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Strength Is Beautiful: Expedition Denali’s Message to Aspiring Women Mountaineers

Editor: Today's guest blogger is Erica Wynn (below) of Expedition Denali, the all African American team of mountaineers seeking to climb Alaska's Denali (20,320') this June and inspire more diversity in the outdoors.

With only 6 weeks until I climb Denali, I have a growing anxiousness that inspires action. If I’m not moving, I’m wasting time, losing muscle.

These days I have no problem walking up and down the steps in my local park with a 70-pound pack, strength-training with weights and workout videos, or running long distances. When I think about how comfortable I now feel pushing my body in this way, I am reminded of how I used to resist embracing this kind of physical strength.

Erica Wynn

Before my mountaineering course in the Patagonia region of the Andes last January, I hired a physical trainer who I couldn’t afford because truthfully, I was scared. My body is built for running. It is what I am good at, and what I like to do.

So when I learned I would be carrying 70 pounds of weight on my back up mountains, I realized I would need to start pushing my body in a different way by training for strength. But I didn’t know what that really meant or where to start.

The gym is an intimidating place for any rookie, but entering the weight room as a woman is downright frightening. When I walked into a male-dominated weight room for the first time, the sideways glances were more than enough to make me feel like I was in marked territory.

Erica doing pull ups

Still I persevered. I guess I was scared enough. Strength training was foreign but it felt good.

I learned proper form. Instead of the heart-racing, lung-expanding feeling of a run, I learned to appreciate the burn of a goblet squat and the tight feeling in my chest after a push-up.

Soon I was no longer embarrassed about grunting if I was exerting all of my efforts or trembling after a long plank. But why did I feel that I didn’t have the permission to push my body this way before?

I remember a conversation I once had with my trainer and some of the other male trainers in the gym. One spoke of how he didn’t usually enjoy training women because they were often afraid of “bulking up.” He even told me some of his female clients quit because they didn’t want to sweat out their hair.

Erica at NOLS training camp

It couldn’t be more apparent that women (even I at one point) were prioritizing society’s ideals of beauty and femininity over their own health. This was shocking and upsetting to me but also highlighted a greater societal flaw. Why is it that women feel they have to sacrifice aspects of their beauty and femininity to be healthy or strong?

I am now realizing more and more that Expedition Denali isn’t just about developing role models of color. It is about developing female role models who equate strength to beauty.

I think about how pursuing outdoor opportunities has allowed me to change my perspective of my own body. I now feel beautiful after a hard workout. My body has become more of a system than an object. I find no shame in doing anything I need to do to keep my body strong and healthy.

With the current obesity epidemic and the nation’s health problems affecting black women most detrimentally, we need to encourage and empower women now more than ever to embrace health and strength.

GirlTrek is one example of an organization that holds this as their mission. And in ways, Expedition Denali has the same goal—it’s about creating a space, where anyone, regardless of their color, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or the multitude of other facets of diversity, can feel welcomed to push themselves, to embrace challenges and to develop strength.

You can do something to help rewrite the narrative of female beauty. By donating to the Expedition Denali Kickstarter campaign by May 10 to make a feature film about our expedition, you will not only be helping us tell our story to a broader audience, but you will be helping us show more young woman that strength is beauty.

Above: Watch this Kickstarter video about Expedition Denali and their fundraising goal to create a feature film.

Posted on at 11:00 AM

Tagged: Expedition Denali and women

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