This Instagram account challenges assumptions about what it looks like to be fit
If you’re a hiker who’s taken a selfie at a summit, you know what you look like. You know what you feel like. Sweaty, bedraggled, victorious, and well, you. Whoever you are. But too often what we see represented as outdoorsy and fit doesn’t look like us at all.
Thankfully, there’s a place on the internet that’s changing all of that. Behold, a certified badass and refreshingly relatable hiker Instagram account. Jenny Bruso is the “Unlikely Hiker” and self-describes as a “fat, femme, queer, writer, and former indoor kid.” She’s a Portland-based blogger who is shattering stereotypes of what a hiker looks like (white and skinny) and features people of all different shapes, sizes, races, ages, and levels of fitness and mobility.
Who is a “real” hiker? . Whether you hike a mile or fifteen, or only a few times a year; if you use a mobility device on trails, or don't see anyone who looks like you; You Are A Hiker. When we base our worth as hikers on how many miles and feet of elevation we crush, or on our physical abilities, or inabilities, we miss out on the journey, healing and connection to all-that-is that can be found in nature. It’s not a race. You don’t get to stop and smell the wildflowers or dip your tired feet in a creek on a race. . I invite you to move your body in ways that feel good, for the joy of it. Be in your own journey, don’t compare it to someone else’s. It’s the doing it that matters. . It’s ok to challenge yourself. It’s ok to want to do more, harder, faster, longer, but it doesn’t make one a “real” hiker. That standard Instagram summit photo at golden hour is beautiful, but it doesn’t tell the story of a “real” hiker. . The outdoors is for everyone. If you need an invitation, this is it. If you need an invitation to quit these thought patterns, this is it. . If you hike, you are a hiker. Welcome ♥ . #sponsored #REI #ForceOfNature #optoutside . Location: Ozette Triangle aka Cape Alava Loop, Olympic National Park, Washington #olympicnationalpark
“Whether you hike a mile or fifteen, or only a few times a year; if you use a mobility device on trails, or don’t see anyone who looks like you; You Are A Hiker,” she writes. “When we base our worth as hikers on how many miles and feet of elevation we crush, or on our physical abilities, or inabilities, we miss out on the journey, healing and connection to all-that-is that can be found in nature.”
She features herself and other hikers who completely obliterate the reductive notions and images we’ve seen of wilderness folks thus far.
“I get tired of seeing the same kind of [hiker] over and over again online. How many times can you see photos of a flawless, thin, white woman on a summit looking like she got airlifted in?” she tells Portland Monthly. “I tell you, that’s not what I look like when I’m on a summit. I look haggard and like I just worked my ass off to get up there.”
The adventurers she highlights on her Instagram feed don’t hike every weekend, they’re plus-size, they’re people of color and varying cultural backgrounds, and have different mobile abilities. The photos are relatable and inspiring all at the same time.
"Full disclosure: I don't get out and hike every single weekend. In fact, I haven't done it a whole lot, but I'm trying to change that because I've always loved nature and seeing sights and I am tired of depriving myself of the pure joy of no-pressure movement. Hiking supports my continual process of learning to recognize and honor what my body is capable of." -Natasha / @natasha.pai . Location: Tillamook Head, Oregon #tillamookhead . Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!
"I have always loved physical exercise. It wasn't until my late twenties that I gained the confidence to hike and work out in classes. I'm mainly an urban hiker. The city I live in has some of the wildest and most natural urban hiking trails. I started a BoPo (body positive) group a few weeks ago, @fatactiverva. We hike and move together. My goal is to help anyone who isn't comfortable on the trails, or in an exercise class." -Erin / @fatactiverva . Location: Richmond, Virginia . Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!
"When I first started hiking, I was an unlikely hiker because I had no outdoor experience. I didn't hike or camp growing up. But in the depths of depression, something called me to a trail near my house. I feel now that hiking helped save my life. I continued to be an unlikely hiker because back then I thought I was a cis woman. Now, as a transmasculine nonbinary person, I face new challenges on the trail due to being visibly gender nonconforming. My partner, a trans woman, shares in these challenges. Where will we pee? Are we safe in this rural area? But we hike anyway, because the power and beauty of nature is worth it. We're proud to be trans and be unlikely hikers in love!" -Ray / @ray.writes . Location: Grand Canyon, Arizona #grandcanyon . Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!
"My parents nurtured my sense of adventure from the beginning. Some of my earliest memories are of road trips, especially visiting Luray Caverns and Shenandoah Valley. Now I'm getting out of my comfort zone in ways I never imagined. In 2016, I went from my first tent camping trip in New York to a week of it climbing Kilimanjaro. It's a dream come true to be able to do these things." -Naureen / @naurtorious17 . Location: Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona #lowerantelopecanyon . Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!
"I'm a travel lover and blogger from Finland. My electric wheelchair is a part of me, the wheels that provide me with the opportunity to wheel around the beaches and nature paths of the world." -Sanna / @wheelsonthebeach . Location: Atmühlsee, Germany #atmühlsee . Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!
“Perhaps I seem like an unlikely character in the woods, climbing mountains on one leg with my SideStix crutches; but, I shouldn’t be. It is in nature that I heal and become whole again. I fill my body with pure air and reconnect with my wild, natural self. Is it not true that a tree, twisted and knotted, which accommodates to its surroundings is more interesting to look at? This tree, with all its imperfections has an story to tell and speaks to me. I, an unlikely hiker with all my imperfections belong here. Like this twisted tree, nature embraces me into her beauty." -Sarah / @sidestix • Sarah Doherty is the co-founder of SideStix, the world's first modular forearm crutches with all-terrain tips. / SideStix.com #sidestix • Location: West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada #westcoasttrail • Tag #unlikelyhikers or #unlikelyhiker to be featured!
Her photos show us that representation does matter. Breaking down misconceptions and myths matters because seeing really is all about believing something for yourself. Your capabilities. Your potential. Your dreams.
It may be hard to believe, but Bruso actually stumbled upon hiking just five years ago in 2012. She was hiking on her first date with her partner and says “I pretended I was into it because I liked her. It changed my life right then and there.”
Since then she launched a blog and an Instagram account that has amassed over 10,000 followers.
“In this culture, being fat is one of the worst things you can be. On the trail, there’s an assumption that I don’t know what I’m doing [due to my size]. I get a lot of funny, unsolicited encouragement, like: ‘Oh, you’re almost there! You can do it!!!’ And I’m not even struggling. When I’m in gear stores I am often ignored.”
Ignored no more, at least on social media. It appears she’s receiving well-deserved attention from outdoor brands, like REI who sponsored a recent post.
Hey guys, sorry-not-sorry that you have to look at my face again. We'll be resuming our regularly scheduled Unlikely Hikers shortly. So much is happening! I was recently interviewed in @pomomagazine and they did a great job! I was also featured on @huffpost! It's ALL because of Unlikely Hikers! Links to the articles on my website ▶️ jennybruso.com (clickable link in profile) . ❤️: @jennybruso . Photo by, Isaac Lane Koval for Portland Monthly . Location: Wind Mountain, Columbia River Gorge, Washington #windmountain
It’s not just seeing someone who looks like you doing something fun and momentous. It’s the wisdom you gain on the trail. Many who have hiked know what I’m talking about, and it’s something that Bruso captures well in her posts. The nature, mind, body, and soul connection is like no other.
“It’s not about crushing miles and bagging peaks, it’s about being in nature and moving your body in any way that feels good.”