On Feeling Beautiful: I Got a Hiking Dress

I bought a hiking dress.  Which, in and of itself, is nothing of interest, lots of women hike in dresses and skirts… but for me there is some feeling behind the dress that I have been trying to put my finger on and it has been hard.

As a woman, all of my life, I have been inundated with images of what it means to be beautiful.  In magazines, movies and on the internet, those images are everywhere.  And all my life I felt comfortably a part of these beauty standards but also defiantly above them.  A lot of my time has been spent wearing trendy clothes, but in high school I would frequently put together wild outfits and purposely wear sweat pants three days in a row, because I didn’t “give a shit”.  My mother didn’t let me wear make up until high school and I pointed to this as the reason I was just as comfortable bare faced as I was made up.  I scoffed at girls who wouldn’t leave the house without it.  In high school, when many girls were still reveling in having boobs and getting to wear bras I was already eschewing them and shocking friends by coming to school without one on.   All through high school and college I would go on month stints where I didn’t shave my legs.  I have never showered regularly, much to the dismay of my more anal friends.  I felt that I was somehow walking a fine line between defiant and compliant, fitting in and feeling beautiful when I wanted to, on my terms, but also standing outside the norms whenever it pleased me and loving myself for it.  I thought I possessed a natural confidence and that was what made me beautiful, no matter how I looked, and that I would feel that way forever.

Then I went away to Arizona and worked at ACE.  For nine days at a time I wore the same clothes, no make up, was filthy dirty and very happy.  I was confident, in my ability to make conversation, be interesting, hardworking, and love myself.  When we would get back on the weekends we would all put on our best going out clothes (the same ones we wore every weekend because everyone only had one drawer for their stuff) and take a shower and wear a little make up and party.  Slowly though, the scales began to tip.  I started to feel weird when I would get back to Flagstaff and get “made up”.  Something about it didn’t feel right, it felt fake in a way that it had never felt in the past.  I mean inherent to the word “make up” is a certain accepted fantasy, that you are making up who you are, and I was loosing my ability to see the person I was on my days off as the same person I was when I was on project.  Instead it felt like I was covering up my real self in a way it never had in college or high school.

ACE was just the beginning. Then I went on to own one shirt for five months on the AT and grow out my armpit hair.  I felt incredible, jubilant and defiant, so physically strong and proud of my achievements.  Once back in Seattle I worked more outside jobs, forcing my wardrobe to continue to trend towards Carhartts and sweatshirts.  We began climbing mountains and I bought soft shell pants and mountaineering boots.  I spent more money on those boots than I ever have on any casual piece of clothing.  Standing on top of Mt Baker or Mt Rainier I felt a pride and a ecstasy that I had never known.  But as happy as I am with all of my new accomplishments and directions I have grown in I have felt something missing for a while now and I have been struggling to put it back to the way it was before.

Society accepts men in the woods as sexy.  The “lumbersexual”, beards, plaid, being in shape, being rugged, all of these things look good on a man by societal standards.  Kyle admits that he feels hotter when he is working outside, thru hiking and climbing mountains, that it raises his self esteem.  But I feel that society lacks a similar narrative for outdoorsy women.  Sure, society loves to see women wearing flowy dresses in nature, the alluring wood-nymph-fairy-hippy girl is considered hot.  The hip outdoors girl is totally in, hiking around in her Wild-Cheryl-Strayed replica boots with her Pendleton blanket spread across the floor of her tent, peppered with throw pillows and sketch pads.  I am not about to wear a cute Filson jacket and Frye boots on a hike to help myself feel beautiful.  You don’t have to look any further than the women’s clothing section at REI to know that there is cute “outdoors” clothing that isn’t technical and then there are the technical pieces, which aren’t cute.  The mens clothing section at REI isn’t divided like the women’s is, it is all one because technical outdoors clothing on a man is sexy.

I shouldn’t need mainstream society to come up with an ad campaign about real outdoorswomen being beautiful and hardcore in nature for me to believe it about myself but I am struggling with how to convince that deep dark internalized beauty standard that I have in my head to change.  I have never been the kind of person that thinks negative things about myself but I am finding myself doing it more and more.  And simultaneously I am more and more proud of myself for other aspects of my character that have nothing to do with how beautiful I feel.  Which is what everyone tells you you should be doing.  That by loving yourself you will feel beautiful and confident and sexy but I love myself and I haven’t found that to be true.  The bottom line remains, I want to feel beautiful when I am hiking and that means recreating what it means to be a woman in nature and reclaiming that beauty… somehow.

I want to point out that this isn’t about looking beautiful, it is about feeling beautiful.  I didn’t write this post to make everyone say, “Oh but Lindsey, you are really pretty!” (please do not say anything to that tune in the comments, I will delete it).  Objectively I know that to be true, this is about something deeper, about confidence and self image and self esteem.  This is about the fact that as a woman I believe a lot of things about myself when I am in nature and I internalize a lot of different words: resourceful, competent, strong, courageous, determined, passionate.  The list goes on, but the list does not include beautiful, sexy, pretty… And maybe the point is those things don’t matter and I should just let them go.  Maybe those words were integral to who I was in the past but they do not need to be part of who I am in the future.  I am not sure if the answer is to work hard to change my thoughts or if I should just accept this change and move on.

Because I don’t know the answer and I don’t know where to start I bought a hiking dress.  Despite my growing discomfort surrounding seeing myself in make up I still love dresses.  They make me feel fun, free, feminine, and beautiful.  There is so much less between the rest of the world and you when you are wearing a dress.  So I got a hiking dress.  Do I honestly think it is going to help me reclaim the word beauty when I am hiking and start applying it to myself again?  I’m not sure, I think that struggle is both an internal one and a societal one.  But it is an action, something to remind myself of a confidence I felt in the past, and that I would like to feel again in the future.

This is kind of a heavy post and I recognize that many women have struggled with body image issues and beauty standards much more seriously than I have.  I also recognize my privilege as a white, skinny girl who fits many of society’s must haves to be “beautiful” and I don’t meant offend anyone who feels that my “problems” are negligible in the scheme of things.  These are simply my thoughts and, I agree, hardly problems in terms of the bigger picture.  I am simply curious if other women who have converted to an outdoorsy existence feel similar things, and if so how they have dealt with them.  If you don’t feel these pressures, why not?  I want to end with this poem from Rupi Kaur:

i want to apologize to all the women i have called pretty
before i called them intelligent or brave.
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is the most you have to be proud of
when your spirit has crushed mountains.
from now on i will say things like, you are resilient
or, you are extraordinary.
not because i don’t think you’re pretty.
but because you are so much more than that.

I still believe, strongly, that being pretty or sexy is not what defines us as women, that there are much more important things in life.  This conversation is about what it takes to feel beautiful, which, I think, is a much more poignant conversation.

If you like the poem then follow Rupi Kaur on Instagram.

 

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

42 thoughts on “On Feeling Beautiful: I Got a Hiking Dress

  1. I had always hiked in pants and it was only fairly recently that I began to see women hikers in dresses or skirts. Wow – no uncomfortable seams in the crotch or binding around the hips. So, I have started wearing skirts hiking more often, as well as around home. As to what makes me feel beautiful: I’ve never seen myself in the “beautiful” category, but I feel more attractive if my clothes are pretty colors, if my earrings match whatever I am wearing, if my skin is clear, and my hair behaving. Backpacking creates allowances in these standards since just doing it (backpacking) is a special beauty of its own that is imparted to those who participate in the experience.

  2. Thank you! This was just what I needed. I wear jeans and a t shirt everyday at work and recently I haven’t felt comfortable wearing anything else. I used to love to dress up and I loved fashion, I still do, I just don’t act on it. I miss feeling comfortable and beautiful in something I like. Maybe a hiking dress is exactly what I need 🙂 or even just some more simple dresses I can still wear with tennis shoes to start bridging the gap. Thank you for this article!

  3. Thank you for writing this! You basically said everything I have always felt but never really know how to say. I honestly feel uncomfortable wearing makeup and although I like wearing dresses the attention they attract from men makes me not want to wear them in certain situations… Every women should be able to dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable and confident but I have had so many older women look down upon me because I don’t spend hours doing my hair, makeup and I basically have a uniform that I wear day in and day out (flannel, jeans and a gray tank).

  4. just reread this today– it’s clearly spurred a lot of food for thought for people of all sorts, including me! i too have been confused as to why “practical” is almost always mutually exclusive with “feminine.” my femininity is one of my greatest strengths in every man-dominated field i’ve ever entered. in the last couple of years, i’ve had this discussion a lot with fellow raft ladies (a semi-rare breed amid the swarms of dude-bro raft guides) and it’s led me to the purchase of several outdoorsy skirts that i find 100% practical (as well as sexy, silly, pretty etc) it’s funny though– i have found recently that the place i feel the sexiest of all is in the outdoors – how can this be?? upon dissecting the feeling i’ve come to the conclusion that it must have everything to do with being in the desert 🙂 hehhee after 5 days without a shower my sun-bleached desert-fried hair looks better than i can ever figure out how to style it, and my chaco tan line makes me glow with pride. i still struggle a little with the occasional grossed-out look from middle schoolers who didnt know women could grow pit hair, but mostly i feel great on the river– aware of the strength and beauty of my body. i dont usually feel this way in the cold or the wet though…

    the thing i cant seem to figure out is my bikini line. it’s all hip and cool these days to have hairy pits, but are we supposed to let our pits grow long and lush and still subject our pubes to the blade?? i sort of dance around this and just do whatever i want in the moment, but it is always something that i annoy myself thinking about.. as a guide i don’t feel weird or unprofessional with hairy armpits and legs, but if my electric fur creeps out of my swimsuit it’s a whole different feeling. argh!

    pubes aside, our culture has in all kinds of ways forced us to separate what is practical and logical from what is beautiful or ‘superficial’. but the good, healthy life is never merely practical.. it’s totally intertwined with beauty and little excesses. cheers to hiking in dresses! as a few people said in other comments– they probably are more practical anyhow. maybe if beauty and function were to combine more often in design, we would have less of a throw-away society.

    reading these posts always makes me miss you linds! i miss the days when we could have these conversations as you sat on my bed and waited on me to choose what to wear .. tehe. you’ve helped me learn a lot through the years about how strength, femininity, resilience, beauty, intelligence, grit, sexiness, wildness, caution, and the ability to love are not exclusive of one another. thank you! xoxo

    p.s. i’m eating leftover chilaquiles from martannes as i write this… beauty and function, all rolled into one healthful heartful meal 🙂

    1. Martannes! The definition of a place that makes me feel beautiful. Thank you for reading and for commenting Jessie. I can’t lie, when writing this post I thought a lot about you and what you would have to say about it, about all of this, and I knew somehow that you had probably already cracked the secret of how to feel the most beautiful outside, a knowledge I want to pick your brain on. Or just spend time with you in the desert because I sense that your radiant love of your windblown dust swept self would wash over me in such a profoundly intoxicating way. The desert always made me feel beautiful as well… it is a magical place. I can’t wait to be hiking through it on the PCT. I miss you too darling lady.

  5. I can certainly relate to much of what you written here. I actually think that in some situations dresses are much more comfortable and practical so go for it. I hope it helps you feel good. They are often better in the really hot weather. That’s why there are cultures where men wear them. My son hates the heat, chafing and restriction to movement of trousers and shorts at times. Loved reading your thoughts. Our culture has a lot to answer for in regards to women’s self confidence!

  6. I just want to know where I can get a solid, no-tear, no-frill, lightweight, hiking dress – but that’s mainly because it is SO EASY TO PEE when you’re hiking if you’re wearing a dress.

    1. Haha so easy! I got mine from ice breaker. It’s super light, a great shape, and fits well, plus no frills 🙂 and it’s wool which is such a great fabric. I love their clothing, super soft and comfortable!

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