About the Project

Who inspires you to love the outdoors?

Who influences you to protect our natural resources?

Why is it important to have role models?

Being a woman of color in the outdoor industry makes me stand out; everyone notices my presence immediately. At the same time, I often feel invisible – whether playing outside, attending environmental conferences, or working in outdoor education. For example, other climbers will typically approach my climbing partner to ask questions about the route, even when I’m clearly geared up as the ‘lead.’ Why don’t they see me?

Then I stumbled upon an explanation. Typically, the people whom I usually interact with in outdoor and environmental arenas are white. Similarly, the media – whether advertising, television, or movies – tend to showcase scientists, activists, or athletes as white and usually male. No wonder people don’t see me; I am not what they are accustomed to seeing in our field.

But I am here – and so are other women – including women of color and those of differing ages, abilities, sizes, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

I never felt invisible until I moved to the United States from Japan. In Japan, I was a part of the majority. I always felt normal and included, and I was oblivious to my privilege. When I came to the United States, I was forced to add new layers to my identity, including ‘woman of color,’ ‘immigrant’ and ‘English language learner.’ These layers have made my everyday life more challenging. For the first time, I could personally relate to the pain of those whose voices were not heard. This evolving awareness has made me want to advocate for myself and others who remain invisible in the outdoor and environmental fields.

We all need role models. They inspire us to recognize our potential and they allow us to have big dreams. Yet if our role models continually fail to look, sound or live like us, we have failed huge portions of our global population. In an effort to diversify the images that surround us and make the media more reflective of our society, I have dedicated myself to photographing and sharing the stories of women of color, as well as other women who break the traditional mold, in the outdoor and environmental arenas.

This is how my project came to be. I subsequently was granted a sabbatical and received a Matthew Baxter Award from my employer NatureBridge. This enabled me to travel the world for eight months to collect stories from women. My hope was that by sharing their experiences, people everywhere would be inspired to overcome challenges and reach for their own dreams. After all, “If she can do it, I can too.”

In 2010, I received the Bishop Marcus Award, again from NatureBridge. With the award as well as the support from many individuals and my partners, I went on a journey documenting Native American women activists in the public lands of the United States.

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