There’s nothing wrong with the way I look,” Kaila Walton says over a video call. She’s sitting in her vehicle on a lunch break. Her long brunette hair is knotted in a bun. Freckles sweep across her face as she smiles.
Kaila Walton grew up camping and exploring from her home in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. After inheriting her dad’s old camera, she became a self-taught photographer—and a hiker.
“The only way to get to the places I wanted to photograph was to hike there. I grew into a love of hiking,” she says.
Kaila kept her lens focused on the views and avoided sharing images of her body. “I’ve always been bigger, so part of my life is dealing with rude people,” she says. “Friends, family and strangers tell me to lose weight to find a partner and live my life to the fullest. For a long time, I thought I couldn’t do big hikes until I got in better shape and lost weight.”
Three years ago, Kaila discovered online communities like “Fat Girls Hiking” and “Unlikely Hikers.” She met plus-size adventurers and started to surround herself on social media with people who looked like her. “Representation is so important,” she says. “I realized I didn’t have to wait for a future self to enjoy the outdoors. My size doesn’t have to hold me back.”
In November of 2019, Kaila started “Fat Wander Babes,” an inspirational Instagram account dedicated to plus-size travellers (@fatwanderbabes). It features wanderlust-worthy images that are usually reserved for straight-sized white women: posing in bikinis in front of gorgeous waterfalls, clad in adventure gear on the tops of mountains and wearing pretty dresses in fields of colourful flowers.
“For a long time, ‘fat’ was synonymous with ‘lazy,’” Kaila explains. “No one is required to call themselves fat; you can use whatever descriptor works for you. But for me and a lot of other plus-size people, it’s a way to take the word back. Fat is not a bad word. I’m fat and I don’t have to hide it.”
Kaila has a strong community of followers who come to her defence when haters and trolls appear in the comment section. Other times, she ignores or deletes hateful remarks. “It’s frustrating, but I’m quite used to it. It gives me another reason to keep doing what I’m doing, because it shows there are still people out there who are extremely fatphobic.”
Kaila explains that “Fat Wander Babes” works against fatphobia and promotes joyful movement— moving for the fun of it, rather than focusing on weight loss or as a punishment for eating. “I’ve heard lots of people talking about gaining weight during the pandemic,” Kaila says. “And I think, ‘Really? That’s what you’re most concerned about during a global pandemic?’ That’s internalized fatphobia coming out.”
Internalized fatphobia exists in all sectors of life—including the outdoors industry, she continues. Most companies don’t create technical gear in sizes above a 3X—to be more inclusive, Kaila says, brands should offer apparel and gear in 4X, 5X and 6X, and she’d like to see companies that already offer plus-size options advertise and post about it on social media. “If you have plus size gear, why aren’t you showing it?” Kaila asks.
Kaila hopes to show plus-size people they can start adventuring right now; she also wants to show everybody that people who are bigger can hike, climb and accomplish amazing things.
“Why has society told us that being a certain weight is a bad thing? Why do people think health is an indicator of worth? No matter your size or health, you should be given respect, love, dignity and value.”
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020/21 issue, Everybody Outside