My 21-year-old rock-climbing daughter, Marina, shares her experience with weight, culture and growing up. When she shared this with me a few days ago I was surprised by what I didn’t know about her experience, considering how close we are. Her friend posted it on the girlzwhoclimb blog. With her blessing, I’m sharing it here, verbatim, in case it can be illuminating and helpful for others:
Marina Smith, self portrait
It took me this long to write it down.
Feeling my calves for skin and fat. If there’s skin I can grab, I’m too fat.
If I wait until I’m hungry to drink coffee I can put off eating food.
I can have wine for dinner.
If I climb 10 pitches that’s a lot of calories, I can have a milkshake and animal fries.
When I was 7 years old my family moved to India for 3 months for my mom’s work. I used to walk to the Baskin Robbins with my sister and my mom’s friend and we’d get peppermint ice cream or maybe lollipops. We ate curry and naan and all of these incredible foods. I remember making my first friend, Zanaib. She ate toast for breakfast and that was it. I thought she was cool and I wanted to be like her so I started doing the same. I lost weight at 8 years old when my body was still growing. I stopped having ice cream. When I got back to the U.S. I was 4’11” and 50 pounds. Everyone was always saying “you’re so skinny” and “you’re the skinniest person I know” and I loved it.
I’m naturally slim. I was born in a petite frame, so when I don’t eat enough and look for pants I need to find something for a 24” waist. My boyfriend goes “thanks for saving us money on webbing for your chalk bag belt.” And I get uncomfortable because I know it’s not something that anyone should be proud of.
Now I go to the campus climbing gym and I am expected to be a role model at women’s night. One person in my class says, “I see the girls who crush at the gym and think maybe I’m not climbing as hard because I’m not as thin as them.” In the class I teach, women will ask me to do two-finger pull ups and my coworker says, “Marina has the perfect situation for a climber, she’s super strong and super light.” When I leave work, someone at the front desk says, “I bet you climb so hard.” “Why?” “Because you’re so skinny, I bet you just float up the wall.”
My mom used to take my sister to her overeaters anonymous meetings when I was in middle school and my sister was in high school. She wanted her to be a part of the community. She obviously didn’t take me. I was stick thin. I had succeeded. I didn’t need the community.
I keep flashing back to one day in my 7th grade cooking class. It was right after P.E. and I was wearing basketball shorts and a T shirt. We were all at the age of flirting and seeing if you could touch your classmates on the arm or back without them freaking out. Getting attention from boys meant you were popular and worth hanging out with. I tried to sit on this boy’s lap in the middle of class. He pushed me away. Later, after changing into my maroon skinny jeans and a cute tank top I did it again and he put his arms around me and I felt worthy.
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I keep listening to podcasts, podcasts, podcasts, podcasts. There are a lot of women like me, men like me, climbers like me. We fear that gaining weight loses us grades.
I fear that gaining weight loses me men. Loses me the comparison that other women do when they meet me. “Maybe if I look like that I’ll attract more men and I’ll be happy.” I’m not happy.
Not when I eat gluten and hate myself. Not when I’m afraid he’ll touch my stomach and find less than a perfect 6-pack. Not when I can’t climb 5.12.
I don’t want to redownload tinder. I don’t want to hook up with people. I don’t even want to touch myself.
I want to sit naked in the woods, listening. I want to sit there until I become all that surrounds me and birds are not just birds, they’re the blood rushing through my wind veins. I want to rub mud on my face and hair until it’s matted and unrecognizable then lay back so the sun can kiss my face and I will be so beautiful.
I couldn’t tell you what true beauty is anymore. I think it’s the moments when you make eye contact with someone from across the room and have the deep knowing that they are thinking the exact same thing as you, that your minds have collided for that one delicious moment.
I love to eat. I love to cook and caramelize things on cast iron pans, sopping up flavors from curries made 3 years ago. I love milkshakes and kale salad and hot sauce on things. I love my family history and plantains and potatoes O’Brien. I love my body and that it can sit so still and sense so much.
I’m learning more about nutrition and climbing. We need lots and lots of food in order to get stronger. I’m a climber and I want to eat to be a climber, not somebody else’s definition of a beautiful woman. I think it’s beautiful to take care of yourself and get all the nutrients and calories you need. All bodies can climb.
All the ABCs of food like: B6, B12, C, D3, etc, are needed for ultimate gains. If you want to take over the world it’s not gonna happen if you’re only eating enough to sit on the couch and watch New Girl. You have to BE the new girl. The one that confidently approaches the world, tits out, and says “I don’t give an actual f*ck what you think of me. I’m soft and strong and I care about a lot of things and this is how I want to be.” And you just go and do it.
P.S. To learn more about the pressure for climbers to be “light,” Marina recommends this documentary.
Thank you for your fearless honesty, Marina!