Fat Spotlight: Fat Girls Hiking, Sumr Valentine

Normally, I list the person, then the organization in my Fat Spotlight posts. In this case, I want to center the organization first, and I think Sumr would be okay with that.

Fat Girls Hiking was founded in 2015 by Sumr Valentine, “a self-identified fat, queer woman” (Fat Girls Hiking, 2018), in Portland, Oregon. Sumr has done an amazing job of creating and growing the community so that there are now FGH chapters led by FGH ambassadors across North America, with more still to come.

The mission statement as included on Facebook:

Fat Girls Hiking is a community-based organization centered on fat activism, body liberation and creating inclusive, accessible outdoor spaces. We want to take the shame & stigma out of the word FAT & empower it. Our motto, Trails Not Scales, focuses on Self Care in the outdoors. We promote weight-neutrality & Health At Every Size. We want all people to feel comfortable outdoors & be able to access the outdoors in a way that meets their needs & to be able to claim their space on the trail. We believe that folks of all ages, sizes, shapes, races, religions, classes, abilities, genders and sexual identities should be represented & celebrated in the outdoors. Our community is for everyone! We encourage & support folks who want to get out & hike, to do so!

FGH prioritizes inclusiveness. You’ll see this in each event listing, “We ask that anyone who joins our group events refrain from diet talk, body shaming or weight loss talk. We don’t allow sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia or any other form of bigotry.”

Honestly, I’ve hated hiking since I was elementary school-aged and was forced to go on hikes at summer camp. I was always the slowest one, and it just wasn’t enjoyable. Still, having followed FGH on Facebook before I moved to Portland, one of the first social events I went on after the move was a Fat Girls Hiking workshop with Sumr and Anna Louise Chapman of Body Love Yoga out in the Eagle Creek area (just before the fires, which we didn’t start). When I got about halfway up the trail and was feeling the exertion and the height (I’m not afraid of heights, per se, but I’m afraid of falling from them), I decided that was enough for me and headed back down the trail. Those behind me, Sumr included, because she’s committed to being the slowest hiker, were super supportive and cheered me on for listening to my body’s needs. I got back to the bottom and sat and read till they returned and we closed out the workshop. As far as a first foray into hiking in years went, it felt pretty positive.

Since then, I’ve gone on a few other hikes with Sumr and FGH, including one on a camping trip in August 2018. All the events in the camping trip were opt-in, meaning I could choose whether or not to participate. I opted in for the hike and even though I was nervous about the steepness of the first part, I made it. When I was breathing hard on the hike and feeling conspicuous, Sumr shared with me a quote from Anna, perhaps I’m paraphrasing, “Breathing hard just means you’re alive.” When I fell on the trail and got a little banged up, everyone was incredibly supportive and I didn’t die of embarrassment (nor did I take out the people around me, thankfully).

When hanging with FGH, there’s an emphasis on not apologizing for listening to your body, no S word (sorry). When we were hiking on a mile-long trail that, to me, was pretty narrow beside a pretty significant dropoff, I sat down probably seven or eight times to rest and manage my anxiety. No one got mad at me; the rest of the group was encouraging and patient. When I decided to walk down the nearby road on the way back, instead of the trail, Sumr and others came along with me without hesitation.

A couple of days ago FGH held a paint party fundraiser here in Portland, and it was super chill and loads of fun. I look forward to more of these in the future!

I’ve gone on one very muddy hike and one ADA accessible hike with FGH, too, and I’m signed up for another hike in January. I still hate hiking, but I hate it a little less than I used to, and I absolutely love the community of FGH and I’m grateful to be part of it.

Sumr (aka Summer) was recently featured on Community Creators on CBC Radio. Here’s the accompanying article, if you’d rather read than listen. Sumr is also great about highlighting other people, as you’ll see when/if you follow FGH on social media. You can order Fat Girls Hiking merchandise, too.

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