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.

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