UKC

ARTICLE: How it Feels to be a Fat, Female Climber

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 UKC Articles 27 Apr 2021
'No one should ever feel ashamed to climb.' Emmie Harrison-West shares her experience of being a plus size climber, body positivity and how we can encourage people of all shapes, sizes and abilities into the sport...

Looking at me, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I didn't look like your average climber.



When I say 'your average...

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7
 jezb1 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Overall an interesting article. There's a few points I sort of questioned, in the politest most non argumentative of ways!

"When I say 'your average rock climber,' I'm sure that you automatically think of climbing as being a 'man's' sport."

Personally, no I don't. Whilst generally plus size people don't spring to mind, I think of all sorts, certainly both male and female, but from toned wads to trad bumblies.

"Avoid tracking apps (if you can)"

I think they can actually be a really useful tool, I use them to keep on weight. I know they can be a real negative for some, but we're all different.

"If it doesn't make you happy, ditch it - Lastly, if an exercise you wanted to try out doesn't give you pleasure - you need to get rid."

This is a little tricky. I read that as if you're not instantly happy, ditch it. I train a fair bit, it's hard, it's not always a pleasure, but long term it helps me achieve goals

In reply to jezb1:

Ditto, a good piece overall, and to be honest you don't see many articles on climbers who have more than a couple of grammes of body fat, of any sex, anywhere - including UKC.

> "If it doesn't make you happy, ditch it - Lastly, if an exercise you wanted to try out doesn't give you pleasure - you need to get rid."

> This is a little tricky. I read that as if you're not instantly happy, ditch it. I train a fair bit, it's hard, it's not always a pleasure, but long term it helps me achieve goals

It's a tough one.  I'm just not enjoying my running at present, but I know that I'll eventually come out of the other side and start to enjoy it again. If I stop plugging away I'll lose fitness, pile on the pounds and end up a dark place mentally.

A lot of people have a negative relationship with exercise due to school sports and other kids and teachers picking on them for being crap, or have issues with a negative body image. That gives you a mindset where you hate doing anything new and could quite happily ditch it, but that's no way to live.

Interesting topic.

 LottiePorter 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

I love this piece. I've always felt there's a paucity of content created by people who aren't absolute rockstars. I often find myself intimidated by the climbers I know let alone those I don't, so I have to remind myself it's also okay to be average or below average in ability - who cares if you're having fun! Emmie, I'd love to have a boulder with you. Someone needs to design #fatfemaleclimber t-shirts so we can all spot each other down the wall  

 alaster tonge 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

I love that in climbing, when trying hard, everyone climbs the same grade: their hardest.

2
 tcashmore 27 Apr 2021
In reply to jezb1:

Great article - you can almost feel your enjoyment oozing out of the page.  Sums up the feeling of why we love climbing brilliantly.   Thanks !

 TheGeneralist 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article.  Many thanks for sharing.

 Jenny C 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

14/16 may be larger than the stereotypic climber, but is hardly plus sized.

Speaking as a female climber who is bigger than you I would totally agree with your comments though, that climbing walls are generally very accepting places. Yes being heavy is a disadvantage (as is being unable to see your feet because the boobs get in the way), but i have always found that outdoor activities are a space where people generally reward you for enthusiasm and don't care about your figure or gender.

 mike123 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles: great article and a very enjoyable read . In   “many “years of climbing I’ve always found bouldering walls both in this country and else where to be  very inclusive places  to exercise . From  Eldon square 30 ish years ago to Eden Rock now days , people seem to just get along irrespective of .......all the things that make us different ( I started a list but gave up ) and enjoy the activity . I have to say that lead walls have often felt less so  and one of my long term climbing  partners never enjoyed climbing at one of the local “big “ walls despite it being well within her grade zone but could never quiet put her finger on why .  
I often marvel at the diversity of people climbing at eden rock Carlisle ( particularly because Carlisle is not really a very diverse place ) and enjoy it all the more because of this .

 mike123 27 Apr 2021
In reply to mike123:

Edit : I think lead walls are much more inclusive nowadays but just just not “as “ inclusive 

 rachelpearce01 27 Apr 2021
In reply to jezb1:

I agree about the tracking apps, I’ve actually recently started using them and it had really helped me to try and get more food in. I have noticed that if I don’t use it then I have probably not eaten enough that day, but with the app even if I’m not hungry i will have something in the evening just to make sure I end the day having had enough.

9
 Skyfall 27 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Hi Emmie

I really liked your article and, even though I can’t really say I’m a plus size bloke, I empathise with quite a bit of it.  I wasn’t into sports at school and, age 30, discovered climbing (26 years ago).  I’m no stereotypical skinny ripped ‘climber’.  Just an ordinary mid sized bloke (now with dad bod - blame my toddler not lockdown...) who found his sport quite late in life.  I don’t think I ever judge a climber by his or her body shape.  Google John Dunne.  Here’s to us all getting more active very soon!

In reply to UKC Articles:

Well done, Emmie. I think yours is an inspiring story.

 Richard Horn 28 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

When I first went climbing (just under 20 years ago now), I had little idea of what it was about, I just went along with a buddy from work who was going on a 3-evening intro to climbing course. 3 of the 6 on the course were women, and when I carried on after that there were many women climbing that I knew some of whom took it very seriously, some of whom were more in it for the social aspect. So I never associated it with being a mans pastime - interesting quote I remember a discussion on a video and Chris Sharma said, "actually its not a sport, its just an activity", worth remembering that unless you are in an actual climbing competition the only person you are testing is yourself. 

 jezb1 28 Apr 2021
In reply to rachelpearce01:

> I agree about the tracking apps, I’ve actually recently started using them and it had really helped me to try and get more food in. I have noticed that if I don’t use it then I have probably not eaten enough that day, but with the app even if I’m not hungry i will have something in the evening just to make sure I end the day having had enough.

I think we're probably in the minority but it's easy to forget some people under eat by default. Similarly to you I often end up scrabbling around for some tuna or something late in the evening because I'm a bit low on calories or protein!

4
 Johnhi 28 Apr 2021

The stereotype is that of a topless, tanned and rugged macho male with a slender, toned, and muscular physique.

​​​​I think I'm climbing in the wrong places.  

 Hardonicus 28 Apr 2021
In reply to Johnhi:

Yes clearly the author of the article is not climbing enough classic Diffs.

 EmmaAtkinson 28 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

This is a beautiful article - You go girl!

1
 flopsicle 28 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Good on ya! I'm a 50 yr old curry and beer-loving female climber and as such I can tell you that the thing that stuck out the most is that you wear socks!! (They need giving up). 

I hope you find your way outdoors too but whatever happens keep loving it!

5
 BenSends 29 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article, really enjoyed it. I'm fairly new to climbing myself and have tried to keep up a routine to improve my ability but often find myself falling off the wagon and am reminded of this when I see kids flying up my project but I've now learned to enjoy climbing at my own pace and not to feel crappy that I can't do any of the purple circuits *yet* OR show no signs of improvement.

Oh, and on the picture for the article Emmie is holding a blue hold on a black V0 route...it's sad that this irked me...which says a lot more about me than the picture.

10
 Andy Gamisou 29 Apr 2021
In reply to BenSends:

> Oh, and on the picture for the article Emmie is holding a blue hold on a black V0 route...it's sad that this irked me...which says a lot more about me than the picture.

Is that not allowed then?  Surprised I wasn't kicked out of all the bouldering walls I used to visit as I generally made up the problems as I went, using whatever colour I fancied.  One wall I even took my own holds with me!  Fortunately, I generally have the option to climb outside now so the issue doesn't arise.

2
 BenSends 29 Apr 2021
In reply to Andy Gamisou:

Yikes, apologies this seems to have annoyed some folk. I think it's taken out of context a little and I meant no offence at all by it, was a bit of a throwaway comment about the picture irking me, I didn't really think that people sometimes just climb whatever they want (which is fair enough).

Sorry, my bad.

 Andy Gamisou 29 Apr 2021
In reply to BenSends:

> Yikes, apologies this seems to have annoyed some folk. 

Not annoyed in the slightest . I have heard comments whispered behind me on occasion on roped routes where some people have been seemingly amazed that I've been leading up something ignoring the set routes (often deliberately harder sequences).  It's almost as if they thought there was some centre "law" against it.  Maybe there is, in which case good!

Ah - I see you got a few dislikes.  Personally I like dislikes.  That statement should get me a few.  If not then I not likey.  Although that might get me likes just to annoy me.  Sorry - whittering on in order to avoid revising for an exam tomorrow.  Oh well, back to the CLRS coalface 

Post edited at 15:16
2
 Monkeydoo 29 Apr 2021
In reply to Ridge:

Not many articles about the average Joe weekend footballer either ! Probably because football fans are only interested in the top players ?¿

In reply to rachelpearce01:

Ouf tone deaf mchumblebrag much? Yeah I find I’m so naturally thin and my appetite so birdlike, that these apps help me make sure I eat an adequate adult diet. It’s a real struggle. Similar to when my ridiculously shiny hair reflects light into the photographer’s lense lol!

Post edited at 16:07
21
 SiobhanStraver 29 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

I love this article, super happy to see something like this being posted. 

For what it’s worth, i used to be the same size as you, but over time have lost weight and if it’s hot I’m now one of these climbers in a sports bra and shorts. Just saying this because i remember feeling a bit ‘me and them’ but remember actually some of us know exactly how you feel!

Either way, I’m glad you’ve come to find a home in climbing. My favourite partners have always been the ones that are just SO PSYCHED and that sounds exactly like you, nothing beats that. Keep up the love ^_^

2
 Chris Cordery 29 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article Emmie!  A really interesting commentary on how climbing can be enjoyed by everyone no-matter size, age (in my case) or anything else.

In reply to UKC Articles:

This article was a such a joy to read. One of the things I’ve always liked about bouldering is that people can climb wildly different grades but still hang out at the same section of wall, cheer each other on, and celebrate each other getting to the top. Recommend checking out the Climbers Like Me series by Women’s Trad Fest for more stories about diverse female climbers. Plus a few men and non-binary folks too! Thanks for writing Emmie. 
https://www.womenstradfestival.co.uk/climbers-like-me

 SimonHnose 30 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Great article Emmie! The most important goal in climbing is to enable yourself to enjoy your time climbing. I think that is something you have achieved. Well done!

 Mike C Swe 30 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Enjoyable article, having been overweight myself I can relate to some of it.

Not this though: "When I say 'your average rock climber,' I'm sure that you automatically think of climbing as being a 'man's' sport."
A UK thing maybe? In Sweden women are climbing as much as men, and I see quite a lot of women sends in magazines, films and social media. Mostly men, yes, but if that's all you see, that just makes me wonder what media you are looking at.

 nniff 30 Apr 2021
In reply to AtLargesse:

> Ouf tone deaf mchumblebrag much? Yeah I find I’m so naturally thin and my appetite so birdlike, that these apps help me make sure I eat an adequate adult diet. It’s a real struggle. Similar to when my ridiculously shiny hair reflects light into the photographer’s lense lol!

That has to be the most stupid comment ever made.  You should be ashamed of yourself to write crap like that on a thread that is all to do with overcoming barriers.  

A 'once an anorexic, always an anorexic' close acquaintance of mine uses a tracking ap to make sure she eats enough.  It helps her to balance exercise, food and BDD.  And if you don't know what BDD is, don't comment on things you don't understand.

7
 derryclimbs 30 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

A great read, especially after I'd spat my morning coffee out after reading the "stereotype is that of a topless, tanned and rugged macho male with a slender, toned, and muscular physique"

You should see my group. The stereotype is middle-aged, wrinkly, pasty, forgets which way their harness goes on, and fond of over-exaggerating how great they are. The perfect combo! 

But yes, a great topic. 

 Alison Page 30 Apr 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Thank you, this is a lovely, balanced article. Sure if you look at the photos on this website you might think climbers are all slim and fit and climb extremely hard, but the folk at the crag are much more varied. One of my best climbing mates is tubby, always had a beer belly and climbed really well, and no one would consider his shape/size - he was great fun to climb with. Most people are far more interested in watching their partner (if belaying) or watching how to make a move, and not bothered about what others look like.

In reply to derryclimbs:

> A great read, especially after I'd spat my morning coffee out after reading the "stereotype is that of a topless, tanned and rugged macho male with a slender, toned, and muscular physique"

> You should see my group. The stereotype is middle-aged, wrinkly, pasty, forgets which way their harness goes on, and fond of over-exaggerating how great they are. The perfect combo! 

I've just spent a few minutes enjoyable revisiting "The Last Climb" for a good screencap of Don...best I could do is below, full video here if you haven't seen it worth a look https://www.epictv.com/video/climbing/don-whillans-last-climb-1985.  "Fourteen stone, I'm fighting flab 'ere" says Don to the whippet-like Joe. "Is that helmet to protect your head or keep your fag dry?" says Joe to Don.

Thanks for the article, enjoyed it, keeping enjoying your climbing Emmie!


 Quinton 01 May 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Excellent article and well done for completing the whole tick list. These climbs are the foundation of climbing as I knew it. There are  some great climbs there and many of them are more difficult than the grade suggests.

I started climbing in North Wales in 1958 and we worked our way through these climbs in all kinds of weather with minimal gear - it was our learning experience. I had only just started climbing and I particularly remember a cold, wet November day when we did Hope, Lazarus and Groove Above. It was not an easy day out ! 

I did all of the climbs but one that are listed in the Wales section. 

When Ken was writing Classic Rock he needed a photo of the Cioch Nose and I gave him one, but he rejected it because he said it was not sharp. Odd, because when I submitted that photo to UKC it was voted a "5"

Anyway, well done again for such an entertaining article.   

2
In reply to UKC Articles:

Fantastic article! Thanks for writing it.

1
 Meshach 01 May 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

I'm not fat but I'm old! And a woman.  I have learned not to care what other people think. We've all got some problem , supposed or otherwise. You look ok to me. Anyway it's how you climb not how you look! Life is not a rehearsal so just enjoy yourself- kick on, and good luck.

In reply to UKC Articles:

Hi Emmie,

I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this article, so much so that I felt compelled to write a reply (which is something I rarely do!). I couldn't stop thinking that you don't look 'fat' to me! I totally relate to what you are saying about comparison to others, particularly in relation to body shape. I agree that representation is very important - and it's great to see diversity in terms of content published on here. Thank you for sharing your top tips - the way I see it you are making some recommendations from your experience that have been helpful to you, and might also be helpful to other people who have similar hang ups to you regarding getting in to climbing - and I think that's great. Wishing you many more years to come of happy climbing, and hope you do make the transition to outdoor climbing - you'll love that too I'm sure

 Tom Valentine 02 May 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

It's refreshing to see so many reasonable and supportive replies to the topic: formerly the UKC stance tended towards a " we should charge the fat bastards twice as much on passenger flights"  type of response and I haven't seen much of that in this thread. Perhaps we really are moving towards inclusivity., whether innate or lifestyle.

2
In reply to UKC Articles:

"I didn't have any room in my head for dark thoughts" - this resonates a lot with me! As a teenager I really struggled to enjoy exercise without stressing about what I looked like, and climbing was the first sport I found that I felt entirely comfortable doing and could forget these worries. From climbing indoors as a teen, I now regularly mountaineer outdoors in both summer and winter.. I still worry about how I look sometimes, but I've come a long way and I'm so grateful for finding climbing and the joy it brings me. 

 skinne 03 May 2021
In reply to UKC Articles:

Emmie, this touched and moved me. Hearing how you found your sport and a happy medium, and then the lockdowns hitting us all hard, being trapped indoors, with dark thoughts resurfacing... I can relate to not being able to access the thing that keeps you sane. I was inspired by your resilience in finding ways to climb (safely) regardless. I agree that partners with psyche such as yourself are the absolute best. 

Pull hard, but more importantly, have fun! 

Post edited at 19:59

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