A craggy outcropping, bleached by the sun.
A steadfast ponderosa pine.
A single blade of grass, dancing in the wind.
An exposed, gnarled root.
Have these things ever made a judgment about the creatures that roam the wilds?
Nature doesn’t value one living thing over another. The forest is a world in which each living thing is accepted. A place where we can exist without judgment, a place beyond our societal constructs.
It is where I find peace, and grow closer to the magic that lives within me. The same magic that flows through me, flows into the pine I rest my back against. We communicate without effort. This tree tells me it has stood here for many seasons, an immovable witness to the ever-changing world.
It knows why I’m here.
I belong to it.
But those societal constructs will creep in again. I will start thinking about how I am overweight, actually obese by medical standards. I am 5’5” and I weigh 230 lbs.
Walking uphill can be a stressful, tiresome, and downright embarrassing experience. My face gets red, sweat pours off me in rivulets, and I’m on my 16th break, on the side of whatever mountainside I’ve convinced myself I can walk up. People pass me, often in swarms.
“You can do it,” they say.
“You’re almost to the top”.
“You got this girl”.
Some people try to give me a word or two of inspiration. Other people pass me without engaging. Strangely, I like quiet people. I shamefully think, “leave me in peace with my struggle”. By encouraging me, someone has perceived my labored endeavor and thereby acknowledged my weakness.
I go out into nature because I need a break from constantly being perceived by other people. It takes a lot of energy to be perceived. It’s not anyone’s fault. I hope I’m right in assuming that the person judging me the most is me.
But, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of, or inured to, cruelty. Keyboard warriors, faces lit up by their screens, tell me that I need to lose weight. “Eat less, move more”, they’ll say. “You wouldn’t be so fat if you weren’t so lazy”, the really cruel people might type.
And in some ways, they’re right. My life would be easier if I was thin. But, let’s take this twisted thought experiment further: If I start my fitness journey today, getting in my 10,000 steps per day, staying in a calorie deficit, weight training, and tracking my macros …
When will I finally get to a place where my body is ‘acceptable’? What do I do until then? How am I supposed to exist in my body as it is now? How should I expect to be treated until I reach the world’s ideal body shape? Do I have any value until then? Do I deserve respect? Or should I just get mentally smaller, and take up less emotional space, to make up for the extra physical space I take up now?
This way of thinking is obviously absolute nonsense. I am not meant to be measured by how other people perceive me. They do not define my worth. I do not have to make up for being overweight by being eloquent, intelligent, funny, or sweet. I do not have to accept cruel behavior because I somehow deserve it for being fat. I do not have to be perfect in all other ways to make up for the one way I’m somehow imperfect.
Luckily, this way of thinking has not been enough to stop me from reaching out into the wilderness for my sense of home. I hope, in time, the lessons I learn out there will bring me some comfort in my own skin. I am Armenian-American, and my body just carries itself differently than other people’s bodies.
Away from the land of mirrors, reflections, and comparisons, I am able to slow down and match the rhythm of my heart to the wind in the trees. I am able to look down at my tired feet and thank them. I am able to feel the strength in my legs and swell with pride. I am able to get up after a break and trudge higher and higher until I’m above the treeline, and look down into the bottom of the valley, back where I started. I’m able to set aside my ugly societal hangups and listen to the woods around me.
You see, I venture out into nature in search of the ancient wisdom that exists there. The forest has answers to my many questions. In truth, it pulls the answers I already have within me, far enough outside that I can work through them. I work through these thoughts with every step I take, every sip of water I consume, and every deep breath of forest air. The longer I spend out there, the more I feel like it’s where I am meant to exist.
I was born into nature and will always find my way back.
I do not own this land. It owns me.
Ace Curtis is a plus-sized outdoor enthusiast. She enjoys hiking in Northern California and taking photos of many tree-covered hillsides. She was born and raised in Mt Shasta, CA at the base of a 14,163’ mountain. She is currently working with her husband on creating an off-grid lifestyle on 2.5 acres just a few miles from where she started life, 36 years ago.
Enjoyed reading your story. As someone who has been judged by my size I relate and too enjoy at my pace. At 6’3" & previously 340 lbs I got many looks in the back country. I’m happy to say I’m at 280 lbs now… still considered obse by medical personnel, but I feel great. It’s great to enjoy what you love… do it while you can.
Perfectly said. Thank you.
I’ve been obese for almost 30 years after getting smashed by a construction truck, that caused a spinal injury, and a whole cascade of one thing after another…
Weight lifting saved my life, my hiking, my spirit, my soul… yeh pretty much everything.
I don’t power lift I go down in weight and just keep lifting and lifting until I get tired then I wait 3-4 days and do it again.
Everyone said I was “doing it wrong”
But I never got hurt and two years later I was so strong I didn’t care about being fat
I don’t want to say more… you might not be interested but if you or anyone else with weight issues wants to know how I went from “walrus to rhinoceros “ feel free to contact me GroundHog
Really excellent article, Ace. Not that it makes any difference, but I’ve always thought you were hot and I’m technically part of society lol. I’m glad you have your awesome husband and the outdoors – one belongs to you and one belongs to everyone :)
Ace, thank you for sharing your experience; I appreciate your truth because I feel this so much. Humans come in all shapes and sizes, my size as a larger woman is hard to find quality gear that fits me and where we live it’s almost impossible. Thankfully we have the ability to order online, even though it would be great to support local business. Your words are inspiring and I can’t wait to get more hikes in and to show my daughters that the perception in how people perceive others isn’t as important as how we perceive ourselves because we all deserve to feel comfortable in Mother Nature. Love you!
So beautifully written, Ace! You and your love of the outdoors are so inspiring.
I absolutely love this and am so dang proud of you!
I like how you express your feelings. Your pictures are beautiful & add to your narrative. I truly hope you begin to stop berating yourself & build on your true, beautiful real self, the one that I know.