By Tiffany Stoneman // Climbing is a complex sport. It requires stamina of body and mind, the ability to haul your weight up vertical cliffs, and the mental stability to take on huge challenges that can incur risk. It is a sport/activity/hobby that has been around for longer than you might think, and is slowly but surely coming into the mainstream as an awesome way to get fit and see the world. Not only this, but it can be hugely competitive, and these competitions are gaining an increasingly global audience, recently helped by an attempt to get sport climbing into the Olympics. Overall, climbing is a pretty badass thing to do, and the ones who do it tend to be pretty badass too!
But there’s a problem with this and that problem, I believe, is the perception of perception. Womenclimb recently posted on twitter their disappointment at seeing the tag ‘sexy’ being the number 1 association with ‘rock climbing women’ on Pinterest. In contrast, my first reaction to seeing this association was “hell yeah”! Interestingly, exactly the same top spot came up when the search was made for men. Why then, are women everywhere frustrated and angry to have this label put on them for climbing? Why not instead embrace the fact that a sport that is, let’s face it, mainly designed to make you incredibly sweaty and pull bizarre faces (I mean seriously, how many gurns do you pull during your current project?), is now being seen as attractive and something aspirational. Not only will you be super strong, you will also be acknowledged for being an active, ambitious, SEXY woman! Surely that can only be a good thing? It’s not objectification – it’s not saying, “look at her, she only wants one thing,” it’s saying, “look at her and how amazing she is at what she does.”
Climber and blogger Zofia from Up That Rock wrote an article recently about her own thoughts on this issue; it came just at the time when I was putting this piece together. She provides a very balanced view of how there’s a battle between femininity and achievement in the sporting world, particularly climbing. The controversy around Sierra Blair-Coyle highlighted this apparent issue, though I have to say I found the whole debate all rather blown out of proportion. I agree with a huge proportion of Zofia’s points, especially those about cutting women some slack as it is fundamentally their choice about what they do and don’t portray, but I can’t help but still feel a bit deflated.
I admit that I’ve never felt pressure from these labels. Perhaps I am fortunate in my way of thinking, but when I see climbing women described as sexy and hot I feel inspired to continue climbing harder. What I have come across instead is the pressure to NOT look sexy when climbing, and I’ve found myself feeling ashamed to want to be like them. This seems to be to be completely back to front – should I shy away from my femininity and sex appeal because it ‘undermines’ my climbing ability? Or, does the acceptance of climbing as a very attractive sport enhance my strength? When I climb just as hard as or harder than guys not only do I prove my ability to climb hard and engage with what is fundamentally quite a masculine sport (sorry, it just is!), but I also show that I am a powerful and attractive woman when I do so.
It’s got to be said that climbing gear isn’t exactly designed to hide your figure either (do I really need to mention the ‘bulge’ created by a harness on all who wear one… men most definitely included?). Tight tops, leggings, hot pants – these are all designed not only for their practicality in movement, but also for their sex appeal. And that’s okay! What’s wrong with a bit of sex? Why shy away from the fact that we are sexual beings and we like to look at things that look nice? Yes, I love watching Sierra Blair Coyle climb, because she’s an incredible athlete, but she also looks phenomenal on the wall, and I want to look like that too! When someone says female climbers are sexy, I take it to mean ALL female climbers. Even if you don’t think you are, believe me you are as hot as they come, my dear!
How about this for a change of tack? Sexiness isn’t just about physicality. It’s about who you are as a person. Someone who embraces their passion, defies the limitations of their bodies, and strives to become the best at the activity they love, is without a doubt the sexiest person on the planet. Yes, I agree that the term has been somewhat cheapened in modern life, and is bandied around more than perhaps it should, but let’s reclaim it as a good thing - something that indicates security, independence, confidence, and qualities that people find aspirational. A woman in hotpants = sexy. A woman running a marathon = sexy. A woman in a slouchy jumper and trackies with a cold = sexy. As long as you do it with confidence, you ARE sexy, and everything you do will show this off.
So yes, climbers are sexy.
Male, female, everything in between. Surrounded by other sexy athletes, in skin-tight leggings or multi-coloured E9 trousers, in stunning scenery that just enhances the beauty of everything. Grunting with exertion, sweating through the pain, yelping with joy at the top – come on, who are you kidding? Is there any sport sexier than climbing? Let’s reclaim it, stop being negative, and embrace the sex in our sport!
Tiffany Stoneman, April 2015