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. Good post. Interesting thoughts that will resonate with many people. I hope you look and feel great in your hiking dress 🙂 Although, as your blog title suggests, what we BUY, is rarely the answer to our contentment. What we think and what we DO (hiking, climbing, feasting, helping others, spending time with friends and strangers etc) seems to be the answer. I’m a Dad to an intelligent, caring, loving, powerful and beautiful daughter (and an equally amazing son). Both of whom were born to a woman whose inner beauty shines brighter than the stars. I am also a designer of ethically made clothes for climbers in the UK. What clothes LOOK like definitely matters to people. However, anyone who wants to FEEL beautiful, as well as look beautiful, needs to know that their clothes have been good for people all the way along the supply chain. Mass produced, industrially grown cotton causes terrible harm to the farmers and workers who grow it (chemical fertilisers and pesticides deplete and poison the soil for generations, so food can’t be safely grown on the land to feed their families). Water abstraction deprives nearby villages of drinking water and turns lakes into deserts. Deplorable labour conditions enslave textile workers all over the world. Even though someone LOOKS beautiful wearing a garment made in this way, that beauty could only be skin deep (if they know how it was made). The real price of a cheap T-shirt is usually paid by an impoverished person in a far off land, earning less than a dollar a day. I guess most of your readers are based in the USA and KragRags isn’t currently available in the USA, so I’m NOT trying to sell anything here. If you follow this link – ignoring the KragRags T-shirts if you like 🙂 you can scroll down the page to find out more about why it is so important to buy ethically, wherever you live. If we all stop buying unethically produced, unsustainable products, manufacturers might wake up to the fact that doing the right thing makes good business sense https://kragrags.wordpress.com/t-shirts-women/

    1. Very cool and good for you! I wish we could buy your products in the us! I would actually love to start my own line of clothing similar to yours. Good thing the hiking dress I bought is Icebreaker, which is a pretty awesome company as far as I can tell! Thanks for what you do!!

      1. Yes, Icebreaker’s Merino wool base layer garments are particularly comfy and can be worn for days on end during long mountaineering trips without acquiring the stink of manmade equivalents. They have always tried to place sustainability at the heart of their supply chain, been mindful of the environment and encouraged low intensity hill farming methods. Happy days in the hills 🙂

  2. Linz,
    You nailed it. I’m begining to understand the “discussion” we once had concerning women and provocative dress. Listening carefully to the words in this post, understanding the wish for women (you) to dress however, whenever they want is vitally important. The tug-a-war between one’s feelings, ones looks, societal expectations, media, partner, retailer, style, season, blah, blah, blah!
    Knowing your strength, seeing your beauty, understanding your challenge (only a little, I’m a middle aged white guy). I think you’re on to something. This dialogue, if you can develop it, can be important to many women.
    I always knew you were a feminist. Now I hear it and see it.
    Way to go… Girl!
    Congratulations!

  3. I loved this post! So many deep truths- I, too, love the the “me” in the woods, the person who can walk all day by herself, tent in a storm, be alone in her head and not feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. Truth be told, I didn’t know they made hiking dresses- I know Anish wore a thrift store dress for her record breaking hike of the AT, but maybe its something I’ll look into…anyway, thanks for sharing!

  4. What an interesting and enlightening blog post! I, as a male hiker, appreciate the social and psychological insight you provided. I agree that true beauty goes way beyond just good looks.

  5. This is a great post and one I will encourage my daughter to read. Put on that dress and wear it with pride. If it makes YOU feel good then it is doing its job. You have done yours by writing this post and sharing it with your readers. It poses questions many young women face. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for posting this. Aren’t we a peculiar kind?

    Feeling dependent one day and independent the next; Wanting time to myself, but realizing that talking it out really does help my mind sort things; Loving time outdoors conquering mountains, then sometimes I want to spend all day making chicken soup and bread from scratch; Knowing myself well enough to keep myself happy, and sharing joy with those around me…never taking for granted every breath.

    All that to say, I understand where you are coming from and I really value your blog. Thank you. Keep on!

    I believe I will use your Rupi Kaur poem in my next hiking adventure photo. Smiles.

  7. Yaaaaas I really enjoyed reading your thoughts here. I thought they were balanced, you appreciate your own privileged ( which I’m always hyper aware of), and you bring up this discussion in a really constructive way. Thank you! P.s. I’ve given up shaving and the conflict between wanting to be found attractive and wanting to stand by my values and choices is always a struggle.

  8. YESSSSSSSSSSSS.

    There are no answers when you’re uncomfortable with your own motives, just actions, and if the actions make you happy and you can still explore the discomfort, then you’re winning.

    I’ve been enjoying a new romance in below zero temps up here in AK. It’s hard to feel beautiful when you are wearing Carhartt “extreme” bibs, three sweaters, a down jacket that could fit two of you, and three neckwarmers. He likes my frosty eyelashes, and I like him very much for that.

    I get to see this fella in town soon, our first visit out of the wilderness, and I just went to silly lengths (this is the bush, and razors aren’t readily available… I actually jury-rigged something, but that’s a tale for another time) to shave my legs for the first time in… years. I feel good about it. It’s not something I’m doing for anyone else – my friend doesn’t expect it, or care one way or the other about the status of my leg hair – he may not even notice – it’s just a celebration of my femininity and something that gives me pleasure right now.

    I think part of the reason I can enjoy this right now without mixed feelings is the total lack of leg-exposure that occurs around here. The only people likely to see my hairy or hairless legs (myself and my partner) don’t care. In the past, in places where one doesn’t wear long underwear all the time, I’ve had to consider public scrutiny: the impression I was making on students and colleagues, first by not shaving, then by choosing to shave occasionally (I didn’t want to reinforce the patriarchy’s mandates by taking a totally oppositional stance: I wanted to just do my thing and model that for my kids… complicated feelings). Here and now, this is a private matter, and it’s really refreshing and illuminating to have it be a non-public choice.

    Side note, funny story: I recently wore a dress to chaperone a school dance. One of the students caught sight of my armpits and actually screamed. “I don’t want to talk about it!” he said, when I cocked an eyebrow at him.

    1. Hahahaha, the reactions armpit hair inspires. Thank you for your stories, hearing all about different women’s experiences is SO valuable to me. Plus, whatever you’re doing out in the bush sounds BADASS! What is your job?? And how in the hell did you jerry rig a razor?

      1. haha I’m a teacher in a teeeny village north of the arctic circle.
        I wound up using a replacement blade for a box-cutter knife… very very slowly and carefully. Worked great, no damage!

  9. A friend who is an ecology teacher for a non-profit, passed this along. I am 59 and I have felt this way forever. I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve worn make up. I haven’t worn a bra (unless absolutely required, don’t ask) in over 40 years. You have nailed it here. Rock on

  10. I am about to celebrate our 45th anniversary. Every morning when I look across the breakfast table or look in the mirror I am reminded that beauty has little to do with appearance.

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