When I created my website a year ago, one of the primary purposes of my writing was to encourage women to get outside and try new things . Being independent and expanding my own comfort zone has done so much to improve my life, and I wanted to inspire others to do the same.
Lately, I’ve noticed that many others, from companies to websites to non-profits, have had the same idea, which I think is fantastic. Last month REI launched a campaign called Force of Nature, which aims to make outside “the biggest level playing field on earth”. As I watched the promo video, which echoed all of the things women are told throughout their lives – be cute, be quiet, be dependent – I silently thought, “Yes, yes, yes!”
We need to break these stereotypes and these barriers, and I think it’s primarily going to happen on a woman to woman basis.
I have heard some negative responses to this campaign: that REI isn’t being inclusive enough, that it’s not addressing the roots of misogyny, that its primary purpose is to sell merchandise so the message doesn’t really matter because it’s just a marketing ploy.
While all of these criticisms have some valid points, I’m still quite happy to see women’s involvement in the outdoors get more exposure. Before moving to Utah and meeting so many women who were doing amazing things outside, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of the activities I enjoy now. The thought of backpacking into the wilderness would have never crossed my mind as something I personally could do, nor the thought of scaling mountain faces with friends, totally competent in our own abilities, no guide required!
I’ve encountered many different women’s groups along the way, offering classes, group events, and forums for women to meet and share experiences. I went ice climbing with a group called SheJumps, which has chapters all over the country and works to get women outside who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to do so. (Plus they have a pretty sweet mascot!)
The Outdoor Women’s Alliance just met their fundraising goal to begin creating an online platform for women to meet and mentor each other in various outdoor disciplines, and I’m excited to see the finished product. In the meantime, they’re working hard to get images of strong women out into the media in the hopes of inspiring others.
Recently I volunteered at a 5k race for Girls on the Run, an after-school program that teaches girls to appreciate their own uniqueness and strengths through physical activity, while also showing them how to push back against societal pressures of how girls “should” act. This is a program that I wish had been around when I was younger, and I’ve heard many friends echo these same feelings. There are chapters all around the country and they’re always looking for coaches if you’re interested in volunteering with them.
In addition to these organizations, there are hundreds of other groups across the country that want to help you try new things and push your limits.
But, you may ask, what if signing up for a course or going to a meet-up group by myself is the scary part? I get it, I’ve been there. I used to be the shy girl who never wanted to try anything new on my own. But it comes to a point where the interest in whatever you want to do overwhelms the fear of going it alone.
In high school, I really loved French. If going to a language camp by myself was what it took to learn more, I did it. Sure, sometimes it was awkward, but the experience made me better at more than just French.
It also taught me that I could survive those awkward silences and boring small talk, and in the end I’d come out of the experience with new skills and new acquaintances. This one experience eventually lead me to study abroad for a summer in high school, move to new countries and cities, and ultimately, gave me a pretty great feeling of independence.
I realize that getting dirty, having a willingness to suffer, and going out of cell phone range isn’t for everyone (though you should try it out: 85% of women say getting outside boosts their overall well-being!). Luckily there are other ways for women to be independent and gain self-confidence than slogging along trails and enduring soggy camping trips.
One group I’ve recently discovered, Wanderful, gives advice to women travelers and has recently set up a Couchsurfing-esque hosting service just for women. They also hold an annual conference for women travel writers. Members run the gamut from adventure-loving outdoorsy types to city girls and everyone in between.
And if you’re raising a little one and want to begin imparting all of this guidance at an early age, I love the website A Mighty Girl. They have gift ideas for girls of all ages and offer daily inspiration by profiling influential women on their Facebook page. This article from Outside magazine also gives some good guidance on raising courageous girls, and I think we can all take a lesson from it!
Since moving to Utah and gaining so much access to the outdoors, I feel like I’ve become a stronger, more confident, and – dare I say it – happier person. It’s true that there is less pressure to look pretty, be skinny, or act meek and mild when you’re fighting your way through a hard trail run or finishing a scary climb.
So try something new. Mix up your routine, add something to your calendar that feels a little scary. Check out organizations that are willing to help you step out of your comfort zone or talk with other women in your life and see what you can teach each other.
If you know of any other organizations that might help others try new things, feel free to add them in the comments!