Is This What Empowerment Looks Like?

Mountain Babes

If you wanted to inspire women to get outdoors, would you A) Get a bunch of women to wear bikinis at a lake and then film them splashing each other, drinking beer and pouring it on each other, doing yoga while drinking beer and shaking their boobs, or B) Collect footage of the best female skiers going huge, interview them about what inspires them and how they’ve made their lives in the mountains, and then send a few of them to slay first descents in Alaska on film? This week, films featuring each of those have launched into the outdoor media, claiming to various degrees to want to inspire women to get out.

Last night the premier of Lynsey Dyer’s all-female ski film Pretty Faces drew about a thousand other people in the sold-out Boulder Theater. And you know what it made me want to do? Get out myself and shred. There were no bikinis. No sexual tension. Little booze. Just lots of powder, a few gondola dance parties, road trips, and women carving sick couloirs and alpine spines.

Unicorn Picnic | Pretty Faces Teaser from Unicorn Picnic Productions on Vimeo.


The audience was mostly women, from kindergartners to white-haired ladies. And from their reaction, it seemed like they shared my feelings. They loved seeing their ski heros finally be fully featured. They finally heard women like Rachel Burks and Tatum Monod talk about their dream lines and how they manage to make a living and still ski all winter. It was women telling their own stories, in their own voices. And it was inspiring.

Driving home from the uplifting night of lady pow slashing and inspiration among friends, I thought of the other film that had bubbled up in my feed earlier this week—the one that looked like a beer commercial, but was supposedly inspired by the hashtag #mtnbabes. If you’re not on Instagram, or haven’t seen #mtnbabes, it’s mainly photos women take of themselves on mountaintops or in beautiful outdoor scenes shot topless from behind. The general idea is celebrating women getting out, getting up high and enjoying life—and it’s not overwhelmingly titillating. Supposedly inspired by those shots, a few young men asked some of their girl friends to “make a video kinda like that, but better.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s exactly what I described in the first paragraph. And it went all over the internet.

So what? It wasn’t the first time women in bikinis have frolicked in front of a camera, and it won’t be the last. But as Heather at pointed out last week, sex sells, but what exactly is being sold? Apparently the women behind @mtn_babes_ had nothing to do with it and aren’t happy at their concept being turned into a sexualized beer commercial of a film. What was the point of it? What was it selling?

Maybe the bigger question revolves around how we as outdoorswomen choose to let ourselves be portrayed—and portray ourselves. The filmmakers admit they just wanted to make a sexy film with their friends, and that, “Showing them slowmo clips of themselves on the camera was responded with ‘Damn, we’re sexy!’, not ‘I’m being objectified and slowing down women’s progress in the outdoor community.’” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel sexy, but when we let ourselves be portrayed only as sexy, are we selling ourselves short? Looking more exploited and less empowered? Not all of us are going to be Lynsey Dyer or Ingrid Backstrom. But when we start telling our own stories, I bet they’ll look a lot more like Pretty Faces than Mountain Babes.

4 Responses to Is This What Empowerment Looks Like?

  1. Justeen ferguson says:

    Thank you ladies for being a real inspiration of not only what it is to be an outdoorwoman but empowering us to be ourselves, to be pretty but also to be so much more than that. You girls rock and have inspired us Summit HUNNIES and for that we are beyond grateful.

  2. Julie says:

    I have been waiting to reply to these recent blogs/thoughts on the representation of women. And I couldn’t agree more with many of the thoughts that you have. I’m so happy that women are starting to have a voice and speak up about these things. I am a raft racer. We are going to Brazil next week to compete in the world competition. We have been fundraising. It’s impressive, that still, we get suggestions to 1) have a nude calender 2) go out in our bikinis etc to raise funds for our team. This is not something I want to do or the US women to represent in order to get funds to help us train and attend worlds. And, at the same time, it’s true, we MIGHT make more money by taking off our clothes because that’s been a norm. It’s time to change this whole concept by showing bad ass women doing their thing. So, I’m gonna continue on the momentum from the whitewater rafting world. Here we are:

  3. Mrs H says:

    The question I would ask is, “am I respecting myself with my actions?” I am an Ice and rock climber, and I would never show that much skin to anyone besides my husband. BUT, if the individuals in the video truly do respect them selves for what they have done then that is their LIBERTY to do so! And how wonderful it is that we have that liberty! Express your freedoms and feminism how you choose

  4. Felicia Night says:

    Is this something that is exclusive to white women? Or is this white feminism? I find it interesting that this total freedom, ultimate exercise of empowerment, embodied femininity, and courage is something that after scrolling through the mtn_babes IG seems to completely exclude all women of color of any kind.


    I’m sure there’s nothing at all priveledged about literally running away from you life on a mountain hike to find solidarity with outdoorwomen (aka women who spend time outdoors for leisure), woman kind (aka women who are fiscally and physically able), and the sisterhood (aka the thin-to-average sized white bodies of the world who’s nudity is not only permitted, but prized in both male dominated and fem/poly/free/lib spaces).

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