Often times, I glance around the gym or crag and feel uncomfortable with how I look. In reality, I have a nearly perfect physique for excelling as a climber - I’m 5’11” and very skinny. I’ve always looked this way, minus the bulky shoulders, but I’ve also always been self conscious about my appearance, posture, clothing, my whole image, really. I’m more of a toothpick than an hourglass. My physical appearance doesn’t exactly align with western beauty standards.
Other climbers regularly make comments about my height and weight, not necessarily in a negative sense, sometimes even a bit enviously. On the other hand, clothes tend to be ill-fitting on my body. Ankle-length pants look like capris and tops are always too wide or too short. Oh, and don’t get me started on the suffocating arm holes that seem to be designed for someone who doesn’t have any muscle whatsoever… This is supposed to be “athletic wear”. Regardless, I’m still fortunate to have essentially won the genetic lottery.
I don’t diet to maintain my slender appearance, but was frequently accused of having an eating disorder as a teenager. I had become so used to people assuming these things about me that were entirely false. Now I am under the assumption that everyone is just too sensitive to make the same comments they did in high school, but they’re secretly thinking that, aren’t they? Well, probably not. That’s just my anxiety coming out of hiding as I consider taking my shirt off in the poorly-air conditioned gym. I’m still jealous of the girls that are confident enough to wear minimal clothing as they climb in the summer heat.
We all have body issues regardless of weight, height, features, etcetera. It’s the “my x are too big” or “my x are too small” mindset that drives us all nuts. What does it even matter? Climbers specifically, are part of the upper tier of physical capability despite a relatively nonchalant attitude towards fitness. Even with this demeanor, it’s not uncommon to see climbers obsessively striving to attain the ideal lean body that allows them to perform at their peak. We see it every day on our Instagram feed. This isn’t to say that a wide variety of body types don’t exist among climbers or that appearance is directly correlated to ability. For that matter, I’ve seen countless women outclimb athletic, chiseled men (especially when they try to give us beta on our warmups).
After years and years of climbing, I’ve finally embraced the beefy shoulders, hulking forearms, and the exacerbated flat chested-ness that climbing has bestowed upon me. The pressure to achieve a pro-like figure is more internal than external. The community will support you regardless of size. Of course, the other side of the weight spectrum is equally, if not more frustrating for some. The feeling that you should weigh less to climb harder, that losing weight is the only way to succeed in this sport. Weight does play a role in climbing, no doubt about it, but a couple pounds won’t prevent you from sending your project.
I’ve heard many conversations from men regarding the bodies of my female climber friends. They’ll say something along the lines of “she’s pretty, but way too muscular” or “she looks like a man” as if those are insults. Let’s be clear about one thing: putting on muscle in your upper body doesn’t make you “manly” or unattractive. Muscle is beautiful and shows your dedication to the sport. My body is boyish and gangly and I don’t care, but the next time I hear a man say “well, if I weighed as little as you….” I will slap them.
Name: Dawn Davis
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
- August 24, 2018