In 2016, when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I stopped for a few hours to swim at a lake in New York. I overheard boys in canoes taunting and daring each other to do something by screaming, “Don’t be a girl!” Several moms and young girls were within earshot, but no one said anything in response to the boys’ insults. My heart shattered into 1,000 pieces. I wanted to yell out, “Don’t be a girl?! Can you HIKE like a girl? Because this girl is hiking 2,000 miles!”
We raise our girls to be afraid. We try to protect girls from the world by discouraging them from getting themselves into risky situations, but this only hurts us more. Boys intuit this cultural bias and associate being a girl with being fearful. But being fearful is NOT inherent to being a girl.
The main reason I wanted to hike the AT is because I knew the trail would teach me how to take risks in a way I had never been encouraged or given the opportunity to learn before. And what I learned was this: healthy risk-taking does not require the absence of fear. Quite the contrary. Risk-taking is about understanding when fear is helpful and when it is standing in your way.
We need to encourage our girls to take risks, so that they learn how to calmly assess their own limits and boundaries in the face of fear. ONLY THEY can teach themselves how to react in scary situations by walking right up to the cliff’s edge of fear and then practicing navigating there, in the space between comfort and distress.
I want to support more young women in taking risks and embarking on their own personal transformation journeys—whether that means hiking or climbing, creating art, building a garden, committing to a dance practice or writing every day. That’s why, beginning with my first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada on March 25, I am launching a six-month fundraiser for three amazing girl empowerment nonprofits: GirlVentures, Gaia Girls Passages, and the Girls Empowerment Workshop. 100% of what we raise will go to these inspiring women-led organizations.
Join the movement at YouCaring.com/hikeforgirls or visit JanelHealy.com. Thank you for saying yes to young women blossoming into the brave and intuitive beings they truly are! And thank you, Kahtoola, for your support of this project.