Over the past few years we have watched many pro climbers transform their bodies in the name of climbing. This, compounded by our own personal experiences with body image issues, led us to create a survey that asked the climbing community to share their take on climbing and body image. After reading through and analyzing all 2,014 responses, we are excited to share our findings with you. Due to the complexity and level of detail that survey respondents provided, we have broken this piece into three sections that we will share over the next two weeks. In today’s post, we will discuss how climbers feel about their bodies and how the sport has affected their self-image. Check back in over the upcoming weeks when we discuss the “ideal” body type for climbing and the drastic measures some are taking to attain it. Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete our survey. For those of you who are curious, you can see the survey questions and basic results here. We welcome and look forward to your comments in regards to this series of posts.
One reason we fell in love with climbing in the first place was the incredibly supportive and friendly community. Sure, there’s the occasional showboating and peacocking (we’ll touch upon this later), but on the whole we don’t feel self-conscious about our appearances or climbing abilities at the crag or climbing gym. We’re happy to report that we’re not the only ones who feel this way; regardless of gender, age, or climbing ability survey respondents echoed this sentiment. One 20-something male shares, “I’ve never felt judged or unwelcome within the climbing communities I’ve been a part of… I feel like climbing gyms are one of the few places where I find myself less self-conscious and more confident because I’m doing something that I love… I can just lose myself in the enjoyment of a demanding, but fun and often rewarding activity with the company of my friends and the climbing community wherever I may be.” Within this environment most climbers find a safe-haven where they can become stronger, more accomplished athletes and improve their body image along the way.
It’s no surprise that a sport as physically demanding as climbing leads to improved fitness and, in turn, improved body image. 77.1% of respondents agreed that climbing has helped them to have a more positive body image. From a woman in the 40+ age group who says, “Rock climbing has made me stronger and more fit than I have ever been!” to a 20-something who reflects, “I don’t know that this is climbing specific, but when I feel like I’m more fit and active my body image is better.” It’s clear that, for most of us, feeling strong equals self-confidence.
What about the other 22.9%, you ask? Perhaps they already had a positive body image before climbing, maybe they’re just not that concerned with body image, or maybe climbing had a negative impact on their body image. Interestingly, nearly 2 times as many women as men felt that climbing did not improve their body image (female: 9.2%; male: 5.6%). Looking at the graph above you will notice that women surpass men in the negative and neutral responses while men outnumber women in the positive responses. One possible explanation for the discrepancy is that climbing tends to increase upper body muscle, which is often viewed as masculine. For men, this is clearly a plus by societal norms, but some females may not welcome the new changes to their bodies. One of our 40+ aged female respondents shared her insecurities, saying, “I think I am considered “too muscular” by conventional female beauty standards.” Another woman told us, “In the ‘real world’, I definitely struggle with body image. To people who don’t climb, a small bust and big shoulders represents a little boy, rather than a sexy, beautiful woman.” Unfortunately, comparing ourselves (men and women alike) to societal norms of attractiveness is inevitable, but at least we belong to a community that cares less about what our bodies look like and far more about what they can do.
Over and over respondents pointed out that their relationship with their body has little to do with what it looks like and much more to do with how it climbs. While some, like this female, are just getting used to the idea, saying, “Sometimes as a girl, I feel like I’m too manly looking because of climbing. But I’d rather be strong looking than a weak climber.” Others are celebrating what their body can do and applying it to other situations in their lives, “I like having a strong, powerful body. I have learned to think less about what it looks like and more about what it can do. Rock climbing makes me feel empowered and enables me to be capable in other aspects of my life.” This climber truly captures what we all stand to gain from climbing and why, despite our protectiveness over our once-niche sport, we keep encouraging everyone we know to try it out. We climb because it makes us feel strong, accomplished and capable, both on the wall and in our everyday lives.
While this first part of the series on body image highlighted the predominately positive effects that climbing has on our lives, parts 2 and 3 will delve into more controversial topics. Check in later this week when we discuss the notion of the ideal body type for climbing and the drastic measures that many take to attain it.
Mary, Missy & Cate