The outdoors is a place to feel free and alive, but not all shapes and sizes feel they can explore it that way. Summer Michaud-Skog is trying to change that, one trail at a time.
The 39-year-old childcare provider has piloted a growing movement she calls Fat Girls Hiking. It began in 2015, when Michaud-Skog posted photos online from hikes with her then-partner, using the hashtag #fatgirlshiking.
“We just wanted a place where we felt represented,” Michaud-Skog told Black Press Media in a phone interview from her home in Portland, Ore.
”Most of the social media we were seeing was a very specific type of person – a thin, white, able-bodied person – and that just didn’t resonate with me.”
Other people on social media began to use the hashtag, and as it got more popular, Michaud-Skog started up a blog about some of the inspiring women she’d interacted with online, body image and outdoor fitness.
“A few months after that, I started doing group hikes, and then after that, I started a few chapters,” she said.
Her hiking website and social media accounts are now 14,000 Fat Girl hikers strong, wielding the motto, “Trails not scales.”
Culture around hiking one large barrier for Fat Girls
Despite being an athletic child, there were years of Michaud-Skog’s life where the intense societal pressure to look a certain way prompted her to give up playing sports and being active.
This has been on repeat in my mind for the last 2 weeks: your body is a powerful instrument to explore the world, not an ornament with arbitrary & ever changing value.💪🏻 . I think this is especially important during this season where we worry too much about how our bodies look in swimsuits and sundresses. I used to be the girl that sat on the sidelines, worried about the size of my arms or stomach or if I had visible cellulite. Now I’m the girl who is willing to jump in, excited to see where my powerful & capable body can take me!🏃🏻♀️ . Remember what really matters, what your body was divinely CREATED to do! We get distracted by “limits” that don’t mean anything at the end of the day. We are more powerful & capable than we believe!❤️ || @elysegeorge / Elyse
“I have sort of what I call fitness trauma from my youth,” she said. “I loved running, but I was slow, and so I was seen as not being good at it. … I had a lot of shame put on me for not doing this activity in a way that was proper.”
The same feelings would come during a hike.
“I felt like I wasn’t represented in media. I didn’t know that someone my size could even hike – I thought it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I just want people to know that they can hike if they want to.”
Online commenters have criticized Fat Girls Hiking, saying the outdoors is obviously open to everyone despite their size or athletic ability, but Michaud-Skog said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
From hiking gear often not coming in all sizes, to some hikers needing to take more breaks, are some of the factors that aren’t always considered in what she calls a “push-yourself mentality” often practiced on popular trails.
Michaud-Skog said these groups give people the opportunity to pay attention to their body’s needs in a weight-neutral space around people who often face the same barriers.
“For us, it’s more about the journey of being together in community and connecting with ourselves and connecting with other people, and also connecting with nature.”
Fat Girls Hiking looks to open Vancouver chapter
Fat Girls Hiking has grown greatly in the past three years. It now has five chapters: Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Knoxville, Tenn., and Minneapolis, Minn.
On Aug. 16, Michaud-Skog is hosting a pop-up hike in Stanley Park with the hopes it inspires a fellow Fat Girl to step up as an ambassador for a chapter in Vancouver.
“I am a fat girl, and I am a proud fat girl, and I invite anyone who identifies as a fat girl to come,” she said.
The hike is open to people of all genders and sizes, she added. There is one rule: no talking about dieting or weight loss.
“People, wherever they are, can get together and have this body-positive outdoor community in a place that feels accessible and welcoming, where people will be supported and empowered to be outside.”
Vancouver Fat Girls Hike details:
- When: Aug. 16 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Where: Meeting at Third Beach Concession
- The hike: 5.3-kilometre loop from the concession stand to Avison trail and back on the Siwash Rock Trail
- Tickets are by donation to support the Fat Girls Hiking community