This image is the #1 google hit I get for "professional women surfers". It's from an article about why, to be a top women surfer, you've got to be sexy. Go ahead, spend your lunch break finding pictures of the top 10 women surfers in the world. I promise you won't regret it. They are all hot. And these are the top surfers based on ranking, and not hot-or-not ranking either. What is going on here? And what the hell does it have to do with climbing?
|Sisters Ellie-Jean, 18, front, and Holly-Sue Coffey, 16, are both vying for the same spot in the Roxy Pro. Pic by Luke Marsden.|
So - I know what you're thinking. This result merely reflects the fact that I am a pervert and a lech. But no! It turns out that Jules also shares my opinion on the attractiveness of top women climbers, and so do the small sample of friends I have dared raise the topic with. "OK", you respond, "it is just that these are young, athletic women with fine bodies. Isn't it natural that they'll be attractive?". So I spent some time comparing my results with the attractiveness of women in other sports, for example athletics. I did this purely in the interests of scientific rigour, you understand. It turns out that, whilst women athletes are all young, and are obviously in peak physical form, they are just as pretty as the general population. Some are, some aren't.
So climbing, like surfing, seems to have found itself in a situation where most of the top women climbers are quite attractive. How did it get here? In surfing, you could argue that you have to follow the money. Sponsorship money flows easily to those who can sell product, and in the awful male dominated society we have, that means the pretty girls. This doesn't take away from the awesome talent of those at the top, it's just that you have to be an incredible athlete and pretty, which is not something the men have to put up with. Is this happening in climbing? I don't know. I get the impression that sponsorship money is pretty meagre, so maybe it's something more subtle? How would you feel entering your first competition, and all the girls around you were tall and pretty? What if you felt pretty self conscious about your appearance to start with? Would you feel at home? Would you climb your best? Maybe we're caught in a vicious circle, where potential top climbers don't feel at home unless they fit the profile? It's the same argument that's been made many times, in all walks of life to explain why we do not see diversity, even though we arguably have equality. It has been used to explain everything from the glass ceiling, to the lack of women on University Challenge:
"Diversity is looking at outcomes. If there weren’t any women at the Ritz, you might ask whether you were making them feel welcome, as well as whether they had the price of admission."
I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I don't know if most will agree with the basic premise of this post. However I do know that I don't want climbing to go the same way as surfing, where a young girl with tremendous talent will choose another sport, because she feels shy competing in her underwear.