Over the past weeks, the topic of body image in climbing has been discussed, shared, talked about a lot on Social Media. I have to admit that I was surprised about the extent to which everyone engaged. At one point I made a survey where I asked whether I should write another follow-up on this topic – and over 50 people said yes, nearly 100%. This might not sound like a huge number, but looking at the statistics of how many people have read and shared the other blog posts about this topic (over 2.500 people) – these numbers are just once more a confirmation of the topic’s prevalence. If you have been following my Instagram stories, you might have read or even participated in the different qualitative and quantitative surveys yourself. As I don’t want to restrain your answers, I have summarised all your answers in this blog post. There were answers from hobby climbers to professional competition athletes, former competition climbers and even former gymnastic competitors. I believe it’s important to be able to raise your voice and be heard. We are all experts for ourselves, our behaviour and our feelings. Therefore all of your opinions are really valuable and valid to create a better, bigger picture of how to address body image. To learn and better understand what is helpful and what is not to develop a healthy body image.

In one survey I asked whether anyone has ever addressed the topic of “body image” in their team with their coach. While 82% said they would find it helpful to have such an open discussion, only 30% said they would have actually had such a discussion before. It showed once more how little we normally talk about it, but yet how important it would be.

How can we foster a healthy body image among climbers?

  • Instead of focussing on diets & training, maybe focus on encouraging a healthy mindset

  • Not judging or shaming anyone for not having the “perfect” climbing body

  • Get Shauna to promote it, the 9-year old fan girls will eat it up

  • Don’t make comments about any body unless you are talking about how it functions

  • Be kind. To yourself and other people.

  • Create a safe, accepting community

  • See exercise as stress relief

  • See food (cookies or carrots) as fuel for your active life

  • Complimenting my efforts, not my results. If you try your best, it’s great to be appreciated for it.

  • No comparisons between the athletes how they should look. Everyone is unique

  • Encouragement and improvement of an athlete’s personal climbing style, not necessarily trying to modify their body shape

What do you consider as harmful coaching behaviour when it comes to developing a healthy body image?

  • Diet shaming in a serious voice

  • Refusing to help because the student is starting to outclimb

  • Telling athletes that they are too big to climb

  • Coaches comparing themselves with the athletes

  • That I need a six pack or I don’t have a good core

  • That shorter climbers need to be stronger with big shoulders

  • Coaches doing one diet after the other, trying to be super skinny

  • Trying to motivate the athletes to do workouts reinforcing that this would make them slim (instead of strong). It leaves the impression that weight and looks are more important than capability.

  • Prohibiting parents from cooking certain favourite meals

We all experience or come across the topic of body image in different ways. Here are some personal stories from you:

“I’ve always been quite skinny and lean and I never really struggled with self-confidence when it comes to my body image. Over time I’ve learned that I’m more the exception. A lot of girls seem to be on never ending diets full of disrespecting their bodies because they don’t fit their imagination of the “perfect female climbing body”. And the biggest problem probably is the constant comparison with other athletes. I’ve experienced girls not only watching my training but also my eating habits. I’ve heard sentences like “Why are you eating that cookie, are you on a diet or what? You are the least person having to lose weight!” No, I’m just not hungry. I don’t want to be judged what I should eat and how much – believe me, I do eat a lot. And yes, I might have good genes, I might have a fast metabolism, I might be able to eat more than others without gaining any weight. But that’s what life is like. EveryBODY is different and every body needs different fuel. And every body has a different optimal weight and figure with which it can function and perform in the best and healthiest way.” pro female climber, 19 years old

“I am really grateful and happy that someone finally addresses this topic publicly – also from a scientific perspective. I have realised that the ideal body weight increasingly defines climbing – to the point that, in the youth team, there are comments made such as “I will only eat half of the pizza, I am already too heavy.” I wish it would develop more in a different perspective.”

What do you think it needs to develop more in a different direction again? How can a federation or general rules prevent athletes from getting into a devil circle? Do you think an internationally valid BMI would be the solution? Let me know your thoughts!