The womxn I have the pleasure of knowing through climbing are incredible. They are strong, brilliant and endlessly multifaceted. And yet, for many of us, there is a seemingly endless struggle against a raging current of gender norms and ideologies around femininity. It’s time for the sun to set on the antiquated concept that strength and beauty cannot coincide. My strength and power have allowed me opportunities that the terrified, teenage version of myself, who was afraid that looking bulky meant she had to let go of her femininity, could never have dreamed possible. Being able to climb and compete with my heroes who I now have the honor of calling friends has taught me that wearing the musculature that I work so hard for with pride, does not make me any less feminine. That having muscles plays a part of who I am but doesn’t negate the remainder of my identity. I can’t go back and tell the younger version of myself these things, so instead, I am telling you and am hoping that someone who needs to hear it, will hear it, and that it will make a difference.
I don’t write this from a place of perfection. In fact, perfection has always been a dream of mine that I have slowly had to learn to let go of. Many days, it feels like I have to try really hard to remind myself that being who I am is okay. My hope is that through vulnerable and honest conversations, the messages about strength that we share both overtly and covertly with young athletes will change. Then, the places in my mind that were overcome by a consuming conflict can become still in the minds of the next generation.
Tales of a noxious conflict Between strength and femininity Have long poisoned minds Into believing that power and beauty Live in opposition When in truth they coexist in harmony. The way looming peaks bellow commanding roars And then fade into silence Kissed by the glow of the setting sun. Endlessly I have been running in fear of being called Big, mannish, stalky, huge, wide, heavy... But my feet are tired and my knees ache So I choose To stop. To lean into these words and understand They do not detract from my right to be feminine Just like womanhood does not diminish my might. So, feel free To launch judgments of how I look. It'll only ignite the fire That fuels my insatiable drive To show you what I can do.
Alison Vest is a Canadian rock climber renowned for her accomplishments in bouldering and lead climbing. She joined a competitive climbing team at 9 yrs old and through her love of the sport and her competitiveness has become a member of the Canadian National team as well as sent v13. Her motto is “have fun, try hard, and be kind.” Follow her on instagram and you will enjoy her humorous side as she explores the satirical side of climbing.