It has never felt more true how much society and my everyday life, habits and interactions are responsible for my low self-esteem and poor body image, than while living solo on the road.
Simply, priorities are just different when you are on the road. When I'm out on solo road trips, my air time is full up with so many more productive things, that I don't have a lot of time to consider vanities. I spend my time planning driving routes, considering where I will get gas, water, ice or groceries next, planning out day hikes, or I'm organizing and re-organizing my gear and vehicle. When I'm hiking, I am marvelling over the landscape, fussing with my camera settings and I'm navigating. While I'm driving, either I am scream-singing along to one of my favourite albums from my angsty teen years, dancing along to fresh new beats on my phone, or I'm listening to audiobooks and getting wrapped up in tales of distant cities, dream thru hikes, or self-love strategies.
Probably the closest thing to any vanity-related subject that I think about on the road is when or where I will be able to take my next real shower, and if I will have the time to shave my pits and legs. On the road, showers are a privilege more than they are an expectation of most accommodations, and only a portion of the showers that I find are unlimited, untimed opportunities to do more than just shampoo my hair, deep clean my face, and scrub off my many layers of sunscreen and bug spray.
I was in Moab for a couple of days, exploring nearby Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, when I happened upon a public washroom with a full-length mirror affixed to the back of its door, and I realized that I hadn't seen myself in a full-length mirror in weeks. Typically when I look at myself in a full-length mirror, I have a reason. Maybe I am critically considering how a new outfit goes together, or I'm analyzing whether or not a new pair of jeans really fits me. Or, I've just spent a month really pushing my cardio and focusing on my upper arm strength at the gym, and I'm looking for results. On this day in Moab, I wasn't thinking about any of this, and I certainly didn't approach the mirror with any intentions.
In that mirror, I didn't just see an object or a body, I saw "me" for the first time in weeks. I saw color in my skin, tangled curls in my loose hair, new sun spots and freckles, life in my face, and a sparkle in my eyes. I saw energy, ambition, perseverance, cleverness, fortitude and, okay, maybe I also saw the fruits of my weeks worth of climbing trails and mountains in the shape and tone of my figure. The most important thing that struck me though, was pride.
There are very few mirrors on the road. The only ones I brought with me are the ones affixed to my car for safety purposes, not for looking at myself. They aren't big enough to see much more than my face in them, and I certainly can't use them to double check that my outfit coordinates, or if my butt looks silly in a pair of shorts or my rest day sweats.
When I get dressed in the morning, I am not dressing to impress the rocks, wildflowers or rushing waters that I have a date with. No, I am looking for something comfortable, something to shield me from too much sun, and probably something cool that will wick sweat and dry fast. If I'm going to wear shorts, they're going to be the kind that cover my thighs because thigh chafe is a true reality of hiking, and it's awful. If I wear a dress, it's because it's utilitarian, comfortable, and allows a nice breeze (if you know what I'm saying), or it's because the rest of my clothes are strung up to dry after washing them in a basin of river water.
My car isn't that big, and storage space is scarce. What space I do have is pretty crammed full of cooking equipment, hiking gear, emergency supplies, food, books, tools, navigational documents or sleeping items. There's no room for a few colours of nail polish, eye liner and mascara, powdered this or powdered that, and there's certainly no use to bringing along anything that might melt in my car if I leave it for longer than an hour at a trail head.
Since I don't have time to waste around showers, I certainly didn't bother bringing hair appliances. I left all of my jewelry at home because either I don't think to wear it, or I'm too afraid to lose it, and I really have no use for accessories like purses. I packed a ball cap for practical trail reasons and a sunhat for rest days, and I usually stuff a beanie and a scarf in somewhere, just in case I hit a cold snap or a week of rain. I keep my hiking boots organized with a pair of sandals, some cheap flip flops that I use as shower shoes, a pair of casual sneakers if I'm kicking around town, and in my roof box I store my rubber boots - just in case.
I suppose it helps that looking for potential mates or relationship candidates isn't a priority for me when I'm on the road, either. I have adventure tunnel vision, so even if I meet people along the way, it's not usually with the intention of maintaining a lifelong friendship. But if you were to meet someone along the way, I'd be pretty wiling to bet that they too enjoy this life of glorious dirtbaggery, and they're probably pretty good at looking past any messy hair or unmanicured nails to see you for who you are rather than what you look like.
Living on the road does not involve looking at your body, it's about listening to it. Instead of seeing what your body needs, you are feeling what it needs. Maybe you've been on the road for hours at a time, or you've been traveling for a few days - your body will tell you when it needs to stretch, or when it's restless and needs to go for a walk or run. If you've ever traveled through the desert, you know when your body needs shade, a breeze or to be rehydrated. After days of hiking or backpacking in your favourite park, your muscles will tell you when they need to be rested, and your body will tell you that it needs to be fed protein or iron, or you'll crave fresh fruit and vegetables because you need the vitamins.
I have built a whole new relationship with my body while living on the road. Instead of painting it, dressing it up or parading it, I have begun to feed and nourish it. Instead of manipulating it, I have learned how to appreciate and honour it. Instead of looking at it, I listen to it. And when I do see it, I don't see what I saw in magazines as a romantic teenager, I see a manifestation of me - a beautiful, adventurous soul who treasures her time spent living. And what a gift it is!
Photos are by the talented Glynnis Mutch.
Glynnis is an incredible friend and a brilliant creative. Please do not reproduce without her written permission.