This past April, pro climber Sasha DiGuilian wrote a striking article for Outside Online about the battle that she, and athletes like her, constantly struggle with as they live in the dual worlds of their sports and the world of feminine ideals.
On one hand, her body, honed to perfection to climb intensely difficult rock faces, reflects the demands of her sport. Her upper body ripples with power, her shoulders are broad, her lats wide and biceps powerful. Those are what make her the extreme athlete she is.
Her fingers are cranked and calloused. They aren’t made to show off diamonds and rubies. They are, however, perfectly made to pull her powerfully up a cliff so steep that it would make an onlooker suck in his breath.
However, put her in a dressing room and she’s in misery. Like so many other athletes, be they body builders or ice skaters, and it’s time for tears.
Sasha wrote honestly about how challenging it is to find a single dress that, while slipping easily over her boyish size 0 hips, her huge shoulders will defeat the zipper.
Society frowns on women who don’t fit the norm. And women like Sasha, who aren’t the norm, tend to blame themselves first. Diet or work out to change it, before they realize, screw this.
Many climbers make the mistake of becoming anorexic or bulimic trying to get “the look” of a climber, ruining their bodies, strength, teeth and bones in the process. While focusing on the look, they forfeit long term organ health and possibly their tooth enamel or even all their teeth just to gain that look.
Not long after the Rio Olympics, I saw an article which posted photographs from Howard Schatz’s striking book of athlete’s bodies (https://www.amazon.com/s?field-keywords=Howard+Schatz+athlete).
The images were stunning, a revelation. And beautiful.
From tiny gymnasts to massively powerful deadlift champions, each of these people was the best in their sport. Each body was unique. Some were missing legs. Each was proud. Happy.
And that was the whole point.
As a woman who struggled with eating disorders for four decades, who reads these stories of today’s athletes with deep heartache, for me this book was a gift. Schatz slaps us with the reality that power and beauty come in every size, shape, color and form.
As it should.
If one female athlete alone has taught us about strength and beauty, that would be Serena Williams. Thirty-nine Grand Slam titles. Currently number two in the world. Thirty six years old. I can think of no one better whose potency, beauty, grace and immense staying power through criticism, racism, body shaming and scrutiny have taught all of us what a female athlete can and should do in the face of unfair societal norms.
Show society the finger, ladies.
Then climb, kayak, run, paddle, hike, ride, MTB, camp, skate, row, SUP, cycle, do yoga, lift, go adventure and play to your heart’s content.
And when your muscles get a little bigger, screw it. Buy a bigger size.
I say, let’s play.
Photo credit: Howard Schatz, Athlete