Nature’s Child : Our Trusty Guide to the Wild

What a joy to catch up with hilarious and gregarious outdoor Insta Influencer de jour, Ashley Manning. Prankster come consummate professional, she laid bare her journey that eventually circled back to the nature of her youth. Biased gatekeeping around body size had sought to exclude her from her childhood world of the outdoors, but her internal compass won out.

Adolescence in a bigger body had been rough going, and her former happy spaces in the wild woods and forests became the site of struggle. Rigorous weight loss intended hiking predictably did not pan out. Rather than of a place of safety, her former refuge from a body-shaming world had became one of punishment and disappointment

But Ash, as she is known, is made of stronger and more elemental stuff.

By digging deep, she managed to deal with her subsequent eating disorder and further fat girl pushbacks by tapping into her substantial roots in the land, so carefully nurtured by game warden Dad and pollywog hunting Uncle in the great Appalachian backcountry. She took to hiking with campus friends for the pure joy of it and liberated herself from the crushingly heavy burden of intentional weight loss.

It’s just as well our Goddess Guide came away from her jaunts in the wild with strengthened resolve as she was soon to come up against both subtle and palpable bias within the outdoors community. However, exclusion and lack of body diversity did not manage to deter her. Nothing was going to keep our intrepid adventurer down as she answered the call of the river and became the rafting guide she is today.

While Ash says summers are all maternal aspects of softness and nourishments of wetness in water, upper body strength is a necessity to manoeuvre down those rapids. Rafting is not for the faint-hearted, so Ash Is not averse to donning the odd tutu or two to ease the pain for newbies to seasoned voyagers alike. I would have paid top dollar to fly-on-the-wall witness Ms Manning take out a troupe of Marines on the waters, flipping over their preconceptions about women (and big women to boot), while keeping the boat evenly on keel. Go Team!

Winter brings out Ash’s more soulful and spiritual side. Much in keeping with the Japanese concept of Shinrin-yoku a.k.a forest bathing, you can find her writing her delicate poetry and musings about all things including body liberation around the proverbial, or in her case, most likely literal campfire.

Online as in real life, Ash strives to be authentic and ‘make space’ for folk otherwise excluded. I for one, cannot wait to feel the thrills and spills of those raging rivers as well as trekking through the vast expanses of the American landscape safe in her spirited and capable hands.