The Plight of The Modern Outdoor Woman on Instagram: You’re damned if you do and your damned if you don’t.

It should be clear to anyone who does not live under a rock that there are some serious and contentious conversations about gender going on in our country right now. We have the first ever female running for  president, we have wage inequality;  we have amazing companies like Goldiblox getting young girls into science at an early age, we have Carl’s Jr. commercials. It is an amazing time to be a woman in this country even though we still have a ways to go. With the help of social media it is easier than ever for women to be inspired to get outside. Instagram in particular is capable of conjuring up wanderlust in even the most adamant coach potato.

My orginal outdoor woman inspiration: my mother

As I look through these instagram feeds I see a collection of the same image, an attractive young woman, with perfect hair and a fresh face typically perched over some glorious overlook. My friend even came up with a hashtag: #cutegirlslookingcuteinthemountains. While there is nothing wrong with looking cute – more on that later – it makes me wonder if this is the only image society accepts of women. Yes you can be an outdoor woman and have a popular social media network but you best look cute doing it. It is as if our achievements alone are not note worthy unless our image is marketable. Where are the photos of women in the mountains getting dirty, with blood and dirt on their faces, their skin red their lips cracked from being in the mountains all day? Where are the pictures of girls cracking open a beer after a long day of climbing; mens’ instagrams are filled with these images so where is the womens’ glory shots? With how far we have come, are women still held to some impossible 1950s standard of beauty?

Claudia Harris completed her first hike of the John Muir Trail at the young age of 63.

What I see is a lack of diversity; only the young, the traditionally beautiful, the predominately white women of our outdoor community are featured.  I can’t help but see parallels with the supposedly independent feeds of Instagram and modern day marketing and advertising. The outdoors are for all women; the wilds of the world don’t care how old you are, what the color of your skin is. A muddy trail or high mountain does not care if you fit a preconceived notion of beauty. I would like to see more diversity in the social media feeds which feature outdoor woman. As humans we are inspired when we see a part of ourselves in someone else. It is important that women have images they can see themselves in.  It is equally important that women can portray themselves in a way that speaks to them without judgment from others.

My beautiful sister Diana Galindo Sherrock with my equally lovely nieces.

Which brings us to the flip side of this issue. I am in no way judging #cutegirlsbeingcuteinthemountains. If you look at my instagram feed I’m positive you will find images that fit my earlier description to a T. The thing is no matter what you do someone will judge you. If you post gnarly pictures you’re not feminine enough. If you post a posed shot of yourself with your long hair down looking out over a mountain lake then you are fake. The critiques even go as far as commenting on what a woman is wearing. What a stir it causes when a woman posts a photo of herself climbing in a sports bra but no one bats an eye when Chris Sharma or Alex Honnald exposes their well formed abdominal muscles. Women are expected to be one thing, you are either pretty and girly and not suited for outdoor activities or you are a tough nasty dirtbag who gawks at the idea of wearing dresses and makeup. I can personally attest to the fact that even a scrappy dirtbag can clean up nice, yes I like wearing lipstick and dresses and that does not make me any less of an outdoor woman. The point is not the pictures women are sharing but how they are being criticized for not fitting some preconceived notion of what it means to be in the outdoors and what it means to be a woman.

My sister hiking in Acadia National Park
Later than week looking stunning for her wedding. My style icon and original trail buddy.

A picture can only show so much of a person’s life, it is a snapshot into their world. I would love to see my favorite Instagram feeds feature a wider variety of woman in the outdoors. I want us as women to build a community that is inclusive of all ages, body types, and races. I want women to stop being judged for not being woman enough, or tough enough. As women we do not have to be just one thing, we do not have to look just one way. To tweak one of my favorite quotations “Want an outdoor woman’s body? Get your body outdoors.”

The outdoors have always been in my gene, a little bit of the crazy too. My mother, Aunt Claire and I hiking next to Sebago Lake, ME.

4 responses to “The Plight of The Modern Outdoor Woman on Instagram: You’re damned if you do and your damned if you don’t.”

  1. Thank you for this Betsy ! Especially for Mothers Day..Don’t hold back be what you want to be !!!


  2. What an incredible and insightful post. Thanks for being one of the tough and beautiful outdoor inspirations.

    Nature is a good lesson in beauty; it is rugged and orderly, simple and complex, hard and soft and green and hot and alive and a blank canvas of icy stillness. All of these things are beautiful in their way, much like people. One of the best lessons to take from nature I think is to be in the moment, and appreciate what is.


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