In 2017, Kim McMullen had an idea. She was a former couch potato with a penchant for self-loathing who spent decades of her life (32 years to be exact) in a pretty nasty cycle of self-deprecation. But time spent in wild spaces, traversing mountain ridges and cannonballing in alpine lakes, had helped her see just how capable, strong, and limitless she was.
Then it hit her: What if all girls everywhere had the opportunity to feel great about themselves and had access to the resources and tools to navigate tough times? What if all girls knew what she knew now, at 40, when they were in their adolescence? In 2019 that idea morphed into a reality: a non-profit called Girl In The Wild—free confidence-boosting camps for teenage girls in wild spaces. The inaugural camp was held August 4-10, 2019.
Kim and a team of rad women helicoptered 8 teenage girls into the Selkirk mountains for a week of climbing, hiking, laughing, crying, failing, succeeding, staying up late, getting up early, discussing big, heavy things like mental health and body image, comparison and negative self-talk, and rallying around each other and themselves with one clear purpose: To learn to love the crap outta themselves and each other. And they did.
Now, camp by camp, Kim’s on a mission to eradicate self-loathing for good. Read more about Kim’s inspiring business journey below.
Tell us about yourself and Girl in the Wild!
I’m an adventurer who learned to love myself and my body after 36 long years, thanks to time in nature and the mountains. I wasn’t always wild. I’d refuse to do things—participate in class, join sports teams, go to my friend’s pool party, try things I was really keen on trying, go out in the summer months, etc.—just because I was so ashamed of my body.
So I hid from the world for a really long time. I binged and purged, I worked out for hours and hours a day, I counted calories, I recorded my weight and the inches I could pinch daily on a calendar for 20 years. I chose not to have female friends because I compared myself to them constantly and could never measure up.
But then I found the mountains, and the girl who’d never ever car camped in her life started to explore nature. The more mountains I climbed, the stronger I felt. The more rocks I scaled, the more confidence I felt. The more mud on my shoes and sweat on the brow, the tougher I felt.
And over time, the mountains taught me what I wish I had known all along: That I have no limits. That the shape and size of me do not determine my capability. That I can actually do ALL things. And my body—this tall one with the folding stomach and cellulite-y and jiggly thighs—is the perfect vessel to help me do those things.
What inspired you to create it?
I actually wrote a post on Instagram in 2016 about self-love and my journey toward it. A teenage girl named Bonnie saw the post and used it as a template to write down what she loves about herself. She sent it to me with a Thank You. She said: “Because of your post, I realized that I hadn’t been seeing all the great stuff about me.”
And I started to think: Maybe my story isn’t just my story. All this time I thought I had struggled alone, but Bonnie made me realize that girls are still struggling. Deeply. Maybe even more than ever before. And perhaps my own journey was the exact education I needed to help these girls rise outta the dark. The seed for Girl In The Wild was planted then. It germinated for a while and finally took root in 2018.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Not at all. It didn’t even cross my mind as an option for me. Most likely because of those decades of self-loathing. I just thought my place career-wise was in staying the course. But sometimes the fire in your belly is too hot to ignore and you’ve gotta set those sparks free.
What were the first few steps you took to launch Girl in the Wild?
Honestly, I didn’t have a plan. I just felt like Girl In The Wild was something because I couldn’t sleep at night. I was thinking about it all the time. So step one was: I said it out loud. “I am going to start a non-profit. It’s going to help teenage girls gain confidence and eradicate self-loathing from the planet. And I have no idea how I’m going to do it, but I am going to do it.”
Once I put the idea out in the world, then it was happening. People started rallying both with me and against me—plenty of naysayers calling me crazy and warning me that this was a road to bankruptcy. I emptied my savings and wrote a cheque to Girl In The Wild which made it very real.
Then I reached out to all the inspiring women I know to pick their brains. So many coffee dates. So many run n’ chats. So many group cries and group cheers. I knew if this was going to be something, it needed to involve more than just me.
What was the first camp experience like? What was the reaction?
One of our camp leaders said it best when we got home from camp: “Do you think that was TOO perfect?!” We laughed. It WAS all the things and more. It was a highlight of my personal and professional life. And we literally witnessed 7 young women rising.
We saw them open up, try hard, push their limits, share their stories, cry, laugh, and be unapologetically themselves. We saw 7 strangers become best friends and sisters. Today, a year later, they still write each other letters, talk almost dialing on their group Snapchat that they created after camp, and support each other through the ups and downs of life. They are legends. We asked them about their experience after camp. Here are a few quotes from their surveys:
– “I want to be at camp forever. It was hard to talk about really hard things and it felt like I didn’t have to worry about being judged. Like I was kinda myself for maybe the first time ever. I feel like my life will be much easier to navigate now that I have all these new friends in my corner. This week changed my life!”
– “I feel like my perspective has been renewed of the world and that I have a set of sisters. I am beyond grateful”
– “I realized that I can do anything. That was cool.”
– “I loved everything about this week so much. The talks and discussions and bonding and (almost) skinny dipping and late-night chats under the stars about real things. It was so badass. I mean, I hiked up a fucking mountain—twice! It was all so beautiful and everyone was accepting.”
What do you hope young women take away from a camp experience with Girl in the Wild?
I hope they leave feeling sure that they have everything they need inside themselves to navigate tough times. I hope they leave realizing that women are not their competition, they are their sisters and allies and if they choose to be curious about other women, they will find the strongest, most supportive tribe ever. I hope they leave with a deep knowing that they were never a mistake to fix and that they are actually all good things.
Looking back now, what would tell your teenage self about the importance of self-confidence?
I’d tell myself that a woman walking through the world who knows deep down that she is all good things is capable of all good things. That when we convince ourselves we are lacking, then we act and live out of lack. A woman with confidence is capable of all things because she believes she is.
What advice do you have for young women who are currently experiencing self-doubt?
My advice is to walk through the fire. It’s painful and scary and a long long road. It’s also natural. But stay the course. Start small. Learn to identify when you are feeling self-doubt. Unravel it. Look at it. Question it. And know that the voices in your head are simply a Committee of Assholes—not worth listening to.
Thank them for their opinion and move on. Because the only voice you should listen to is yours. And the real you would never say bad and demeaning things to you. Know, too, that your self-worth is not determined by anyone else’s opinion or actions. You are in control of your own worth. You decide that you are worthy.
If you’re doubting yourself; you always have the ability to choose to trust yourself. This takes time and practice. It is a lifetime practice.
COVID-19 has changed the landscape for businesses everywhere. How are you staying hopeful and connected to your community during this time?
We’ve started offering free online programming for teenage girls to keep them connected and connecting in this strange time. And what we see, through an online lens, is what we’ve always known to be true: We need each other. We’re all just looking for a safe place to talk about heavy things and feel supported and unjudged. For us, that started at camp. In a time of COVID, it’s online. And it’s still beautiful.
We have been leaning on the girls who came to camp in the past to educate us on what they need right now and we’re putting courses and events and experiences together to serve them as best we can.
Fundraising in this wild time is really difficult, and we also believe that this is a time for giving. And funding will show up to support our mission when the time is right and the world has settled.