Becoming visible: Empowering women through outdoor role models
I am an outdoor athlete. I enjoy many outdoor sports from surfing and climbing to backpacking and skiing. My passion for outdoor sports has extended to my professional life as well. I became a backpacking and climbing instructor in 2003 for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in the United States. Through my personal and professional experiences in outdoor sports as a woman of color, it didn't take me long to notice that I stand out – everyone notices my presence immediately. At the same time, I often feel invisible. For example, other climbers will typically approach my climbing partner to ask questions about the route, even when I’m clearly geared up as the ‘guide.’ At my local surfing break, I felt non-existent because nobody would talk to me until they saw that I could actually 'drop in' to the steep and fast waves. Why don’t they see me?
Then I stumbled upon an explanation. The people who I traditionally interact with in outdoor sports are typically white. Similarly, the media, whether advertising, TV or movies, tends to showcase outdoor athletes who are white – and usually male. When I see women in the media, for example, in surfing magazines, many women are shown in bikinis and not even surfing. They are often posing in a way that makes you think not of an athlete, but of a sex object. No wonder people don’t see me; I am not what they are used to seeing in outdoor sports.
But I am here – and so are other women – including women of color and those of differing ages, abilities, sizes, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds. This evolving awareness has made me advocate for myself and others who remain invisible in outdoor sports.
We all need role models. They inspire and inform us to form us. Yet if our role models continually fail to look, sound or live like us, we fail huge portions of our global population. In an effort to diversify the images that surround us and make the media more reflective of our society, I have dedicated myself to photographing and sharing the stories of women of color, as well as other women who break the traditional mold, in outdoor sports.
This is how my project "If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Model" came to be. My hope was that by educating public, our society would recognize women athletes in outdoor sports, portraying images that many people can relate to. With this approach, people everywhere, especially women of color, would be inspired to overcome challenges and encouraged to participate in outdoor sports.
I am curious to know - who inspires you to love the sports you play? What is your experience as a woman with sports? Besides education, what else can we do to use sports as a way to empower women and solve our problems in our society? I would love to hear from you.