Episode 187: Nature is Never the Problem

Interview with Sofia Jin

Sofia Jin believes that if we are going to spend time in nature, we need to address the very human problems we bring with us: sexism, sexual harassment, eating disorders, and racism (to name a few). She stresses that talking about these  issues  shouldn’t “ruin” the escapism possible in the great outdoors for anyone but in fact makes it safer, more inclusive, and somewhere everyone can feel heard and valued.

About Sofia: Sofia is a British Korean explorer, entertainer, and creative. She’s a climber, diver, and Muay Thai practitioner, a member of The North Face UK Explorer Team, and an adventure athlete for Osprey Europe.

Transcript available below the photos!

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Featured in this episode: Sofia Jin

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Featured in this Episode

Sofia Jin

As a ‘teletubby’ mountaineering

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Hey this is Gale here with a quick content warning for this episode. We discuss sexual harassment in the first half and eating disorders in the latter half of this episode. There are no graphic descriptions, but both themes are discussed at length. There’s also some swearing. Ok, onto the show.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. Oh yeah, you sound perfect.

Gale Straub:

Uh, well, easy first question. If you could just share your name and your pronouns.

Sofia Jin:

Yes, absolutely. My name is Sophia Jin; pronouns. She/Her.

Gale Straub – Narration:

As you just heard this is Sofia Jin––a British Korean explorer, entertainer, and creative. She’s a climber, diver, and Muay Thai practitioner, a member of the The North Face UK Explorer Team, and an adventure athlete for Osprey Europe.

Gale Straub:

How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors today?

Sofia Jin:

My relationship with the outdoors is one of wonder and perspective. I mean, I’ve been obsessed with the natural world from a very young age and I’m supremely passionate about it. And I especially thrive at the place where education and adventure and meet.

Gale Straub – Narration:

This intersection is showcased in the short videos Sofia creates that bring together her love of the outdoors and creativity.

Sofia Jin:

One of my favorite things to do is to make my own videos about the outdoors and present them in a way that is funny and engaging and informative. My aim, everything I do is to inspire a sense of wonder in people about the natural world and encourage people to get curious about something and to follow that curiosity and compel people to look off to the outdoors cause people protect what they love and my want for everything I do is for people to come away, feeling like that welcome out here and also, you know, to remind them that a sense of humor can see you through a lot of shit.

Gale Straub:

Well, it definitely comes through in your work. Would you be able to describe just briefly a recent video that you’ve put out recently?

Sofia Jin:

I’ve been in lockdown in the UK, so there hasn’t been much opportunity to get out, but I sidestepped that by creating this IGTV series, Explore At Home.

Sofia Jin – Video:

Hey, welcome back to another episode of Explore At Home with me, Sophia Jin.

Sofia Jin:

I just have picked things that I own that are interesting. I’ve got fossils and like meteorites and all sorts of things for adventures.

Sofia Jin – Video:

Let’s get into it. I got the serious science ponytail going, which means it’s going to be a good episode. The ordinary matter and energy that we know of and experience in everyday life is called baryonic matter because I’ve been speaking about those things and trying make the information part of it really entertaining. Now, dark matter makes up 27% of the known universe and dark energy makes up the other 68%. That’s an incredible amount of stuff we don’t know. Hence dark.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Sophia’s videos are fun. They’re quirky, they’re informative. We get to follow Sophia’s curiosity, a quality that she values deeply while she’s enjoyed producing her, Explore at Home videos during lockdown. She’s also looking forward to what’s ahead:

Sofia Jin:

Going to Scotland in may basically to create this video series around Marine conservation. And I’ll be working with a team of local Marine biologists to try and find stations and the local seal colonies. And we talking to them about microplastics and that’ll be really exciting and something different. I’ve never actually been able to do anything like that before.

Gale Straub:

Oh, very, very cool. I love that you’re taking you’re in front of the camera work from literally inside your apartment or home and taking it outdoors.

Sofia Jin:

Yep.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Sofia is someone who digs deep. She doesn’t just spend time in nature, she learns about it and she shares it with others. There was a lot we could cover in our conversation because she has so many passions. But something that struck me when she initially reached out is her emphasis on bringing our full selves with us into the outdoors. And that means we bring more than just our bodies. Here’s an excerpt from the original message Sofia sent me: “if we are going to go into these spaces we need to address the problems we bring with us. Which does not “ruin” the escapism of the great outdoors for anyone but in fact makes it safer, more inclusive, and somewhere everyone can feel heard and valued.”

Gale Straub:

So a one of the things that really resonated with me when you first reached out was talking about the idea of the outdoors, not being a paradise. Would you be able to expand on that a bit? Like some of your thoughts around that?

Sofia Jin:

Nature by itself is beautiful, right? And we love to get out into it. We love being outdoors because we love the way nature makes us feel. I think a lot of us view the outdoors as an escape hatch is where we go to get away from the rest of the world. The escapism of nature is something that’s actually been with us for a really long time. I mean, I was thinking about this day and I remember in my literature degree, learning about the concept of, you know, the green world in, in, even in Shakespeare where the natural sphere is this place of fantasy, this stark contrast to the conventions of society. It’s just so far removed from normal life. It’s this world that lives in a whole other bracket. And I mean, not quite the same, but I feel similarly that today in many ways that remains and insistence on separating the outdoors from the rest of society, especially when it comes to human issues, by which I mean, you know, we view the recreational outdoors as a safe Haven when none of the issues that plague the rest of society exists. And so it would be use in harassment, racism, discrimination, inequality is largely either waived under the rug or de-legitimized is seen as not really existing in the outdoors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I want to jump in and acknowledge that the modern, colonial inclination to romanticize a pristine wilderness not only erases the societal problems that Sofia speaks of, it also downplays the indigenous tribes that have stewarded the land for millenia. Back to Sofia:

Sofia Jin:

For example, when we tried to have discussion about inclusion and how certain groups have been traditionally excluded and often still excluded from outdoor recreation, there are some people who have a knee-jerk reaction and say, why are you even talking about this? You know, that the outdoors is literally open for everyone. Anyone can go to the trail, stop trying to politicize it. And of course, sometimes those who ask a genuinely asking an honest and really do have a willingness to learn. But sometimes there is just an insistence on, on willful ignorance. And a lot of the time I think it is because people just don’t want to think of the outdoors as a place where there is anything bad or ugly or wrong because it’s their escape. You know? And while you can absolutely escape from elements of your own life for awhile, you can’t escape, systemic issues,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Just as Sofia and every person out there listening contains multitudes, so does the outdoors. But in the outdoor world some of the many things it contains are opposing each other––for better and for worse. For better, lots of people take solace in the outdoors and love spending time in nature––the outdoors is for everyone, for worse, that often isn’t what is represented in the media or who has access. For better nature can be a place of healing, for worse it’s a place many people who work in the outdoors, women especially, deal with sexual harassment. For better it’s a place where community can be built, for worse it’s a place that can be filled with hyper competitiveness and comparison. Sofia wants us to hold all of these things in our hands because we carry them all into the outdoors with us: for better and for worse.

Gale Straub:

Would you be able to describe that kind of catalyst for you in terms of realizing that that sexual harassment is something that can follow you into the outdoors?

Sofia Jin:

Yes. I mean, I’ve experienced sexual harassment in my life has sadly, you know, pretty much all of us have and sexual harassment and abuse is a widespread problem. It’s so incredibly normalized in our culture. But you know, like, as I said, people don’t like to think about the outdoors as a backdrop for these things, but the truth is many occupations and involve working outdoors in remote locations, suffer from very high rates of sexual harassment. And that was my experience. So I was sexually harassed with unwanted touch and lewd comments by someone who I then had to work with in close quarters, in a remote location and continued to be sexually harassed by them with unwanted touch in the comments. And it was so disheartening because I had really looked up to them. It was also intimidating and honestly, a little bit frightening because I had nowhere else to go.

Sofia Jin:

I was stuck in that location with that person. There was no exit route. There was no guaranteed version of survival that didn’t depend on them being there because they knew the area, they controlled access to resources. So it was a really stressful environment for me. And the worst part was the expectation that I would just deal with it. And the lack of support I received from the few people I told in that environment, it was mostly men, but a couple of women who, who either didn’t believe how bad it was or implied. It was some kind of compliment or who minimize my experience, made me doubt my feelings, you know, made me think I’m crazy. I’m overreacting because clearly it’s not that bad if they’re not saying anything. So I was in denial about it for a long time. And I too was someone who didn’t want to ruin the outdoors with my experience.

Sofia Jin:

Cause I love it so much that it was only months later that I realized through speaking to friends and professionals and others who would actually experience the same thing. And even from the same person that I had in fact been subject to this wrongdoing in this arena in which I had never expected it to occur. And so then I went away and I did some research and I was shocked to discover that, you know, sexual harassment plays out on the trails and the mountaintops, like I had never imagined. And the fact that I was even surprised, I think shows me the, I too had participated in this over idealized vision of the recreational outdoors. Why you think so great that your first instinct is to doubt any mention of something wrong with it.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Some of the research that Sofia did brought up the following findings, all of which are US based, because she sadly couldn’t find any UK studies. In 2016 an investigative report furnished by the US Department of the Interior showing that women in the rafting industry had been victims of sexual misconduct for years. There was a subsequent investigation that found that resulting disciplinary action was either inconsistent or insufficient. The following year, in 2017, there was an internal survey by the National Parks Service that found that 40% of the organization’s employees have experienced some level of harassment over a 12 month period, and the National parks service had a history of downplaying or ignoring these complaints.

Sofia Jin:

That same year outside magazine ran a story on the sexual and verbal harassment of a female rafting guide. And after they had announced, they’d be investigating, you know, more instances of harassment and assault in the industry that was met with quite a lot of comments. I saw myself, I saw it on the Facebook posts. Like I don’t want to read this kind of. And outside in nature is an escape for me, stop politicizing the outdoors, which was, it was so disheartening for me reading that because it was just in the aftermath of me trying to find solidarity after realizing what I had been through. And I was then released a survey to better understand their reader’s experiences with sexual harassment in and outdoor recreation and other outdoors jobs. And it was something like 4,000 people who responded in 70% of them and said they’d been harassed.

Sofia Jin:

And it just then struck me that it was so rampant in this industry. Like it is everywhere else. And you know, it doesn’t surprise me that there’s insufficient disciplinary action because I think about it. How could that be? I mean, if the wildly inappropriate things that had been said to me had been said to me in a corporate environment, it would have been reported to HR. It would have resulted in a firing. I mean, I’d like to hope, but you know, it, it turns out there’s not that much difference between the streets and the trails because who do you report to when it happens? I mean, I was in a remote location. Where could I have gone? The few people that I told didn’t want to believe it. And on the whole, I think people don’t want to talk about it. Cause there is that extra layer when you’re outside of you don’t ruin my escape. I think like when people are resistant to hearing about things in the outdoors, I mean, there’s obviously lots of different things going on. I think one of them though, is that they just don’t want to ruin it for themselves because this is what we come to escape. Hmm.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. And the irony is that that creates that perfect environment for harassment.

Sofia Jin:

Yeah. Yeah, it does

Gale Straub:

What hasn’t been said yet, but also is a very strong factor I would assume is the fact that it’s male dominated. So, you know, it makes it a lot harder if everyone else that you’re talking to about it also happens to be male.

Sofia Jin:

Yes. Yes. I mean, I have so many feelings about, I mean it being a male dominated field, I think that there’s obviously so many great people in the communities, but it does foster, I think at least in the UK, I think there is a bit of this sort of, we know what we like to call toxic masculinity. And I think it just does lead to an environment where it’s so much easier for those things to happen and for people to not be believed or supported, um, because the outdoors is seen as this traditionally masculine space. And especially if me as a woman comes along and is saying like, I think he did this to me or whatever. It’s like, this is not even your space to be saying that kind of deep down.

Gale Straub:

Yeah. Yeah. So where, where it hasn’t been a huge topic of discussion, like in an ideal world, what kinds of conversations would you like to be hearing?

Sofia Jin:

I think when it comes to the media coverage, I think we need more awareness. I mean, we need to take this story seriously. The overwhelming majority of reports in the outdoors industry seem to go ignored or downplayed the such a lack of accountability. And again, you know, we don’t want to think of these beautiful places as places with problems, but as long as we have the privilege of entering into them, we have to do the work. And that starts as simply as just listening when people speak. And I probably would like to say to anyone who’s been through similar. I mean, I know I’ve sort of banged on about if they didn’t believe me, but I mean, you should tell someone so many trusts. I would want people to know, and to myself then to have known there is no line, which has to be crossed other than the subjective, one of how you feel.

Sofia Jin:

So if someone is physical with you scares, you makes you feel uncomfortable pressures, you offends you with lewd comments, forces are unwanted touch on you, punishes you for not reciprocating and so on. And so on. I mean, these things, uh, are not rape, but they are predatory and manipulative and they’re still wrong. And I say that only because I remember thinking to myself, well, I wasn’t raped. So, and then I was like, how could I even say that, you know, how can I, even as the bar really that low that you have to be, you know, subject to them as wicked and deplorable act before even thinking that anything went wrong, it doesn’t have to get to that point for it to be wrong. I mean, I would want people to know that as well. And I want, I would want that to be part of the cultural shift

Gale Straub – Narration:

Part of having this conversation is to remind ourselves that even if we aren’t the ones experiencing harassment, everyone on a team should be watching out for each other, and we should listen when someone speaks up. Or, perhaps we put up with harassment in the past, became jaded and assumed it’s just part of the job. What would change if we followed the lead of those who were calling it out? How could we support them? How can we all be culture changers — indoors and out.

Sofia Jin:

I wish that it had been the case for me and I, yeah. I hope that there is that sense of being there for each other and the group acting on behalf of, of each other’s interests as well.

Gale Straub – Narration:

It seems like such a simple concept––people shouldn’t sexually harass other people, we should listen to others. But sometimes the things that seem simple, things we want to take for granted, things we assume won’t happen to us, or things we are embarrassed to admit have happened to us often get left for last. And for those of us that fumble to find words in the moment and need time to process, the act of having these conversations before anything negative happens is a way to help us decide how we will navigate through in the future.

Gale Straub:

How, how did you move forward from that? Like how did you kind of repair your relationship with what you love to do outside?

Sofia Jin:

Such a good question, because I have been thinking about it lately and I don’t know that it has in the sense that I don’t feel as safe in some situations as I did before. And that really sucks. It hasn’t interfered with my love for the sports that I do. Obviously hasn’t gotten in the way of nature itself because nature itself has never the problem. I do feel safe in the communities. I hang out with it. So my, my climbing crew and the people that I know and trust, I think it’s more about going someone Familia somewhere already remote, if it’s for work. And I have this big thing now about if it’s like people that I don’t really know that well, or, but at the same time, I mean, it was someone who I did know fairly well, so I’m not even really sure. I mean, it hasn’t interfered with the nature and the sports, but it’s kinda made me a bit more, uh, more afraid of some situations. I mean, this is, this feels like therapy. I mean, it literally feels like if I had to go to therapy, this is what a therapist would ask me. And I would just go home and tell you, I don’t know, cause I’m still dealing with it. I think about now. I didn’t think about it before, but now I think if I go that will this happen? If I go this bus and will this happen? Like, what is the situation? And it’s, um, I’m not sure how to, yeah.

Gale Straub – Narration:

There’s not a clean end to this part of the discussion, no happy ending, but there’s a hope that the more these conversations see the light of the day, the more we can come together to make a positive culture change, safer workplaces, and a safer outdoors. We’ll be back with the next part of our conversation after the break.

MIDROLL BREAK

Sofia Jin:

For me, things like climbing and hiking and all that, they’re a means to an end, not an end in itself. I obviously love the feeling of working hard and overcoming a challenge, but I am not someone who is that interested in setting records of having accolades in that way. The reason I get outside is literally just to be close to nature.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back. As I mentioned at the top at the episode, Sofia is a sponsored athlete and wants to change the dominant narratives of what it means to recreate outside. Part of this is dismantling the culture of competition.

Gale Straub:

So what are some of the ways that you strive to model someone who’s doing the outdoor activities she loves and excelling at them, but not in a way that is creating that culture of competition?

Sofia Jin:

Yeah. I mean, I love the schools, communities that I’m in, but I also do know what it’s like to have negative experiences and to have felt like a less valued member of a community based on my ability. And unfortunately, some of those experiences almost put me off entire sports just completely. There are like a few people who think that, you know, a community like say the climate community is only designed to people who climb at and beyond a certain level, say like five 13 plus, which some people will know is 70 plus. And that actually doesn’t make much sense when you consider that the majority of the climbing population does not and will happily never climb at that level. And so I think as much as having, you know, I’m not an elite athlete by any means. And I think as much as having those people who are at the frontiers of the sport and progressing the sport is a great thing.

Sofia Jin:

Having people who are not and whose motivations are different is also a really great thing. Having a broad range of experiences within a sport makes the community richer because sports communities don’t exist only to support those at a certain level. And you know, I think I’ve said this to you before the whole point of a communities is to support everybody involved at the end of the day. There’s one common denominator between all of you, no matter what your skill level. And that is that you all love the same thing you showed up for the same thing. And because my motivations are to invite everybody in and say like, look, you don’t have to be puffed up to this thing if you just want to do it. Cause he like, that’s cool. I just want to bring everybody in. I think it’s important to remember that not everybody does things for the same reasons, you know, people that enjoy the same things, not everyone who trail runs does it to compete to an elite level.

Sofia Jin:

I started climbing literally just because I like the feeling of moving upwards on my hands and feet. And I wanted to see a view from high up and, you know, I don’t think that makes me any less of a valued member of the community because there is nothing morally superior about, you know, running up the mountain versus walking up the mountain, Ohio altitude, mountaineering versus hiking. I think people should experience the outdoors in a way that makes the most sense for them. And because, you know, because of my mission is to get people to fall in love with the outdoors and therefore then protect the outdoors. You want to welcome in as many people as possible and encourage people to yeah. Find, find that way of experiencing the outdoors. That makes sense for them. You know, I also know that we have this increasingly competitive sporting culture.

Sofia Jin:

And to add to that, we live in this comparison culture with social media platforms that make it difficult for us to not compare ourselves to other people. Since we can see them all the time in that culture, it’s very easy to hold ourselves to an external standard, you know, be it from another person, an algorithm, a set of analytics, and to lose track of your own reasons for doing the things that you love. And you might even find yourself waking up one day to think this just isn’t fun anymore. And that sucks. And I’ve definitely gotten to that place where I’m like, I just don’t enjoy this anymore. You know, at some point it felt like everyone was just achieving greater success at a younger age. And I was like, oh my God, next week, the headline is going to be two year old sends V18. And I’m like, why didn’t I do that when I was two? And I forgot, you know what I always like to say, which is that, you know, you’re good at you’re having a good time. You don’t need to be perfect. Just willing to try. I’ve lost touch with that feeling of fun before. And when I do, I feel like I need to prioritize having a good time. More often

Gale Straub:

Competitive sports are often measured by numbers – climb difficulty ratings, fastest known times, mountain heights. And while these have their place, there can be a dark side to them too:

Sofia Jin:

When everything becomes about competition, things can get a little dull at best to very dark at worst. You know, there is shades to this highly competitive sports and culture we have. And in that shade, there can be some very serious health implications. And that’s something I’ve been thinking about in more depth recently because of the light documentary that Caroline did,

Gale Straub – Narration:

The documentary Sofia is referring to is a recent short film, Light, by Caroline Treadway about the hidden world of eating disorders in professional climbing, which I’ll link in the show notes. And while it is a film centered around climbing, it’s about so much more than that.

Sofia Jin:

The documentary made me think about my own eating disorder that I had when I was younger. I was severely orthorexic than anorexic to the point of needing medical help and going to hospital. And I thought I was fully past that. Then I realized I’ve been triggered quite frequently in the past couple of years when I go climbing and I look around and I know that if I were the same 15 year old with the same vulnerabilities, those triggers in the community, might’ve pushed me back into disordered eating. You know, I have friends who cut to a thousand calories a week or two before climbing, um, on a big climbing trip. I’ve, I’ve heard climbers heading home from the gym, jokingly telling each other to avoid the pizza tonight. I’ve seen the memes that say, would you rather never climb X grade or have anorexia? And we laugh it off without stopping to consider what kind of culture that’s creating.

Sofia Jin:

That all contributes to a very dangerous myth of worthiness and also of dedication. You know, that if you don’t train hard enough, you simply one dedicated enough. And to be truly dedicated, you must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, whether that’s your happiness or your health, both, and those who don’t as simply unwilling to go the extra mile, they just didn’t want it enough. I think we’re only just realizing how deeply rooted in the culture. All of this is, you know, there are long established climbers like Beth, Rodden coming forward to speak about exactly this her experience with disordered eating and body dysmorphia in the climbing community and describing in her article for outside magazine, her experience with competitive thinness. And now we already have this in society as it is this, patriarchal, social conditioning that relates size to worthiness, to which I have fallen victim.

Sofia Jin:

And, and that affects all women in every way, making you afraid to take up space, you know, especially if you already belong to another marginalized group. And for me to see how that’s translated into competitive sports in eating disorders, developing as a result of both a pressure to perform under pre-existing cultural pressure in wider society is sad, but not without hope because we are increasingly raising dialogue within our communities and changing the awareness surrounding this issue. And that’s exactly what light represents. It. Bravely furthered a conversation about an issue that I think a lot of pupil in the climbing community didn’t want to acknowledge only wanted to look out through their fingers or just didn’t have the language for. And I think that prioritizing having a good time more often is also a big part of the solution to just enjoy being and not necessarily pushing all the time to give people permission, to fail, to give ourselves permission to fail. And it’s important that we do that in our outdoors communities because it filters back with us into every other part of that life. And then we get more environments that are encouraging and uplifting where people look out for each other and celebrate each other. And aren’t afraid to start the hard conversations. Hmm.

Gale Straub:

Oh, absolutely. Thinking about that, that documentary light. Did it generate any conversations for you with climbing friends?

Sofia Jin:

It generated a conversation between myself and friends of mine who didn’t realize that the comments they were making and the way that they would discuss their nutrition around me were harmful not only to me personally, with my history, but also contributing to this culture that valorizes restriction and control it was all quit at first because, you know, there was a bit of resistance. I think they felt a bit like defensive, um, but they were willing to hear me out and I made it clear that I wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone. This is not a documentary about you. It’s about all of us it’s for all of us. And you know, it was, it was productive. And I think up until that point, I just never had the courage to interject. When people started talking about what they were eating to lose weight for this or that climbing trip. I just muted the conversation. I think now we will think twice, not just to protect one or two people, but for the broader community. And I’m learning to speak more and mute less.

Sofia Jin:

This is another reason to have conversations like this. To check in and ask each other if we are talking about subjects like mental health, harassment, inclusion, and comparison culture within our own communities and those we spend time with in the outdoors. It can be the folks we’re closest to that it’s hardest to have these personal conversations with. But asking for what we need and standing in our truth can open up the same opportunity for those around us. Sofia’s just one of a handful of folks we’ve on She Explores from the UK, so I was curious about the culture of the outdoors there. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of similarities to the US. Sofia told me that on the ground it is fairly diverse but that in TV and in media it is very homogeneous––that while there are some great folks in that homogeneous group there desperately needs to be a wider representation within the industry, especially in media.

Sofia Jin:

I would like to see us expanding our representation and outdoors media in the UK, because right now it is very male dominated. I mean, all of the people I saw on TV doing the adventures that I aspire to do when I was growing up, climbing big mountains, hiking around the world, well, white bearded ex military dudes, and it’s still the same. And I mean, I loved it. I voraciously ate it up and some of them is still my role models, but it does present the extra huddle because you’re watching that as a woman or honestly, any other marginalized group with everything that having been raised as that means with all the ways that you were implicitly taught, that you couldn’t do certain things or the little nudges that told you to see yourself in such a binary way. I mean, with women, we forced them into boxes and labels where they are one thing and not the other and a woman in a male dominated field.

Sofia Jin:

Well, she must be a titan of a woman, oh my God, so strong. So much tougher and more capable than the normal woman. It’s like, no, a woman, not a Titan, not a Hulk, not an anomaly. And I know people feel the same way, others who haven’t had the chance to see themselves represented in this space, who at some point realized that they’d been taught to expect certain things of themselves to think, oh, I don’t belong out there outdoors. And to therefore even deny themselves opportunities to go when presented with them. And that’s the combination of social conditioning, having inherited historic inequalities and what you have, or rather haven’t seen of yourself in the mainstream media. I think the way the outdoors is represented on TV here, just points to the problem we have, um, you know, with the lack of equal access to the outdoors.

Sofia Jin:

And that is so many different factors at play. It’s the fact that the UK countryside is overwhelmingly white and many people of color feel an apprehension about stepping into nature, especially in more remote places where they will feel so visible and wonder how they’re going to be received. It’s about access living in the cities and not having the disposable income for transport and the right shoes and the right jacket. It’s about certain minority groups having inherited historic inequalities and as a result, not having had the chance to develop a cultural habit of just going outside for fun. It’s about outdoors education. So many kids are exposed to the outdoors through school, but that tends to be the schools in more affluent areas. And in the UK, you know, those are the majority participating in outdoors activities. So I think the media has a big role to play in authentically bringing other people in because they’re out there. I mean, I know on the ground in the UK, there are a number of groups like we go outside to United, we climb climber that’s clmb XR. I mean, all these groups are designed to level the playing field and support people who traditionally haven’t been supported and felt included in these communities so far.

Gale Straub – Narration:

In the same vein, I asked Sofia about how she thinks about pushing the narrative of change along. Or how she hopes those with power and connections will use their leverage.

Sofia Jin:

As a brand or any other kind of media storyteller. When you’re going to advocate for a marginalized group to be visible in the outdoors industry, authenticity is key. I mean, all the diversity is always key. Fighting with your wallet is important. Valuing these communities by funding that programs and creating the spaces they need asking them what they want, engaging in conversation that is important. Posting a picture of a person of color on your website or Instagram is performative. If it’s not backed up by sustainable action. And the stories that need telling a ones where every character adds to the depth and breadth of our understanding about ourselves, not two dimensional, not token, not let’s get Sofia Jin because she is the Korean chick. We can just stick on the end of the line of GI Joes, but doing what that means justice and taking care with our stories.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Sofia is working on several projects to help cultivate this change, including a documentary to help showcase diverse experiences in climbing. She also just connected with an organization whose purpose is close to her heart.

Sofia Jin:

I’ve just started working with an amazing charity organization called Ella’s in London. Uh, they provide safe houses and resources to help women who have survived trafficking, create independence, safe, happy lives. They make sure the women that they work with have a safe place to live and food and access to mental health care, legal health education, and job prospects, even after they leave the safe house. So we’ve about how I can best serve them with the resources that I have access to, especially when it comes to the outdoors, I would really love to help provide a means of empowerment through sports. So hopefully leading some outings towards the end of the year, doing something in nature, like coastal walks or climbing mentorships here and there, you know, to, to contribute to having this enriched life. And that’s as much as I could ask for like what good are the connections I have without being able to use them?

Sofia Jin:

I believe nature is a fundamental, right? And I want to help bring people to it, especially those who’ve already been denied. If so much, there are numerous benefits to getting outdoors and nature is a fantastic teacher to be able to stand on your own two feet out that, to feel that connection, to feel so empowered. If you know that if you’ve experienced it, you know how much that means. But at the same time, this is not about me projecting my idea of what a great day outdoors is. I’ll be working really closely with Ella’s and the incredible team that to make sure that we know who would benefit from this and what exactly they would benefit from. It’s about helping people experience the outdoors in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Gale Straub:

I’m just amazed by all that you do, you know, and all that you, where your passion is taking you within this industry. And I also do you want to underline that while I think it’s incredible that you are in certain ways pushing the industry forward. It’s also not a hundred percent your job, like your job is to show up as you are. And to, like you said, just have fun and model that.

Sofia Jin:

Yes. Yeah. I think I sometimes not too much, but I mean, my brain is just like so chaotic. This is why like my being outside is so good for my mental health is something I’m becoming so much more empowered to speak about. I would never have spoken about anything like that to pertain to, to mental health or anything like that. In previous years, it’s really only been this year because I’ve been in lockdown so much that I’ve had so much time with myself. And normally all that energy that I would just push outwards into doing other things is just come straight back, like a boomerang into me. And I’ve just had to sit with myself and all this stuff that I’ve never thought about, like the eating disorders and how that’s being triggered by the, by some of the things that people say to me at climbing and, and like the depression and all these things.

Sofia Jin:

It’s like, my brain is like this window. It’s so many different tabs open and there’s music playing from one of them. I don’t know which one it is and it’s like chaos. Um, but yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s like during these meditative moments that I have outdoors, it’s on those Ridge lines and there’s rock faces and down by the ocean on the trails, I feel that sense of calm and still that greatest sense of clarity when I reach for the next hold and climbing or before I take the next step. And I can’t think about anything else. I have to think about the next hold I have to be fully present, fully focused, and that ends up being a kind of meditation. So I guess in some ways you could say those, those are the elements that, that do make it a bit of an escape.

Gale Straub:

We all deserve to carve out respites in our lives, to experience calm and connectedness, to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Sofia’s right. No matter how we shake it, the outdoors isn’t a paradise or a playground. But creating room for more conversation about what we carry with us when we spend time in nature: messy stuff, systemic problems, our vulnerability, our strength, all of it: it might mean another person can exhale when they’re out there. And people like Sofia are leading the way. So that someday, we can be proud of claiming a society that we don’t need to escape from.

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