How Fat Girls Hiking brought more women outdoors

Editor’s Note – Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that sheds light on some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In July, we hit the trails to explore the most beautiful hikes in the world.

(CNN) — In 2016, Playboy Playmate Dani Mathers was at a gym in Los Angeles when she Snapchatted a photo in the locker room, of herself pointing and laughing at an older woman. Mathers shared a photo of the woman’s naked body with the caption, “If I can’t not see this, then neither can you.”

The reaction was fast and furious. Mathers’ story went viral and the term “body shaming” entered the US national lexicon. Mathers was banned for life from the gym and convicted of a misdemeanor charge of invasion of privacy.

Still, many people saw themselves as the woman in the locker room who was being made fun of.

Summer Michaud-Skog was one of them.

“While I was jogging (one day), a guy said, ‘Well, you could really feel the earth moving when it passed,’ because I’m fat,” she recalled.

That’s the great irony: People with bigger bodies are constantly told they should exercise, but they’re laughed at when they do. And while there are plenty of clubs and organizations for hikers, cyclists, climbers and others interested in physical activity, Michaud-Skog saw how intimidating they could be for people like her.

That’s how Michaud-Skog, a writer and photographer, also became the founder of Fat Girls Hiking, a body-positive group that encourages women of all shapes and sizes to enjoy the outdoors without judgment.

This was not the path she expected to take. In fact, Minnesota-raised Michaud-Skog hated the outdoors so much that her then-girlfriend had to trick her into hiking by pretending to drive to a location and then stopping at a trailhead instead.

“I think I really had this idea that hiking had to be done a certain way… I didn’t know that I could just go at my own pace, and I could just take my time. I didn’t know that I didn’t have to finish a hike, I could just go as far as I wanted.”

While working as a nanny, Michaud-Skog began caring for her child for outdoor activities. Then she went on solo hikes with her dog. Hiking started to transform from something she did to make others happy to something that gave her peace and calm.

She also became more interested in nature, learning the names of different trees, flowers, plants, and birds she would see along the way.

Michaud-Skog at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon

Summer Michaud-Skog

Within a few years, the young girl who complained about how much she hated hiking was so passionate about the outdoors that she moved permanently to a pickup truck in rural Oregon. And she uses her online platform to get other women to date her.

Fat Girls Hiking started as Michaud-Skog’s personal Instagram account. But once she built up a following, different members – called ambassadors – started their own chapters in the US, Canada and the UK, all with her blessing. (Some of those chapters have closed or become less active during the pandemic, but she’s still accepting applications for new ambassadors.)

Members organized group hikes, so the women didn’t have to feel embarrassed on their own and could meet other women in their own communities who shared their interests.

The cliché that there is strength in numbers has also proven true when it comes to harassment, whether online or in person.

“As [Fat Girls Hiking] became a community, I realized that was something that I really needed for myself to have representation, and just to have other people who kind of understood what it was than being a marginalized person who is in these outdoor spaces,” she says.

It’s important to Michaud-Skog to enjoy the outdoors for himself, not as a tool for weight loss.

Fat Girls Hiking has a firm policy of not discussing dieting or unsolicited advice in its groups. “We really focus on joy, connection, community, healing and all the things the outdoors has to offer us, instead of focusing on how our bodies look,” says Michaud-Skog.

She also notes that inclusivity isn’t limited to body size, despite the band’s name. Fat Girls hiking groups strive to include non-binary people, trans women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

“There’s no wrong way to hike,” says Michaud-Skog. And she has a lot of people who agree with her.

Top image: A group hike in Minnesota. Credit: Summer Michaud-Skog

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