” I smiled. And I did.
As she cleared my plates, the waitress whispered, “I didn’t want to say anything but, wow! I’ve never seen such a tiny person eat so much. Where do you put it?”
I showed her my “food baby” – I literally looked like I’d swallowed a bowling ball.
For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t hungry. I was fully satiated. I’m not someone who has ever turned to food for comfort so this was a new thing for me: feeling really, really good after eating a bunch of food.
I woke up the next morning at 5am with one thing on my mind: BACON. Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, BACON! Somehow I managed to wait 3 whole hours for the restaurant to open. The waitress from last night was excited to take my order and watch me eat.
I filled my belly with 3 pancakes, 3 eggs and glorious bacon. I put butter and endless cream in my coffee. I also had pie.
There was another layer beyond just enjoying the food; I felt oddly proud that I could eat so much. It was clearly astounding to waitresses and onlookers etc. The more it happened, the more it became like a magic trick I could do. I posted the ridiculous food I was eating to Facebook and enjoyed shocking my friends and family.
Other hikers looked forward to seeing how much I could eat, and it became a running joke among my friends. People would ask me about all the foods I’d eaten during my more epic meals and would shake their heads in disbelief until they’d seen the miracle with their own eyes. I hiked with a chef who was determined to give me “cornbread thighs” and delighted in watching me devour all the food he cooked!
It stroked my ego and I liked the attention, but it also felt kind of perverse. “Skinny girl eats lots of food” is kind of a “man bites dog” type story; I know that fat or medium size people would not get this kind of encouragement to eat mass quantities of food. So it felt weird and complicated.
But I was really fucking hungry so I kept on eating.
Then I started actually gaining weight. I really didn’t like it. Not one little bit.
My thighs started TOUCHING when I walked. I never experienced “chafing” because I’ve always had a thigh gap, but I’ve heard enough about it that I knew I didn’t want it to happen to me! I started walking funny with my legs more spread apart to keep my thighs from touching. I complained to other hikers about it. I gave my thighs a lot of side eye.
This is hard to admit, but I felt fucking horrible when I lost my “thigh gap” and gained a “muffin top.”
I got everything I wanted, didn’t want what I got. I suddenly felt painfully aware of the skinny privilege I have always had. I was terrified that it might go away.
I love being tiny and short and skinny. I don’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t those things.
I haven’t felt crappy about my body like this since I was an angsty, anxiety-filled, hormone-fueled teenager. I thought this kind of shit was supposed to be over! I’m so body positive about other people, WTF?!
I thought a lot about how steeped in body hate and fat shaming our society is, that I can be so removed from media (in the woods for months) and surrounded by people who don’t give a fuck, but still those messages repeat in my head.
It made me mad. Initially I was just mad at myself for getting “fat” and then I got mad at myself for being mad about the fat and eventually I just got mad at fat-hate in general.
It occurred to me that the reason I had cultivated this pot belly and these cornbread thighs was so I could walk really fucking far and not starve to death.
That’s literally why humans have fat: so we don’t starve to death if we don’t have enough food. This “realization” sparked the return of some acceptance and self-love.
I’m not saying I’m 100% happy with my body right now because that would be a lie, but I’m at peace with my belly and thighs. I’m grateful that they will be there if I ever need to eat them.
There were some other changes too, most notably my ass. I have one now. It’s round and muscly and no longer fits into my jeans. I’m pretty excited about it — I always wanted one!!
Also my thighs didn’t just get fat, they got strong.
My hiker legs are just solid muscles and I’m proud of them.
What have they done but serve me well? They don’t deserve all this shade I’ve been throwing.
I just gotta get some apple bottom jeans (and boots with the fur) to go with my new body.