24 Insane Thru-Hike Transformation Photos

One of the (only) givens of a thru-hike is that you’re going to undergo some sort of physical transformation. Each hiker is different—from extreme facial hair, to over 100 pounds of weight loss, to zero pounds of weight loss (but gaining serious leg muscle), here are 24 examples of the extreme transformation you’ll undergo in 2,000+ miles of hiking.

Did you just finish a thru-hike? Send your before-and-after pictures to for a chance to be featured in our next installment.

Russ L, 1979(!)

“These are my Before and After pictures from 4/4/79 to 8/31/79. I was sort of an inexperienced backpacker evident by all the stuff I was carrying on Springer Mountain. Within two weeks, I got rid of over 15 pounds of unnecessary equipment and quickly became experienced. This was an awesome experience of a lifetime and I think about the AT daily hoping to attempt the trail one more time after retirement.”

Aaron G (Yukon), 2016

“AT thru-hike from my start date of March 20th, to my finish date August 31st. My start weight was 218, finish weight 178. A ton of fun, torture, enjoyment, pain, beer, and hunger.”

Andrew D (No Way)

Ashley S, 2016

Beth H (Purple Mist), 2016

“I lost 30 pounds and my legs just about doubled in size on my hike. My pale ginger self also got a tan for the first time in my life.”

Connor M (Seeker), 2015

“I lost about 45 pounds and have kept it off since then. I’ve actually been in the best shape of my life since then – ran two marathons, 4 coming up and attempting a 50 miler in September. Just gotta stay in the same mindset!”

Joel Gardner

“I purposefully put on 20 pounds in prep for the five-month hike. Really glad I did that…. and I think I gained some muscle in the process.”

Josh (Google), 2016

“Here are my pics from the AT in 2016. I lost a total of 45 pounds. It was not only a transformation of body, but a transformation of spirit.”

Maggie (Honey Badger) and Rocky (Hare), 2015

“That Before pic is awful. We ‘prepped’ for the AT by not exercising and eating like garbage. I (Maggie) lost 10 pounds and Rocky somehow lost zero pounds…. his fat just turned to muscle. Now we’re a little smarter about diet and exercise.”

Michael Civrny, 2016

“This is what the PCT did to me in 2016…”

Zach D (Badger), 2011

“I was one of those rare hikers that didn’t lose any weight during my thru. Maybe my body has a pretty firmly implanted set point. Maybe it was the fact that I devoured a pint of ice cream at every opportunity. No one can be sure. What did change is that fiery red bush growing from the lower half of my head, which served both as my Trail souvenir as well as an unintended shield against women.”

Dylan N (Pickle), 2016

“Lost 13 pounds on trail, gained 20 when I got home. Back down to five less than before.”

Emily P (Cinderella) and Sean D (Waterboy), 2016

“My boyfriend (Sean) lost 50 pounds during our thru-hike, but more importantly had the most amazing time of his life. On the contrary, I lost five whole pounds throughout the entire trip, and gained them back within two days of being home :)”

Eric W (Wiz), 2013

“I went NOBO in 2013. I started out at 270lbs with a 55lb pack. The Before photo was taken by Doug “Country Gold” Owens while we trucked up one of the mountains in Georgia. The After photo was taken atop Katahdin. When I finished I was 190lbs and my packed weighed 35lbs with a full resupply, two liters of water, and all of my cold weather gear. Start date 4/7/2013, summit date 10/10/2013.”

James C (Bilbo)

*Pictured on the right in the Before photo

Kurt R (The Natural)

“I lost 77 pounds on my 2016 AT flip-flop. I have some lingering nerve damage to my feet.”

Little Red and Chuckles, 2015

Kayla (Musicbox) and Sean (Snorlax) with Skye Stalker (Dog)

“Dogs aren’t allowed in Baxter so we had a photo or her at the summit.”

Nutterbutter, 2012

“These are from before and after my 2012 thru-hike. I’m standing in the same position… not sure how that happened.”

Andrew (Reptar), 2015

Sara E (Weird Horse), 2016

“First picture is Springer Mountain March 6th, 2016. Excited, nervous, ready for an adventure of a lifetime! Second is five months later descending Katahdin, officially a thru hiker! Aug 5th, 2016. The this is my first trailversary, one year after standing atop Springer. 21 weeks pregnant with my first child due July 2017. My baby will be here less than a year after I stood on Katahdin and will grow up knowing he or she can accomplish anything, because awesome runs in the family.”

Taylor C (Swift)

“From fat frat star with mushroom cut to man-bun adorned hiker trash.”

Photo by Amanda Jameson

I’m getting some much-needed rest in Shasta, California, and I’ve made a startling discovery: I’ve lost more weight than I thought.

It’s only been three days since I took a shower at Burney Falls Campground, but the bathroom at our hotel has a mirror, and catching my reflection is somewhat startling. I knew I’d lost a lot of weight, but I didn’t exactly know how much until now. I’m not quite skin and bones, but I’m not much better, either. Clearly, my food problems are coming to a head.

I use a no-cook system on the trail—I’ll cold soak my large meal, usually rice and beans, an hour or so before I want to eat it, so it will be ready when I am. Trouble is, I haven’t really been all that gung-ho about eating said large meal, and it often ends up in a cathole with other things I’ve actually digested. When you’ve had rice and beans almost exclusively for nearly 1,500 miles, it starts to become a little unappetizing. You really have to bring your A-game in terms of variety when you go stoveless, and I’ve brought my C-game, at best.

I’ve got bars and an absurd amount of junk food to supplement my caloric intake, but as I’m relatively slow, it takes me longer to make the large miles I’ve been doing—which means fewer snack breaks. I often find myself pushing through, trying to reach a certain landmark, before rewarding my body with food. I know I could probably go faster if I stopped and ate, but I find it incredibly hard to do so, even when the food is more appealing than my larger meals.

As I look in the mirror, though, I know something’s got to be done—the center cannot hold, not for much longer, and I’ll start burning muscle before I know it. So when I head to the grocery store tomorrow, I’ll be hyper-focused on counting calories, making sure I’m getting as many as possible for the weight of the food I’m carrying. And, when I get back on trail, I’ll be focused on putting as much food as possible down the hatch.

What It’s Like Being the Fat Girl On the Hiking Trail

The first time I went on a real hike, I thought I was gonna die.

I’m being hyperbolic, of course, but just barely. It was 2014 and I was visiting Utah with D., a girl I was dating at the time. She was an avid hiker and was excited to tackle some of the trails at Zion National Park. I was nervous; I had spent the past six years living a fairly indoorsy life in New York City, and my whole life living in a fat body. I wasn’t convinced I knew how to hike, or that I deserved to be on the trails.

D. brushed away my fears that I would be too slow, that my thighs would rub together, that I’d get blisters. She assured me that hiking was easy, just glorified walking really, and told me to stop being a baby. Neither of us acknowledged what I was really asking: Am I too fat to hike? Is my body going to be comfortable in this space? Am I allowed to be here?

On the trail D. left me in her dust, trotting ahead of me with ease. I was slow, and my thighs rubbed together until they bled, and I got blisters. D. and I stopped seeing each other soon after that hike.

That was three years ago. I no longer feel like dying on a regular day hike; I’ve found leggings and Body Glide that prevent thigh chafe, I’ve found a toe-sock-trail-runner-gaiter combo that prevents blisters, and I’ve logged many, many miles on trails in Oregon, California, Utah, Washington, Montana, Colorado, and Arizona. Most importantly, I’ve established my own relationship with hiking and nature, one that does not depend on anyone else’s speed or my own, one that is not competitive, and one that I might call “a meditative practice,” if I were the kind of girl who said that kind of thing. (Spoiler: I’m 100 percent that kind of girl.) Knowing that I’m in charge of myself and my experience when I’m on the trail helps me feel safe and happy when I hike. I’m not a competitive athlete; I’m just a fat babe who likes to spend time in the great outdoors because it’s often the only space that reminds me to breathe. (Related: Companies Are Finally Making Hiking Gear Specifically for Women)

In light of all this growth since my very first hike, one would think I’d be a super-confident hiker by now, secure in my abilities and proud of my accomplishments. And some days I am. On my best days, the trails I hike make me feel powerful and happy, calm in a way I do not usually experience, awed by nature and in love with myself and the world we live in. On my best days, the trails I hike remind me I love my fat body.

Then, there are the worst days, many of which happened to be this spring when I set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Long-distance hiking had started as a dream for me and had grown into an obsession. The idea of hiking 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada thrilled me. Unlike when I did my very first hike with D., I now knew I belonged on the trails just as much as thin people do, even if we do not see many representations of fat hikers in mainstream media. It was exciting to imagine being a fat person hiking the PCT; I wanted to inspire other fat girls, show them that we belong out in the wild just as much as anyone else, no matter what the glossy hiking magazines and curated Instagrams say.

I did my best to prepare my body and my brain for the PCT, a trail that winds its way through many different ecosystems and elevation profiles. I knew it would be hot in the desert, snowy in the Sierra, buggy in Northern California, green in Oregon, and wet in Washington. I imagined being lonely, tired, and sore. I also imagined being joyful, enthusiastic, and proud.

I did not imagine that I might start to resent my body.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Before I continue, I want to clarify that there are fat people who hike the PCT and other long trails and succeed at accomplishing their goals of completing the trails. I am absolutely not saying that fat people are unable to hike long distances. Quite the opposite! Of course we are. I hike long distances all the time. But usually, I do so with a positive mindset regardless of the difficulties, both logistically and mentally. Somehow, on the PCT, I was unable to do that.

It’s hard to say, exactly, what happened to make me feel so bad in my body while doing this particular hike. The trail is difficult, without a doubt, often gaining and losing more than 1,000 feet of elevation in one day. The stress of hiking 15+ miles a day wears on a body over time, whether that body is fat or thin. And while I usually head into nature to escape the stresses of everyday life and bliss out on Mother Earth’s bounty, a thru-hike is a different beast requiring lots of attention to logistics and allowing for quite a bit of stress and anxiety. I found myself running an unkind monologue through my head at any point of the day: Why are you so slow? Why can’t you keep up with the other hikers? Why isn’t your body stronger and faster? What are you doing out here?

What was most upsetting is how bad I felt about myself because I was feeling bad about my body. I pride myself on loving my body and being grateful for all it is able to do for/with me, and having negative thoughts about my weight and my shape brought me down mentally. I felt as though I were losing an important part of myself-the part that loved me unconditionally. I had thought long-distance hiking would bring me closer to my body. Instead, it was bringing me back to the mindset I’d had a few years back. I wondered again if I belonged on the trail, if I deserved to be on it at all.

I realized that if I wanted to reset and get back in touch with the version of myself that loves my body and believes I indeed belong on the trail, I had to get off the PCT. The competitive vibe, fostered by the trail culture and other hikers’ obsessions with doing “big miles” and my own negative self-talk, was ruining my relationship with hiking.

I don’t know why I didn’t anticipate this happening. When I came home and discussed this phenomenon with fellow hikers and outdoorsy women, many of them attested to also feeling out of place in the competitive culture that can breed in any athletic group dominated by cis white men. Maybe because I’ve never been an athlete and don’t spend much time doing group activities outdoors, I have been sheltered from this vibe. Dare I call it patriarchal! When I think of the people I am used to sharing space with on the trails, when I do choose to hike in a group, I immediately think of my friend Jenny Bruso. She runs an incredibly popular Instagram account, Unlikely Hikers, that spotlights folks who don’t usually get representation in the world of outdoor recreation: “Bigger body types, people of color, queer, trans, gender nonconforming folks, differently abled people and so on.” The majority of my hiking community comes from that realm-folks who have been told time and time again that we do not belong on trails, in the woods, climbing mountains, folks who feel proud of ourselves and each other for simply being out there, no matter how many miles per hour we hike or how many peaks we’ve bagged. Perhaps that’s why I was surprised by the competition that others seem to accept as obvious in adventurous outdoor recreation sports.

Hiking, for me, is not a sport. It is a sacred relationship I have built with my body and my brain and Mother Earth. I wanted to save that relationship.

So at mile 454, I got off the trail and went home to Portland, OR. I felt sad and defeated, like I’d let down not only myself but all the other fat girls who told me-on Instagram, in person, via emails-that I had inspired them. I thought I would get out on some local trails as soon as I got home, but I found I didn’t want to. So I did what I always do when I’m trying to reconnect with my body: I let it have some space. I did not push it into something it wasn’t ready for. I went back to the basics of being kind to myself, to my body. I waited.

A month after returning home, I finally took myself on a hike. It was a baby hike, a tiny trail in comparison to the PCT and even pretty small and underwhelming compared to the 10- to 15-mile day hikes I often like to do when I have the time. I chose a familiar trail near my home, with very little elevation gain and no breathtaking vistas or jaw-dropping waterfalls to photograph. I didn’t want to make a scene about this hike, didn’t want to go in with the mindset that I would show off the bounty of my exercise on Instagram or in any public way. I just wanted to go for a walk in the woods and feel good in my fat body. I wanted to remind myself why I love hiking, why being in nature can be magical, why I deserve to be on the trails.

I packed a very light day pack and made sure to apply extra Body Glide between my thighs. The warm weather allowed me to hike in sandals, rather than trail runners, a guarantee (for me) to avoid blisters. (Find your go-to pair of hiking shoes here.) I had ample water and snacks. I put my phone on airplane mode. And then I got on the trail and hiked for four hours, not once stopping to think about what my body looked like, how fast it was moving, or who might be behind me wanting to pass my slow pace. Like a gift from Mother Earth herself, I did not see a single person on the trail that afternoon. When I got to the end, I cried. The hike had not been hard. It had not been particularly noteworthy at all. It was just exactly what I needed. I had been home for 30 days, but on that hike, I finally came home to my body. I let myself love and accept my body again.

Looking back on my experience on the PCT, I think allowing myself to be influenced by the competitive nature of thru-hiking was a big part of how uncomfortable I felt in my body. Falling in love with hiking, for me, was never about being competitive or seeking out an intensive form of exercise; hiking has always been a way I can find balance and joy. When I am hiking on my own terms, I can handle navigating the hurdles put up for fat hikers: the anxiety of finding clothes that fit my body, the reality of sometimes having to carry a heavier pack because my gear is physically larger and I need more food to fuel my body, and the unfortunate truth that while many hikers are encouraging to everyone on the trail, I often feel patronized or condescended to (or sometimes outright mocked) by fellow hikers. Sometimes people believe they are being kind and assure me that I’m “almost there!” (thanks, I know) or clap for me when I finally arrive at a water source that everyone else got to an hour before. (Did you clap for everyone when they showed up, though?) Sometimes people are just rude (no, random man who inspired me to run faster than I ever have on a trail just to get the heck away from you, I do not think the PCT is “extra hard for fat chicks,” but thanks for asking!). But all of that can be overcome on my best days. A combination of physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion made it impossible to have very many “best days” on the PCT. So I came home, first to my physical home of Portland, then to my body. I am back, and it feels good.

I have not ruled out long-distance hiking for forever, and I still think it’s important for fat people to know that they belong on trails and deserve to be there, whether the trails are long or short. I have dreams of attempting a PCT thru-hike again in the future, and in September I’ll be going to Europe with my partner to hike the Camino, a 550-mile route through Northern Spain. I have heard from fellow hikers that the Camino is more relaxed and less competitive than the PCT, and it is also objectively easier terrain. I have high hopes that this trail will allow me to heal my relationship with long-distance hiking.

Hiking is something I started doing to teach myself my worth, to claim my independence. I don’t want to compete with anyone when I am on a trail, myself included. It’s important to me to push my boundaries and expand my comfort zone, but I never want to find myself belittling my body or questioning my self-worth. If I’m not lifting myself up through my hiking practice, then I am not accomplishing my personal hiking goals, whether I “make big miles” or not.

At the end of each day, I want to feel good about being on the trail and about my fat body that is working hard to take me on all my journeys. Because I do deserve to be there-and so do you.

  • By By Vanessa Friedman

When Karen gained weight, her boss told her she could no longer work as a receptionist. She was sent to work in the post room instead. “He told me the news during a team meeting – it wasn’t even in a private interview,” she says. “Everybody accepted it as a normal decision, including myself. I thought it was my own fault; I shouldn’t have gained the weight.’’

Karen (not her real name; all the employees interviewed for this article requested anonymity before discussing their experiences) worked for a clothing company. She was supposed to wear the company’s clothes behind the reception desk.

“At one point I reached size 18, but their clothes only went up to size 14. I asked if I could wear something else – I said I had clothes in the same style. But they made it clear it would be bad for the company’s image to have an overweight person in reception.”

Only later, when she ended up in a wheelchair due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a disorder of the connecting tissue that had nothing to do with her weight), did Karen come to understand her earlier treatment in the workplace.

“I was so used to people looking at my body and judging me that I never experienced this as discrimination. But sitting in a wheelchair, I noticed people stopped looking at my body and started looking at my wheels – and it made me realise just how much of what I encountered in my earlier life was due to body shaming. That’s when it dawned on me that what happened at that clothing company was totally wrong.”

Louise, a manager at a telecom company in England, believes her career opportunities were also severely restricted by her weight. “I joined a new company and was very overweight, wearing a size 24. I was very good at my job, but found it difficult just to get invites to meetings, let alone extra work opportunities on projects. I wasn’t meeting customers; I was very much hidden in the background. At the time, I didn’t realise why that was. I thought I just needed to build my network.”

Then Louise started losing weight, down to a size 12. Suddenly, she found she got more opportunities at work: “Within 12 months of losing weight, I’d gone from managing six people to managing 100 people. I was in front of the more senior board members, whereas I didn’t have access to them before. It was a lift in my career.”

But she didn’t give any thought to the reason until a male colleague told her that, as a “fat bird”, she hadn’t been management material. “In his stupidly honest candour, he said at that time I wasn’t suitable for putting in front of customers. He confirmed that being fat was holding me back at work. That’s when I realised it is actually all about looks. I feel that’s really sad.”

In the UK, the percentage of obese adults increased from 15% in 1993 to 27% in 2015, by which time 58% of women and 68% of men were designated overweight. All over the world, countless studies reveal that overweight employees face widespread prejudice.

To begin with, they are less likely to be hired for a job. In a 2016 study led by the psychologist Stuart W Flint of Sheffield Hallam University, participants were asked to evaluate candidates for different types of jobs. Shown hypothetical CVs with photographs depicting fat and thin people, the participants clearly perceived men and women of average weight to be the most suitable for employment. Obese women were the least likely to be hired. The researchers concluded that stereotypes of obese people being “less physically capable and slothful” were likely to have played a role in this outcome.

Earlier this year, University of Pennsylvania researchers concluded that obese people are stereotyped as being “lazy, incompetent, unattractive, lacking willpower and to blame for their excess weight”.

The result of this prejudice is not only that overweight people stand less chance of getting a job; they are paid less, too. In 2016, researchers at the University of Exeter found that a woman who was a stone heavier would on average earn £1,500 less a year than a comparable woman of the same height. Overweight people also work longer hours, are considered less qualified for leadership positions and are expected to be less successful, according to numerous studies.

In her recently published bestselling memoir Hunger, the American author Roxane Gay describes the painful situations she encounters being obese. Time and again, she writes, organisers of literary events are embarrassed by her appearance. “People don’t expect the writer who will be speaking at their event to look like me. They don’t know how to hide their shock when they realise that a reasonably successful writer is this overweight. These reactions hurt, for so many reasons. They illustrate how little people think of fat people, how they assume we are neither smart nor capable if we have such unruly bodies.”

Studies routinely find it is overweight women, in particular, who bear the brunt of this disrespect and discrimination. In 2014, researchers at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University found that overweight women earn less money than slimmer women, whereas obese men seem to do just as well as slim men. This led researcher Jennifer Shinall to conclude: “It really seems to be more of a sex-discrimination issue.”

“Overweight women suffer far more than overweight men,” agrees Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, “because people think women should be slim and attractive. In contrast, people think men are slobs and therefore if they are overweight, so be it. I have interviewed many overweight people who have been victimised in one way or another – and the majority of them were women.”

Louise offers a different explanation for this gender imbalance. “Men who are overweight aren’t necessarily judged as incompetent because often they are in control – whereas, as women, we are still trying to get a seat at the table.”

“Historically, the notion of a big guy has always been perfectly acceptable,” says psychotherapist Susie Orbach, the author of Bodies and Fat is a Feminist Issue. “Men are meant to be big and strong, and women are meant to be tiny and not take up too much space. They can have everything in the world now, but they have to be slim. That’s the horror of the current aesthetics for women. Young girls are taught at an early age that their bodies are for display and not for anything else.”

Some overweight men do encounter discrimination at work, however. “I weigh 21 stone , and I was the only member of the management team who wasn’t offered private health insurance as part of my package,” recalls Martin. “During an interview for a new member of the senior team, the CEO began discussing the candidate’s package – offering, among other things, private health insurance. In a joking fashion, he added: ‘We only offer free healthcare to the healthy ones.’ It was one of those jaw-dropping moments.”

Martin says the CEO admitted to one of the other directors that he was “well aware” Martin didn’t receive private healthcare. “I am a big man and I have a very big beer belly. It was clear the CEO expected me to be more likely to make a claim. I decided not to bother arguing about it, but I felt very demotivated.”

Many more overweight people responded to requests to discuss their experiences for this article. A saleswoman in a British clothes shop wrote that she had been forced to walk out in front of customers in a uniform that was too small while her managers looked her up and down. A male employee who gained weight was told by his manager to utilise the company gym because she was unhappy about him being “plus-sized”.

Others declined to be interviewed. One woman commented: “I am never going to share my story. It has cost me years to get over it.” Another wrote: “I suspect my story about discrimination will have the opposite effect. Fat people are hardly ever depicted in the media as successful. Our heads are cut off from photographs. That’s why dehumanising incidents in the workplace are no surprise.”

Her conclusion is bleak: “As long as we are all terrified of becoming fat, this will go on. Yes, we are terrified. Because we all know how fat people are treated in this society.”

According to Orbach, “Large people are demonised because we have a widespread panic about bodies and food. Lots of people who are so-called normal weight struggle with eating problems … the thing about larger people is that their problems show, and nobody wants to know. What we project on larger people are aspects of ourselves that we are trying to hide from.”

Fry says such prejudice against overweight people can easily lead to outright bullying at work. “For some people, it is horrific to go to work because of the bullying they can expect when they get there. This kind of bullying is particularly shameful because their weight may be beyond their control. There are many fat people who have a genetic or metabolic disposition to being fat.”

Jennifer has worked for many years as a teacher. She says colleagues sometimes refer to her as “the walrus”, and make comments such as “better bring two chairs” when she wants to sit down. “I’m not appreciated for my qualities as a teacher because they are only looking at my weight,” she says. “Another staff member is homosexual and he once told me how hard it had been for him to be accepted. I said: it’s been like that for me too, because I am fat.”

According to Jennifer, the bullying has now reached such a level that her job is at risk. “My boss recently threatened to dismiss me because I lost a test form – this simply cannot be a reason to dismiss a person. I think the real reason is that she feels my body is an embarrassment to the school. She doesn’t want parents to be confronted with an obese teacher.”

Asked if she has considered going to court, she replies: “I have often thought about things I could do to change the situation. I’ve considered confronting my colleagues, writing an article, even writing a poem. But going to court would lead too far. And anyway, how am I going to prove that I am discriminated against because of my weight?”

Legally speaking, it would not be easy for Jennifer to bring a claim. In UK law, there is no particular provision for discrimination on the grounds of weight. “You could say that there is a gap in the law,” says Nigel Mackay, an employment and discrimination lawyer. “Your right to bring a claim is quite limited.”

Mackay says when someone is mistreated in the workplace because of their weight, they generally need to link it to something else to bring a legal claim. “If their weight could be perceived as a disability, for example, they can make a case on the grounds of disability discrimination. I have also advised in a case where a woman was harassed in the workplace because of her appearance, including her weight. She brought a claim on the grounds of sexual harassment. The case was settled in the end.”

In 2014, the European court of justice ruled that obese workers are entitled to disability protection if it hinders full participation at work, after the landmark case of a Danish childminder who claimed he was dismissed because of his weight. This principle was applied the following year in the UK case of Neil Bickerstaff, who was harassed by a colleague because of his morbid obesity and brought a claim on the grounds of disability discrimination. His claim was upheld by a Northern Ireland industrial tribunal, and his colleague was dismissed.

But such cases are the exception, leaving many people to suffer in silence at work. “Fat-shaming is such a widespread problem,” says Karen, who worked for the clothing company. “Ever since we were young, we have all been told that fat people are unhealthy and have no self-control. It really is nobody’s choice to be overweight – but whatever we say, people will persist in believing it is our own fault.”

Telecom company manager Louise says it is the “unseen discrimination that is hardest to deal with, as it is always denied”. Then she amends that. “Unconscious bias is even harder, as those who are guilty of it don’t even know. This is where awareness needs to be built.”

  • Share your experiences of workplace discrimination by emailing [email protected]
  • Follow the Guardian’s Inequality Project on Twitter here

How to Be Sexy and Fat: A Guide

  • Body + Body Image, Sex + Intimacy
  • September 16th, 2019
  • by Cat Carnes
  • Photo by Annie Spratt

At my ex-girlfriend’s family reunion a few years ago, I ate delicious food, met new people, and danced all night. Towards the end of the trip, I watched her grow darker and angrier. After a couple of days of passive-aggressive attacks, I finally mustered up the courage to ask her what was wrong.

“I need you to stop eating so much in front of my family. I don’t want them to get the wrong idea about you.”

That was the second in a string of emotionally abusive relationships. A year later, after a terrible breakup and a short recovery period, I met another woman. She was a beautiful, friendly, funny professional soccer player. She lavished me with attention when we were alone, constantly told me how beautiful I was, and compared me to Adele every chance she got.

I met her roommates, two fraternity brothers she played soccer with, a few days before. They constantly, in front of me, referred to their ex-girlfriends as “Fatass”, “Fat Girl #2”, “Fat Pig”, and other equally awful names. Abruptly, not even a week later, she ended things. In a Facebook message. It just got too complicated, being with me.

Hi, I’m Cat. And I’m fat. That’s not a bad thing, I’m not insulting myself, I actually really like my body.

Fat. Adjective. (of a person or animal) having a large amount of excess flesh.

At 5’6 and 250 pounds and a size 18, that’s definitely me. I’ve been chubby my entire life. Even when I was doing sports and musical theater, even when I was having my diet strictly and abusively controlled, my weight didn’t change.

But my attitude about my weight did.

I spent my entire childhood hating myself for my weight. I developed eating disorders and used exercise as a punishment and hid my body in awful, unflattering clothes. As I got into high school, however, it hit me that this body was mine whether I liked it or not.

I could spend the rest of my life obsessively exercising and doing ridiculous, restrictive diets that are proven not to work. Or I could spend the rest of my life learning to love my body, with all its curves and cellulite and rolls and dips and valleys.

I started doing a ritual in high school that I still do today. After a shower, I slather myself in my favorite body lotion and find a mirror. Sometimes, I even take pictures with my phone. And I just look at my body. When I find flaws (it’s usually my belly), I single them out. Instead of repeating the usual abuses I throw at my belly, I throw radical acceptance and kindness at it. It goes like this.

“Wow, my belly is really big. I don’t like that right now, so I better focus on it. My belly is soft, my belly is full of warm, good food. My belly is smooth and comfortable for my pets to lay on. This is my belly, whether I like it or not. Even when I exercise and eat healthily, I will always have this belly. It may get smaller, but that process is long and I need to focus on health, not making myself smaller. Thank you, belly, for doing exactly what you are meant to do.”

In this process of falling in love with myself, I’ve also found that it grows easier and easier to fall in love with others. Past abusive exes aside, I am in a wonderfully healthy relationship with a beautiful woman. She and I push each other to love ourselves, and I am forever indebted to the work she’s put into our relationship to show me how much she loves me because of how my body looks, not in spite of it.

One of the most important parts of a healthy relationship with anyone, but especially someone who’s fat, is open communication about needs and wants and boundaries. There are many ways to be a good ally to your fat partner, and all of them improve the relationship for all parties.

Yes, fat people have sex. Lots of it. We’re even pretty good at it. Sex as a fat person should be enjoyable, fun, and comfortable. While part of sex is absolutely about loving your own body, not every person is going to be 100% into themselves 100% of the time. It is okay to still enjoy sex. It is okay to laugh, to cry, to get nervous, to get excited during sex.

I grew up Southern Baptist, and though my mom did her part to teach me about how babies are made, I still had a lot of internalized fear of sex. Company that with my distrust of men (and eventual realization I didn’t even like men at all), I spent my entire teenage years horrified at my friend’s description of their “first time”, threw myself at boys who I never wanted to touch me, and convinced myself I was broken and just needed more alcohol, more revealing clothes, a thinner body, to be wanted.

When I finally realized I liked women, and there was a reason kissing boys never did anything for me, my world changed. I didn’t have sex until I was 19, and my first partner was a fat femme with a record player and a Batman memorabilia collection. She showed me what body euphoria felt like, that I could love myself in men’s clothing, and that communication is key in a sexual relationship. She showed me different ways fat bodies can be used and moved and kissed. Even though we didn’t last long and I hopped from abusive relationship to abusive relationship for a while, I still continued to develop a relationship with my body.

It is so important for fat people to be surrounded by other fat people and allies who know what fatphobia is and how to fight it. It is much easier to be confident in your body if you have friends and family and partners who love and support your journey. Now, I still have issues like anyone else does. I still struggle, daily, with body confidence. I still face hateful comments online, passive-aggressive attacks in person, and my own inner bully that hates who I am and how I look. But I have a beautiful girlfriend. I have a weird little community of friends that overshare and under-appreciate ourselves. I have a sexy, wonderful group of friends that will push me to wear that bikini, that crop top, that lingerie.

It is more than possible to be fat and sexy, to be fat and confident, to be fat and wanted. Porn does a horrible job of conveying this, but fat people can and should enjoy sex without being a fetish to be hidden. Sex should be enjoyable for all parties, and you should enjoy sex with people who think you’re sexy because of your body, not in spite of it. If porn can be trusted (which, I know, it can’t), everyone who has sex is an acrobatic goddess with a rubber spine. But there are ways to make even the sexiest, stretchiest moves accommodated and comfortable for fat partners. There is nothing wrong with telling your partner what you like and don’t like, what is and isn’t comfortable, and even bring up things you’d like to try or would never try. Talk about sex.

Talk about sex with your partners, with your friends, with your doctors. Tell your partners to do that thing you like, tell your friends your experiences with good (and bad) partners. Tell your doctors how sexually active you are, how you stay safe, and any concerns you might have.

And if anyone tries to shame you for being fat and enjoying sex, sit on them.

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‘OK, I’m fat – and this is how it feels’

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Feeling good about your body isn’t always easy when you are overweight. While some people are “reclaiming” the word “fat” as a positive thing -three of them are featured in the video, below – Mellisa says she recognises that the word applies to her, and wishes it didn’t.

When I stand up to do a presentation at work, I’m all too aware that people see my size first, not me.

Quite literally, I am the elephant in the room.

I always start my talk by saying: “You know, my job is so stressful – when I started about a week ago I was a size 12 and look at me now!”

Why do I do that? Why do I self-deprecate? Why do I feel I have to acknowledge it in such a way for us all to move on? Because I am a solid, fat woman.

I can own that word – “fat”. I won’t dress it up and say I have an “hourglass” figure. I am fat, there’s no getting away from it.

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionBloggers Grace Victory, Steph Yeboah and Bethany Rutter on embracing their bodies and reclaiming the word “fat”

I’d describe myself as a series of quite large blobs and boxes. I don’t think there’s a single part of me, apart from my wrists, that is small. My face is just a big circle. My 46F boobs keep my stomach warm – actually I have several stomachs. I have stretch marks and mottled skin

Society has its own sort of perception of people like me – we are disgusting, fat, slothful, lazy, incompetent, stupid. By being so visible and taking up so much room, in a strange way I am also quite invisible. People kind of clock you and their eyes slide off you. I feel bullied, slighted and ridiculed.

Although some people assume I am body-positive, and applaud for me for this, I can’t help but feel full of loathing and hurt that my fat won’t shift.

Claiming the word “fat” isn’t easy, but I feel it’s the only way I can describe what I am.

I wonder if some of the things I do are to justify my place in the world. There’s the charitable stuff and my good behaviour. I wear the “good manager”, “good friend”, and “good daughter” hats as best I can.

I’m lucky in a way because I am the stereotypical fat woman – funny, independent, I have lots of friends. As a black woman it is more acceptable to be big.

I get why people look at me and think: “Mellisa, how could you be that fat?”

The answer is simple – a lack of control, a lack of confidence and of love for myself. If I really think about it, I can’t really value myself if I allowed it to get to this point.

My friend says I don’t stint on myself. My kitchen cupboards are filled with good quality items. My shelves are crammed with my pickling jars – filled with interesting vegetables. I have so many bottles of classy Champagne, condiments and spices. If I was slimmer, I could easily be labelled as a food connoisseur because it’s a passion of mine.

But then there’s the anxiety I have of running out, which means my office has become a storeroom for more supplies. My desk space has been replaced by shelves of beer, wine, cider, porridge, snack bars, crisps, condiments and a second freezer.

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionMellisa talks honestly about how it feels to be overweight

It’s shameful. I suppose I’m a hoarder.

Sometimes when I’m in the supermarket I glance down and think: “I don’t know who else I’m buying all this food for.” I have to remind myself I’m not shopping for a family of four and it’s only me.

It’s kind of sad that I’m comforted by food rather than other elements in the world. It’s quite lonely to have such an odd relationship with food.

I spend probably on average two to three hours every day in the car because of my commute. I sit in the car, get out and then sit in my office all day. I really would hate to think about how many steps I actually do take every day, because I imagine it’s probably less than 100.

The eating combined with my osteoarthritis and other disabilities doesn’t help – the additional weight on the joints isn’t a positive impact.

The phrase I’ve heard other people use is: “I’m digging my grave with my spoon.”

I did swim, but don’t any more.

I was smaller once, really quite thin actually. I think there was a period when I was in my teens, where I had quite a combative relationship around eating. Mum didn’t want me and my two sisters to ever be as big as she was. I think it’s almost become a self-perpetuating prophecy.

“Just lose weight.” I hear that all the time from family, friends, colleagues, doctors…

It’s not rocket science – I know that. Less calories in, more calories out, but that means effort, doesn’t it? It means having to motivate myself and persevere. There are times when I feel that I can do that and times when I can’t. I have to be honest, I can’t be bothered. Why can’t I just be accepted for who I am?

People are constantly judging me. I think it’s fear. They project their fears upon me because I am a reflection of something that they could become. They tell themselves that they’ve got control, they’re sensible, intelligent and no way would they ever get to my size. But let me tell you, I was you once and you could be me.

Sometimes I do get that big is beautiful. At those times I look in the mirror and think I look great.

My weight can also be my strength. I can walk into a room and feel strong, so when someone says something mean it bounces off me. I’m impervious to it.

Some days I use my fat as armour, and other days it’s like a shroud.

My world is filled with contradictions, but I blame no-one else. The only person I can hold responsible for my position is me. However, I refuse to accept the size I am. This is not who I was meant to be.

If I accept it then I’m telling myself that I’ve given up and I don’t want to give up.

I’m not looking for sympathy. Just being able to tell people how being fat honestly feels for me is a fabulous opportunity to kick me into doing something about it. I’m formulating a plan, which I’m figuring out quietly. I think being a size 14 or 16 would be enough for me.

I don’t want to be normal because normal is boring. I just want to be the best of myself.

Why shouldn’t I?

Mellisa spoke to Ena Miller for Woman’s Hour – listen to the full programme here

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Image copyright Ena Miller

Sylvia Mac has spent most of her life trying to conceal the extensive scars which cover her body. Here she explains why she decided it was time to stop hiding.

It took me 45 years to love my body

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Following a long-standing tradition, each of us thru-hikers adopted new “trail names” to match our new bodies. Most people were given their names by fellow thru-hikers because of something they had said or done: My friend Snuggles, for example, had a habit of snuggling up against other hikers in the lean-tos at night to keep herself warm; I was given the name Spaceman after my shiny ultralight hiking gear. Others picked names in an attempt to shape new, aspirational identities for themselves. A tense silver-haired woman renamed herself Serenity, while a timid young man called himself Joe Kickass. Sure enough, over time, she seemed to grow incrementally calmer, and he more audacious.

I noticed the trail’s impact on my brain long before I noticed the effect it was having on the rest of my body. Studies have shown that going for a nature walk reliably increases creative thinking. And indeed, each day as my legs warmed up, I found my brain would begin fizzing with ideas for stories that I wanted to write and questions I wanted to research. There is a long tradition of writers — Wordsworth, Kierkegaard, Rimbaud, Woolf, Solnit, to name only a few — who found and find inspiration afoot. However, I quickly discovered that, because I was spending 10 hours each day walking, I was left with almost no time (or energy) to write. I took to carrying a small notebook in my hip pocket, so I could jot down ideas on the hoof.

At the end of a long day of walking, my mind’s coked-out internal monologue would finally subside, and I’d feel myself slipping into a state of zen-like clarity — serene, crystalline, thought-free. Frédéric Gros, a philosopher of walking, nicely conveys this sensation: “There is a moment when you walk several hours that you are only a body walking. Only that. You are nobody. You have no history. You have no identity. You have no past. You have no future. You are only a body walking.”

Within the first week, I was surprised to discover that my sleeping patterns had also changed drastically. Shortly after sunset, I would retire to my hammock and then read myself to sleep. Around 2 a.m., my eyes would snap open and I would not be able to fall back asleep for at least another hour or two. I have since learned that, prior to the invention of electric light, most people slept in this bisected fashion: In medieval English literature they often refer to these two phases as “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Between the two, during that interval of time once called “the watch,” people would tend to the fire, empty their bladders, have a smoke, make love, plot mischief, pray, and so on. I learned to keep a book and a headlamp within easy reach, so I could resume reading until my mind grew groggy again. It was a wonderful state of mind in which to read — pleasantly quiet, slightly unreal, golden-lit. “An intermediate space,” as Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “where the business of life does not intrude; where the passing moment lingers, and becomes truly the present.”

By the end of the first month, I started to have vivid, almost pornographic dreams about food — an obsession that would only intensify as the months wore on. Studies have shown that on an average day, thru-hikers burn roughly 2,000 more calories than they eat. And thru-hikers, I can assure you, eat a lot. On an average day, I would begin by eating a Pop-Tart before I even emerged from my sleeping bag, followed, once I was upright, by something more substantive, like a Clif Bar. Then, as I walked, I would keep three or four granola bars handy, which I would nibble continuously. Around 10, I would stop for a snack (hefty handfuls of gorp say), then again for lunch around one (half a log of summer sausage, a large chunk of sharp cheddar, and bagel chips — always bagel chips, never bagels, I quickly learned, because bagel chips are still tasty when they are reduced to crumbs, as everything in a backpack inevitably is). Then there would be another snack at 4 (a second large helping of gorp), one more when I dropped my pack for the day (usually a candy bar, to reward myself and give me the energy to unpack my stuff and set up my hammock).

For dinner, I would boil up a heaping pot of noodles or rice, trying, whenever possible, to stick to brown rice or whole wheat pasta, which I’d cooked back home, dehydrated, and mailed to myself at intervals along the trail. I was fortunate to have access these healthier alternatives; most hikers, relying on what they find in nearby grocery stores, don’t have this luxury. This matters more than you might think, because one strange side effect of “hiker hunger” is that you begin to acutely feel the quality of the nutrition you are putting into your body. One day in Virginia, having hitchhiked into the town of Marion to resupply, I stopped off at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. I had been looking forward to the meal for days, and, indeed, it did not disappoint. But when I returned to the trail, I could feel, on an almost-molecular level, the lack of vitamins and the superabundance of sugar and salt and oil (and whatever else) passing through my gut. Bad fuel. I felt depleted rather than energized by it. Another afternoon, farther north, I bought a culinary monstrosity called a “giant whoopie pie” — a kind of dessert-burger, in which a blob of white frosting is sandwiched between two chocolate-cake buns — which gave me a blissful sugar high, followed by a crash so precipitous it plunged me into depression for the rest of the afternoon.

Despite what felt like constant and unrestrained noshing, over the course of my hike I lost 12 pounds. That’s about the average: One study found that hikers who walked the full length of the trail tend to lose about 15. However, the range of weight loss differs wildly from one person to another: The heaviest person in the study lost just under 70 pounds, while the lightest lost only 5. For a variety of reasons, women tend to lose about half as much weight as men. Some former thru-hikers have told me they lost no weight at all; one guy said he even gained a few pounds.

A lighter body means you can walk faster, longer. The same basic logic applies to your backpack, which leads hikers to jettison unnecessary items and invest in lighter gear. As my load lightened up and my legs grew stronger, my pace gradually increased from 10 miles per day up to 15 and then 20. I continued to accelerate as I reached the relatively low-lying ridges of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. By the time I crossed over into Vermont, I was covering as many as 30 miles in a day.

In some sense, I have never been healthier than when I was hiking the AT. But it was a strange sort of fitness, because I was fit for only a single task: walking. One afternoon in Maine, a woman agreed to let my friend Hi-C and I stay at her lakeside hotel for a reduced rate, if we would agree to swim out into the lake and retrieve a floating trampoline that had come loose from its mooring. The task seemed easy enough — swim out, tow the trampoline over to the mooring (a distance of about 10 yards), and reconnect it — but it just about killed us. When we jumped into the lake, we both discovered that we could barely swim. Without any body fat, we had a hard time floating. Our arms felt weak. Almost an hour later, we emerged blue-lipped from the water, clutching ourselves and shivering electrically, the way 10-year-olds do after a swim class.

When I polled my hiker friends to ask about how the trail changed their bodies, nearly everyone reported some kind of injury or ailment: sore knees, rashes, abrasions, shin splints, broken bones, fractured joints. (Indeed, one study showed that more than 60% of all AT thru-hikers experience some kind of injury.) Nimblewill Nomad, a legendary old thru-hiker who has been hiking more or less continuously since 1998, has broken four ribs, his shinbone, and his ankle. He has even been struck by lightning.

How I Got This Body: Losing 45 Pounds While Hiking the Appalachian Trail and Living Off Pop-Tarts

Welcome to How I Got This Body, our look at some of the amazing things the human body is capable of and the Washingtonians who put their bodies to the test. Want to share your transformation story? Email [email protected]

Who I am: Jonathan Wooddy, 27, accountant from Arlington

What inspired my change: “I decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail (2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine) while living in the woods and take 5.5 months off of work to do so. I thought it would be a cool challenge and accomplishment.”

How my body transformed: “I lost 45 pounds. Since my exercise was only walking and climbing mountains and all day with no other strength training, my upper body became weaker, but my legs became much more conditioned to long-distance exercise. My overall health improved by living in nature for 5.5 months and exercising from sun-up to sun-down every day.”

Jonathan Wooddy (middle left), pictured about half way through his 2,190-mile hike, with his girlfriend and parents.

My exercise plan: “Walk 12 hours per day, every day, up and down steep mountains.”

My diet plan: “My diet did not do any favors to my body since in consisted of trail food, i.e. Pop-Tarts, Sour Patch Kids, ramen noodles, Knorr rice sides, granola bars, protein bars, cheese, pre-cooked bacon, Snickers bars, Slim Jims, peanut butter, wraps, crackers, sodas, chocolate milk, and lots of water.

How I stuck to my goals: “The thought that if I didn’t finish the trail, everyone I know would think I am a quitter and couldn’t finish this incredibly hard goal that I had set my mind to.”

How I feel now: “I felt good before, but not as confident as I do now. That in part is due to my body transformation, but also in part due to the great sense of pride I have in my accomplishment to finish the entire Appalachian Tail and the obstacles that I had to endure out there.”

One piece of advice: “Stop talking about it and do it. The world has two kinds of people: 1) People who watch others achieve dreams/goals and talk about how they want to do it and never do. 2) People who stop making excuses and take the steps right now to accomplish their dreams. There is no time like the present. Stop waiting and making excuses and just start doing it now.”

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Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.

Appalachian Trail – Best weight loss plan ever.

My love of camping, hiking, and backpacking culminated this year with hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Although it was not my reason to do the thru hike, I ended up losing 90-100 pounds on my hike. I have always been active, but I traveled a lot for work so for the past 8 years, I have been eating out at restaurants for lunch and dinner at least 20 weeks a year. Not only did I eat poorly, but it made it hard to stay in a workout routine to keep the weight off. I started in Georgia this February at 305 pounds and finished on July 27th between 205 and 215.

Besides being an experience that I imagine I will remember for the rest of my life, it was essentially a reset for my body. I used to think that my hip and back always hurt from football and track in high school and college, but none of that hurts anymore after dropping off all that weight.

Now is the hard part because I am back in the office (thankfully no traveling) and I obviously don’t get near the exercise that I did on the trail. I was operating at such a calorie deficit that my diet usually consisted of M&Ms and Little Debbie snacks on a daily basis and burgers and fries every time I made it to a town. Now I have to flip the formula and eat healthy to compensate for not being able to work out as much. I’ve put about 10 pounds back on over the past two months but have held steady around 225. Going to be a lot of work to not put it back. Or I could just quit my job again and go hike the Pacific Crest Trail or Continental Divide Trail.

Here is my Appalachian Trail before /after picture. https://imgur.com/gallery/5YlP4nE

Pacific crest trail weight loss

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