You look like an elephant.
You look like a cow.
You will die an early death.
I’ve never seen a more disgusting human in my life.
There’s no way you hike.
I feel bad for all the hikers who have to hike behind you because you take up the whole trail.
Your parents must be real proud that they’ve raised such a disgusting human.
I hope they find your body and can’t lift you off the trail.
They must put McDonalds out on the trail.
You will die an early death.
I can’t wait for you to die so you stop promoting obesity in the outdoors.
I’m Ash Manning and I’m 28 years old.
I’m from Cleveland Georgia and I am a whitewater raft guide.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO BECOME A WHITEWATER RAFT GUIDE?
The way I was introduced into the outdoors or became an outdoors person was my father. I think my father and my uncle had a huge influence in my outdoor world, my outdoor life. I grew up in a smaller town, didn’t have a lot going on. So my friends and I would find ourselves in the woods, on rivers, walking up mountains. But I took a lull, I took a break. Because I was bigger than everyone else. And I felt like fat people don’t do this, so I’ve got to find something else.
One of my friends took me whitewater rafting for the first time and I fell in love. I fell back in love with the outdoors, I was hiking up mountains again. Eventually, I did become a whitewater raft guide and that’s how I tumbled back into my love for the outdoors.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT PLUS SIZE PEOPLE FACE IN OUTDOORS SPORTS?
The dangers of not creating gear that fits larger bodies is that you have people who are going to go out there anyways. They don’t have appropriate floatation, they don’t have the gear to keep themselves warm, like dry suits. They can’t keep warm, they can’t keep safe. That’s always something in the back of my mind; if I swim this, I might not come back up. This might be my last breath.
I cannot go winter boating because there are very few dry suit companies that will make a dry suit that will fit my hips. It’s difficult to find things that will fit my body. Why can’t we just make gear bigger? A little bigger. A little more accessible. You don’t make gear for people, you don’t have an accessible sport.
HOW CAN THE OUTDOORS INDUSTRY BE MORE SIZE INCLUSIVE?
The way that the outdoor industry can become more inclusive with bodies is they have to accept that people like me do these things. They have to accept that all bodies do this. All bodies. And the best way that they can become more inclusive — make the sizes. Stop being scared to be size inclusive. To be inclusive in general. With all facets of the industry. Your models should be more than one type of person. Your social media page should be more than one type of person. We want to do this just as much as your current folks that are doing it. But we don’t have the gear. So when you start making the gear, reach out to us. We’ll show you what we’re made of. And if you’re there or not, that depends on you. If you’re not there, you’re getting left behind in the industry.
The industry is growing bigger and bigger. Pun intended.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE STRUGGLES YOU FACE AS A PLUS SIZE PERSON?
I’ve struggled with eating disorders since I was about nine years old. I realized that I was bigger than all the other kids. And began this long painful process of eating disorders at an early age. When I was in high school, I passed out because I just starved myself until I just couldn’t function. And I’m still in recovery from my eating disorders back in the day. I still struggle with them a lot. When people want to tear you down and tell you no you can’t do this because you’re big. You can’t do this sport or be the person you want to be because you’re big. That definitely has triggered some pain for me and put me into some harsh depressive episodes. I just won’t eat. I’ll eat nothing. And that’s not good.
People just don’t like fat people, honestly. They don’t care if you’re healthy or not. You would never go up to a person who is going to die in five year and tell them “ew, you’re gonna die in five years, you’re unhealthy.” You would never be mean to a person with terminal cancer like that. Oh my god. You would never treat an actual ill person like that. So why is it that you hate fat people so much? Why do you hate us so much? I can hiside a boat right back down where it’s supposed to be. I can center a boat right where it’s supposed to be. Why does that make you mad? Why does that make you uncomfortable? Why does it upset you so much? That my plus size body can exist on the same trail as your small body. Can exist in the same boat and the same whitewater as your body exists in.
HOW IS BODY POSITIVITY INTERCONNECTED WITH THE OUTDOORS?
Just being in the outdoors in general and mixing that with the body positive movement has inspired me to create a space for people of all shapes, sizes, and body types, because I was never welcome. My body and I exist in the same realm right now. We are the same person, we are the same thing. I am my body. My body shape and size doesn’t matter to the trees. My shape and body does not matter to the mountains. My shape and body does not matter to the whitewater, to the river, to the rocks. My body does not matter to the moss and the insects and the animals that surround the forest, that surround me. There are so many people who love the outdoors and they don’t even know it. I want to inspire others that look like me, that don’t look like me, that look different, that don’t feel like they have a place in the outdoors. This is your space too. You can take up space just as much as anyone else. And you — you are part of this fucking planet. You are just as beautiful and wonderful and full of magic and wonder and a sequoia tree, as a mountain, as a river.
Why not view yourself as the beauty standard?
Hear Manning share more stories about the river at the upcoming REI Virtual Event.
REI + ASTRAL: PADDLING WITH ASHLEY AND NATALI