Jenny Bruso is a Portland, Oregon-based hiking blogger who got into the activity “accidentally” while on a first date with her partner. She’s also a self-described “fat, femme, queer writer and former indoor kid.”
Her Instagram account “Unlikely Hikers” works to dispel the myth that you can’t be all of the above ― or any combination of characteristics and abilities ― and still find a home in the outdoors. It highlights and celebrates people of all different shapes, sizes, races, ages, fitness levels and mobility who appreciate hiking as she does.
“I get tired of seeing the same kind of [hiker] over and over again online,” she recently told Portland Monthly. “How many times can you see photos of a flawless, thin, white woman on a summit looking like she got airlifted in? 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. I’m invested in being another face for the outdoors.”
Bruso carries that truth throughout all of her posts, which typically feature people who submit their own photos using the hashtag #unlikelyhiker.
The movement to prove that fitness is not one-size-fits-all is growing, and it’s a welcome change from the glossy, exclusive content we’re used to seeing in magazines and workout guides ― especially since hiking has a clear inclusion problem. For example, one 2011 study found that just one in five visitors to national parks were nonwhite, according to a Vox essay written by Latina hiker Amanda Machado. While there are many factors that may be responsible for that problem, representation ― like the kind found on Bruso’s page ― can help knock down some barriers and misconceptions.
“When people see catalogs filled with images of overwhelmingly fit, young, white people, it sends a subconscious signal that the outdoors is meant for people who look like that,” the Sierra Club’s Lornett Vestal wrote last year.
Unlikely Hikers currently has over 6,000 followers, and has even nabbed the attention of outdoor brands like REI, which sponsored one of her most recent posts. “REI got wind of me and I’ve been contracted to essentially keep doing what I do,” she wrote on her blog. “They aren’t asking me to sell a product or be anything other than what I am, an unlikely outdoorsperson.”
The account also provides words of encouragement and reminders that hiking is more than Instagram likes on a perfect photo.
“It’s ok to want to do more, harder, faster, longer, but it doesn’t make one a ‘real’ hiker,” Bruso wrote on a recent caption. “That standard Instagram summit photo at golden hour is beautiful, but it doesn’t tell the story of a ‘real’ hiker.”
We’d say that’s pretty sound advice not only in regards to hiking, but in life, too.