One of the first questions I’m asked every time I hang out with my Mum is: “Want to go for a walk?”
When you’re the daughter of Di Westaway, though, it’s hardly surprising. My mother’s interests include: her family, hiking, handstands, hiking, views, hiking, work and hiking. In that order. A walk to a view on a family holiday for a handstand photo to post on Instagram ticks all her boxes.
I’m used to it now, but this wasn’t always the case. Back when I was a 13-year-old princess who didn’t like dirt, I would respond to Di’s walking requests in typical teenage fashion: with a big eye roll or sarcastic comment. Enticing me to ditch Facebook or my friends to get sweaty was an uphill battle – literally. But my mother is not afraid of hills, and entice me she did, eventually. Ten years and countless summits later, I’m unbelievably grateful for the gift I was given – the gift of adventure.
A lot has changed since I was a teenager not that long ago, and not all of it for the better. Teenage girls now live in a world where reality is warped by Instagram filters and Photoshop, where friends look like models and models feel like friends. They exist in a society that values ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, ‘follows’ and ‘shares’, one where beauty is defined by brands that profit from your insecurity.
So what does all this have to do with hiking? Everything. Because hiking can dismantle it all. It’s often not easy to get teenagers to come hiking, but here’s why it’s so worth it.
Take your daughter hiking because it will help her love her body
Have you ever been to a class at a gym where the instructor says things like: “Get that Victoria’s Secret body” or “Work off those calories!”? I have. Too many times. These types of comments scream of an outdated fitness philosophy where calories in must be less than calories out and workouts are a tool to assist weight loss.
Hiking is different. Hiking shifts your focus from what your body looks like to what your body can do (hike up a hill, climb a mountain, walk 60km in one go) and consequently, your whole relationship with your body changes. You no longer want to work out to get skinny or small. In fact, you want the opposite. When the motivation to move comes from a place of strength and power, not punishment or deprivation, happiness and true health follows.
Take your daughter hiking because it will get her off her screen
When you’re hiking through the bush you can’t scroll through Instagram or Facebook because you might, erm, fall off a cliff if you do. Also often you don’t have reception, which is a #bonus.
Take your daughter hiking because it’s good for her mental wellbeing
Depression and anxiety are major challenges for Australia, particularly for young women. While clinical mental illnesses need expert care, some of the symptoms can be greatly reduced by exercise, especially walking in nature.
Take your daughter hiking because she’ll tell you her secrets
When we walk, something changes in the way we communicate and process information. There’s something about the movement as well as not having to face each other that allows information to flow more easily and people to open up more readily. There’s no awkward silences in the bush, so I highly recommend it for birds-and-bees-type conversations. Plus, it’s hard to be in a bad mood while walking, so try asking your daughter about her life mid-hike if you want a response more eloquent than an eye roll.
Take your daughter hiking because it will teach her to love and respect the environment
Oh, Mother Earth, we need you. Our kids need you. Teaching your daughter to enjoy the environment will inspire her to protect it and create a ripple effect that changes the world. Leave no trace, always.
Take your daughter hiking because it’s cheaper than therapy
Really. I’m a massive fan of therapy but hiking also helps. For me, I need less therapy when I get into nature regularly.
Take your daughter hiking because it will empower her physically
There’s so many important things we can do in the name of feminism, but teaching women to be physically strong and capable is high up my list. Hiking, climbing, making fires, putting up tents, dealing with creepy crawlies and facing fear are all skills that help us dismantle the idea that women are weak and fragile and need men to protect us. If nothing else, take her hiking for gender equality.
Take your daughter hiking because you’ll have fun together!!
Teaching your daughter to love hiking means you’ll always have a buddy to enjoy moving in nature with. I know it’s sometimes (often!) hard to motivate yourself, and it’s easier when you’re with others. Hiking is a fun, healthy, wild, feel good, bonding experience and it will help develop and strengthen your relationship. My mum is my best friend and there’s nothing I love more than hiking together. It’s magic.