So the ugly truth is that I have had body issues since my early teens. Even uglier, is that that makes me a completely normal adult American woman.
Climbing has been both help and hinderance. By shifting the focus to strength and technique, it has given me a yardstick to measure myself that has nothing to do with the scale and everything to do with the YDS.
On the other hand, strength-to-weight ratio is huge in climbing. Most of the climber chicks I know are tiny. So much so, that I often feel like ‘the fat girl of climbing’ next to most of them. It makes sense- the less weight to lift, the larger the effective finger strength. The problem is that I have used my lack of aptitude for climbing as reinforcing feedback that I’m too fat to climb hard.
The smarter thing to do of course, would be to not buy into that kind of negativity; to be proactive and lose a little fat, but more importantly to train hard. Being a Gunks climber, I can pull strong through overhangs, but also haven’t had to develop a lot of finger strength to pull hard on tiny holds since most overhangs under 5.10 have jugs. In fact, the mental game has been my greatest area of weakness, so I’ve been leading too much on terrain that just isn’t that physically demanding. Though I realize and can articulate all of this, when you have body issues, the voice you hear is not this logical one, its the one saying negative, ugly things. I remember having a conversation with a climbing friend once, bemoaning that I was ‘too fat’ to be able to do a pull-up. He emphatically denied that I was fat, forcing me to concede by saying, “Fine, I have the wrong arm-to-ass ratio!” Interestingly enough, once I began to see the problem as a simple mathematic problem, I started working on getting my arms bigger, doing inverted rows and a few weeks later, got my first full body-weight pull-up.
A similar, subtle transformation has been happening this season as well. Not realizing it, I had been telling myself for years, that I couldn’t lead harder because I’m fat (not because I was a chicken shit, which is more true) and sadly, I believed this. There have been no grand epiphanies here, just shifts in thinking so small, I don’t even know how and where they began. One shift was realizing that my goal is leading 5.8 and 5.9 trad routes, not some thin, overhanging 5.13. I can climb the routes I want to lead on TR just fine, so there is nothing about my body shape or size preventing me from leading them, its totally mental. For some reason though, its easier to think its because of my body than to do the scarier thing of putting my money where my mouth is and taking the sharp end.
I also started expressing gratitude for my body through yoga. More useful than the breathing and stretching was the mental work the teacher had us do to express gratitude in the moment for all that our bodies can do. I started taking this practice with me on hikes, at the gym and on the cliff, offering thanks for my health, strength and mobility.
I also read a lot of books on both mental & physical training for climbing this season and started incorporating what I learned, especially about finger training. I finally realized that if finger strength for small holds is my weakness, than the only way to get better is to train that until I turn it into a strength. My arms weren’t strong enough to do a pull-up, but by training, I over came that and made them strong enough. Finger training could do the same. We put up a hang board in July and I started training on it. Progress is seemingly slow, but I am already starting to see benefits.
The sum of all these subtle shifts is that I am having my best climbing season ever. I’ve made a lot of progress and achieved several long-standing goals. At some point, I stopped telling myself ‘I’m too fat to do that,’ and started reminding myself that ‘everything I want is on the other side of fear.’ That I don’t have to become anorexic to be a better climber, I just have to be willing to lean-in to the fear of pushing myself on lead. I’m also more at peace with my body than I’ve ever been. Yesterday, at the gym, I even cracked a smile as I saw in the mirror just how strong I have become. 🙂