Natalia Boltukhova / Sarah Goshman

This image (and athlete) breaks the tabu of showcasing women who doesn’t fit the stereotype. There’s this massive phobia around photos of overweight women, and even around normal weight women. The “ideal” is a young, beautiful, white but tanned, slim body with un-proportionally large breasts, thin but not too thin, curvy but not too curvy, and fit, but not athletic. In other words- unattainable to most. This feeds the preconception and bias that anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype, can’t be active at all.

Natalia Boltukhova, Russia/USA

Born in Russia, currently living in USA, Natalias favorite places on earth are all the ones she hasn’t been to yet, in other words- More than one! Her upcoming adventures include climbing and road-tripping in the south of Spain in May, as well as the yearly Parkour Gathering at Gerlev, Denmark this summer, and the Women’s Parkour Jam in Seattle. Natalias hopes for the future of the industry are simple: equality and respect.
When and why did you get in to photography?
“I had been exploring photography on and off throughout my childhood, mostly through my dad’s passion for it. Back then it was all black and white, occasionally color, and real film with all the magic elements of the home bathroom darkroom: from the nervousness of messing up the film development, to the impatience of rinsing the photo paper in the running water, or the excitement of the image slowly, magically, appearing on the paper – shadows first, then darks, then lights. All in that unforgettable dull red light.”
What made you get in to action, extreme or adventure sports?
“From a sports perspective, I’ve always been very active physically. Growing up have tried everything that was available to me: figure skating, gymnastics, high diving, track, xc skiing. I never stopped.
From the photographic perspective, getting into the sports came first, then photography followed.
I have always liked how “mountain biking” sounded. Say it: Mountain. Biking.
Trails, rocks, roots- just the two wheeled vehicle powered by you, the feeling of freedom, of going fast, of danger, adrenaline, bruises, scratches, wind, rain, laughter, pushing boundaries, and exploring places.
The actual competitive sport of mountain biking turned out to be far more intense and training-heavy though, but paid off with wild rides and pushing myself farther than I would have on just my own. It also reaffirmed it to me that while I am undeniably competitive, I simultaneously absolutely detest competition. Go figure.
Then came rock climbing, and shortly after, a photoshoot for a magazine introduced me to parkour which remains the discipline I focus on today.
What’s your worst/best/most intense moment related to action sports?
Pretty much any jump you “break” in parkour. Terrifying, empowering, and exhilarating all at once.”
What/Who is you favorite initiative, project, professional, leader, athlete or brand in the action sports sphere?
“There are too many people to list, but the spirit of not giving up and the ability to get back up after failing.”
What do you think of the lack of role models for girls and women in male dominated areas?
“It’s not only the quantity of the role models, it’s the quality. It’s about what those role models represent and which values they teach. Somehow, the qualities featured, both involuntarily as well as voluntarily, revolve around being pretty and feminine- which also translates into fragile, weak, and unable to sustain herself on her own- which, traditionally is attributed to the level of attractiveness connected to the very strong and very independent, male.  That needs to change.”
How do you see women evolving in the action sports scene?
“I have been witnessing the ongoing struggle of female cyclists in the U.S. trying to get equal payouts at races, all the while noticing a significant increase in the racing field at amateur level as well. A big part is played by the social aspect: women seemed to enjoy being in the same struggle of the race together, which bonded them rather than pulled apart through competition. Cheering for peers in different categories also presents a big bonding element.
Generally speaking, as I see it in climbing and parkour alike, the more women who see “regular” and “this could be your neighbour next door”- women go out and train hard without having the stereotypically prerequisite body or background, and more importantly, witness them progress through that very training- the more they become motivated to try it out themselves. “If she could do it, I can too”.  Basically it translates into “I don’t need any prerequisite to start training”.
The competition between the gyms trying to get more clients in, especially with the growing popularity of the many diverse disciplines there, also seems to allow more women the access to what just recently seemed like a TV show only – spartan races, crossfit workouts, running, etc.”
Do you have a feature or body part that you have been self-conscious about? Do you think low self-esteem in girls and stereotypes in media are connected?
“I remember that in high school and in college I was really sensitive about having “smaller-than-average” boobs. Engaging and trying to excel at many of life’s opportunities, some physical, some not, slowly eliminated this factor from my consideration. Not that my breasts became magically larger. My outlook changed.
But I definitely connect the girls’ self-esteem to the stereotypes shaped by the media, which is, in turn, shaped by what traditionally is considered to sell the best. And through stereotyping the female body and female character, the media is simultaneously stereotyping the males as well.  According to the media, all the males are attracted and looking for the same traits and the same physical features in a woman: fragile, unable of hard physical work, maybe she sometimes does yoga, and has that “perfect” 90-60-90 measurements. Therefore, the message to women is that they need to excel at one thing only in life: attain this very image to increase their attractability for the opposite sex. Obviously, to even be able to procreate. "Evolution at its best"- Yeah Right…”
Is there a difference in how women and men are portrayed in the action sports industry?
“There was this obnoxious webpage circulating not so long ago, with Top 10 or whatever other number of hottest female pro cyclists. They were judged by men, not on their skill level or competitive ability, but on pure shape, form, and prettiness of the face. Commentary revolved, predictably, around how big or small their boobs were, if their teeth were perfect enough, and so on..
I’m sorry, but I have never come across webpages that rate pro male cyclists based on the size of their male reproductive organs or face proportions – If any mention of the physical appearance of their bodies is ever made though, it’s usually in direct relation to the actual sport: the size of the quads with respect to the rest of the body, or sport-specific tan-lines, etc.
 Let’s open Sports Illustrated. -Oh, what a surprise, not that many women, if any at all! I guess women don’t play sports then. Or maybe they just don’t play hard enough to be featured?
Another in-your-face difference in the media, especially in advertising, is which sport males and females are usually depicted in, to represent “a physically active person”. 
Weight lifting, high intensity running and hard training is for men, and some stretching (in an attempt to picture yoga) with same flailing trail running is for women-  who predominantly also look radiantly unbothered, as if they just woke up. Ahem. They are supposed to be working out? -That involves pained faces, sweat, grimaces, and the show of effort, which is plentiful in male sport representation.”
What would you say to people who want to get in to action sports, but think they might not fit in?
“The impossible is often the untried. In the worst case, if you try it and fail/feel it’s not for you, two things will happen.
1. You know you have done at least something to attain what you wanted, and came to the realization it’s not for you (versus having to second guess for the rest of your life if you could have attained it or not without ever trying).
2. You might get up and feel up for the challenge and keep trying.
I don’t see a downside in either one.”

Sarah Goshman, USA

Sarah is a fat activist, writer, feminist, and adventurer at heart. At the moment, she makes her home in Somerville, MA where she works in tech during the day, takes parkour classes as often as possible, and writes on her blog, “Single, Fat, and Happy.”
"If you passed me on the street, you probably wouldn’t think, “That woman must be in action sports.” You probably wouldn’t even think of me as an athlete. But don’t worry, I’ve been dealing with those misconceptions my whole life. From the time I was about 10 years old, I’ve received messages on a daily, if not hourly, basis that my body was wrong, ugly, unlovable, incapable, unattractive, weak, and problematic. And it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I stopped believing all of those messages were true."
Saras blog is an awesome place to go for anyone who feels up for some inspiration, laughter, empowerment, recognition and education. We would like to set a big fat LIKE on both Sarah and the blog SingleFatAnd Happy, where you can read her full, amazing story.
Story behind the images:
"We were doing a group photo shoot for Julie Angel’s See & Do project, and after we were finished, I asked Natalia if she would be willing to take some photos of me getting over the fence at the park. I had only gotten over that fence for the first time earlier that day, so it felt really new and exciting to me. Unfortunately, we had already done a 90 minute class earlier and had been doing the photos for a while, so I didn’t have a lot of energy left. Natalia told me it wasn’t a big deal and we could just do it another time, but I decided to give it one last try, and I made it over… and now I have the photos to prove it!"
What made you get in to action, extreme or adventure sports?
"I always loved to move, but I never saw myself as an athlete because of my size. Having been dieting since the age of 12, movement was always inextricably linked with “exercise” and “calorie-burning” in my head. But over the past few years, I’ve started to adopt a Health at Every Size approach and have moved away from dieting. As a result, I’ve started thinking about my body and its capacity differently.
I ended up starting parkour last summer because I finally realized that I’d always wanted to be "strong" and to be able to do certain things, but I had been waiting to lose weight before actually attempting them. Moving away from a weight-focused approach allowed me to consider the possibility that maybe I could learn to do the things I wanted to do in the body I have now."


What’s your worst/best/most intense moment related to action sports?
"I think my absolute worst moment was at my second Parkour class when we were doing plyo jumps and I had a flashback to those terrible physical fitness tests I used to have to do in elementary school, which were horribly embarrassing because I was always the worst in the class. Remembering that feeling of shame, I started crying right in the middle of parkour class. Thankfully, I have the best coaches in the world who totally talked me through it. If it hadn’t been for their support, I’m not sure I would have gone back the next week.
The best moment was probably the first time was able to support myself fully on my arms and hands. It’s such a basic thing for so many people, but it took me completely by surprise. I think it was the moment in my training where I realized that maybe I could really do this."
What/Who is you favorite initiative, project, professional, leader, athlete or brand in the action sports sphere?
"I’ve only been in the parkour world for about 7 months, and all the women are just amazing. Hearing Julie Angel give a speech on the history of women in sports at American Rendezvous, about two months after I had started training, was a huge inspiration on me. "
Who is your biggest inspiration in life? Why?
"There are so many, but I think one of the people who has really been integral in this journey I’m on is a woman named Ragen Chastain. She does so much amazing activism work around size acceptance, and she’s also a badass athlete who’s currently training for an Ironman and consistently shares her store with intelligence, openness and honesty. It wasn’t until I first read her blog that I started to refer to myself as a dancer, despite years of dance background-  and without her as a role model, I don’t know that I ever would have been comfortable with the word athlete,  with practicing a sport like parkour, or with speaking out so much about what I do and why I do it."
What do you think of the lack of role models for girls and women in male dominated areas?
"Historically, the roles of women have been largely circumscribed, and as much as we might want to think we’ve moved on from these beliefs, they still pervade our society at every level. Over many years, I’ve watched dozens of female friends give up themselves to take care of family members, husbands, children, etc. and it’s painful to watch. There’s nothing wrong with having those relationships, but we need to stop forgetting to nurture ourselves first, we need to stop giving up the things in the world that matter to us and makes us feel good and strong and powerful. And half the time that’s all we mean by “male-dominated areas” – things that people do for themselves and that make them feel whole and empowered, or basically, everything except cooking, cleaning and caretaking."


How do you see women evolving in the action sports scene?
"I think we have to change how girls think about their bodies, and I don’t think that’s a small task, or an easy one. I think we need to encourage girls to play and move and explore their capacity and just generally be more rambunctious and more adventurous. I think we need to put girls in situations and activities that help them feel confident and empowered and allow them to explore the things that really interest and excite them."
What is the number one preconception or prejudice people have about you?
"One of the worst parts about being a fat athlete is that people constantly assume I’m a beginner at whatever activity I’m engaging in. After one particularly frustrating class, I ended up writing a blog post called “How to Treat a Fat Person in a Fitness Class” which calls out a lot of the biases and related behaviors that I’ve experienced over many years."
Do you have a feature or body part that you have been self-conscious about? Do you think low self-esteem in girls and stereotypes in media are connected?
"I absolutely think that the media is wreaking havoc on girls’ self-esteem. There have been surveys of teenage girls, on which a majority of them have said they would rather be dead than fat.
Think about that for a minute.
We put so much pressure on girls and women to look a certain way that many actually feel death would be better than failing to conform to those arbitrary beauty standards. This is completely insane, and lack of positive body diversity in the media is one cause of it."
What would you say to people who want to get in to action sports, but think they might not fit in?
"It’s really easy not to try something, to stay safe and only do what’s comfortable, but it’s only by pushing your limits that you learn who you truly are. From the outside looking in, action sports seem like they’re not very friendly to diverse athletes, but once you’re in, at least in my sport, I’ve found people to be incredibly supportive. If you know who you are, why you’re there, and what you want, people will respect that and help you get there. Plus, we need more role models in the action sports world, so if you’re worried because there’s nobody who looks like you doing the thing you want to do, think of the next person and become that role model for them. "