“When you’re fat and you go shopping for sports equipment, people look at you like, ‘You poor fat thing, what are you thinking about?’” says Bonnie. Molly recounts, however, that she is more embarrassed eating a salad in public than junk food “People expect me to just eat crap.” Anecdotes like this are the topic of conversation at one of the meetings of the Curvy Kili Crew, a group of twenty women with non-normative bodies who set out to travel together to Tanzania and try to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the African continent
The story of this group of American women who love hiking has been portrayed by the Puerto Rican director Ida Joglar in the documentary ‘Curvy Crew‘, which Docs Barcelona projects throughout the month. The work not only accompanies the Curvy Kili Crew in their rise to the top of Africa, but also shows the struggle of these women against the stereotypes they have had to endure for being above average weight in a world that extols thinness and condemns being overweight.
It all started with Christa, a 37-year-old housewife from Northern Virginia, USA, who sought out plus-size women through social media and travel groups who were interested in training and preparing to climb Kilimanjaro. The challenge, climbing the 5,685 meters of altitude of the roof of Africa, where the oxygen level is 50%. She had tried it before, albeit with a group of skinny people. She almost succeeded: she stayed at the Stellaa point, a hundred meters from the summit. “On my first trip to Kilimanjaro, I discovered that I am still capable of amazing things despite gaining weight,” she says.
From the beginning of the documentary, all the women in the Curvy Kili Crew They are aware that not all of them will achieve it, since statistics say that only 60% of all those who propose it achieve it, whatever their weight. But that doesn’t discourage them at all.
Although the women in the group of hikers are very different, they all agree that all their lives society has pressured them in various ways to make them believe that their bodies are bad, that they must make an effort to fit in with aesthetic standards and that the only way possible to live is to behave as if they wanted to be thin.
In addition to having felt the aesthetic pressure, they all share having faced it and having learned to love and accept themselves. The ascent to Kilimanjaro is one more step in it. To show themselves and others what they are capable of, one of these women had previously finished an Iron Man twice. Others are athletes, but there are also women who are less accustomed to the sport, and some of them have even passed an Iron Man. Cancer. “It is often thought that the mountain is reserved for gym addicts, people who are very fit or very slim,” explains Shazz, another of the women in the group.
“We’re led to believe that the word ‘fat’ is an insult, the worst thing you can be, but I can think of many other worse things,” says Eve, who also says that she was the only fat girl in the dance group of her school and that she always thought it was something to be proud of. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with being fat, because fatness is not the cause of a disease, although sometimes it is a symptom, but not always,” she develops. “Some people are endomorphic, that is, we accumulate more adipose tissue,” she adds.
At the beginning of March 2019, the twenty women who make up Curvy Kili Crew They traveled to Tanzania. Her goal was to reach the top (Gilman Point) on March 8, International Women’s Day, and also on Kara’s birthday, one of the group. On the first day they traveled seven kilometers and climbed to an altitude of 2,671 meters. “We try to show that fat women can do anything, because people think we’re lazy and can’t be strong,” says Eve. The documentary conveys the enthusiasm and motivation of the entire group.
Despite the initial high, the ascent is not without problems. At the beginning of the second day, Celeste, who is used to hiking every weekend, begins to gradually fall behind the group, until in the end only the guides and those who transport the food walk with her. It’s getting dark and Celeste is too tired to make it to camp, so a tent is lowered for her so she can rest and finish the hike in the morning. The next day, Allison, the hiking specialist who accompanies the group, raises the possibility of a helicopter coming to pick her up, and Celeste decides to leave her.
The rest of Curvy Kili Crew continues and spend two nights in the same camp. From there, they follow an acclimatization route to get used to the low oxygen level. After that, the fifth stage awaits them: 10 kilometers and 4,720 meters of altitude. Some of them start to feel bad and decide to stop at this point. “Of course I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t make it to the top, but I think climbing almost 15,000 feet is no big deal either,” notes Eve. The guides assure them that stopping is the wisest option when they begin to notice nausea, headaches or dizziness.
To complete the last section, those who have decided to continue have to get up at midnight, start the route in the dark and on a fairly rocky path. The journey to Gilman Point, at 5,685 meters above sea level, is less than six kilometers, but it is a very hard road due to the low atmospheric pressure. As the minutes go by, some of the women begin to doubt if they will really be able to make it, and the group disperses.
Whether they reached the top or not, they all took something away from the trip. Kathy learned a lot “about being valid and being enough,” and she knows that she can be herself without having to apologize to anyone. To this day, some of the women of the Curvy Kili Crew have created their own fat people’s hiking associations in the US and others continue to practice it. Some are even planning their next trip to Tanzania to try to reach the top again.