Ask Jenny Bruso
December 11, 2018
By Jenny Bruso | @jennybruso
From the creator of Unlikely Hikers, an online community for the underrepresented outdoorsperson.
Dear Jenny Bruso,
How do you know when you really don't like something, or your brain is getting in your way? I live somewhere where outdoor sports are very common and popular. My coworkers and friends are always talking about them. I just smile and say I’d do [that] if I was in shape." I feel ashamed of being inactive and fat, so I pretend to be interested.
Every time I’ve hiked, I've hated it. Either my hiking buddy sucked all the fun out of it (thanks, jerkface ex) or I'm so slow/sweaty/uncomfortable and feel bad for anyone nice enough to hang back with me. Perfectly flat trail in the woods? Totally fine, almost meditative, but when I ask friends to go on those walks they don’t seem interested, so I stay home and feel bad for myself for being fat and lazy.
I wish I could just decide outdoor sports aren’t for me, so I could find some form of activity I do like.
-The Girl Who Cried Fitness
Dear Cried Fitness,
I thought I hated exercising. As I came into my feminist awakening, I actually decided I Do Not Exercise. The fitness and weight loss industry rakes in $66 million a year from our self-loathing and has expertly turned exercise into a joyless means of distracting and controlling people, especially women, from our own power and self-possession. It’s become a barometer of morality. Fat people are blamed for rising insurance rates as if it’s not actually the insurance and health care systems themselves to be blamed. Of course you feel pressured to appear as though you’re interested in being active!
Guess what? Being fat and inactive doesn’t actually make anyone a bad person and you actually can decide you don’t like outdoor activities. You don’t owe anyone exercise or good health. It could be argued you owe it to yourself, but even then, not really. Your body, your choice.
A flat trail in the woods is totally hiking, hon, and it sounds like something you enjoy, but it’s all messed up in your head by bullshit. Valid bullshit. When I started hiking six years ago, I was surprised to find I actually liked exercising despite how oppressive the narrative around it is. It made me sleep better, improved my mental health and helped me make better choices (drinking less, for example) so I’d feel energized about getting out. Hiking alone kept me from projecting my performance on others. Becoming stronger from exercise has me feeling more empowered, and yes, healthier, but I get to decide what value judgment I put on that.
Have you given your friends a real chance to show up for you where you’re at? Are you able to state your needs to them? What sorts of personal judgments are keeping you from making friends with other people more like yourself? You deserve friends who affirm your experience, if not a whole community.
I encourage you to let go of ideas about how exercise should look, and how your body should look doing it. Think about what your body does for you, not what it doesn’t do for you. I understand outdoor activities are a big part of the culture where you’re from, but take the emphasis off of them. Find activities that involve moving your body in joyous ways. Whether it’s strolling those flat trails in the woods, beginner yoga, dancing for fifteen minutes in your bedroom, developing a daily stretching routine, anything. If you can find someone to share one or more of these things with, even better, but don’t wait. Doing these things alone may even keep some of those mind demons that come out when you exercise with others at bay.
And if you’re ever in Portland, hit me up. I know a lot of someones who’d love to move with you in beautiful places.