“Being able to see your biceps in the mirror, as shallow as that sounds, is like a really good feeling. Especially for women, it’s like ‘I did that. I built that.’ … Knowing that I put in the work is really empowering,” said Zina Bougri, a Utah outdoors-woman and climber at The Front Climbing Club, regarding her experience with climbing.
Climbing offers a unique mode of empowerment for women. While a variety of body types excel in climbing, a climber must rely on physical strength to succeed. This quest for physical strength and power protests the dominant beauty standard for women. The sport has changed the body image and fitness goals of many women in our local community.
This is the case for Camille Rousculp, a local climber and student at the University of Utah. In her experience, the social expectation was for her to appear dainty. Climbing has encouraged her to stop conforming to a social standard and to simply be as strong and powerful as possible. “When I first started climbing, I wasn’t super impressed by [physically] strong women, but now when I see super strong climbers with, like, beefy arms I am super impressed and want arms like them. That’s not a super popular opinion and I’m really really happy that climbing has made me that way,” Rousculp said.
Climbing can also train women to see themselves as powerful athletes and leaders. Bougri expressed that climbing has challenged her in more ways than just physical exercise. She said she is terrified of heights, but climbing has taught her to set aside this fear and focus on completing the problem. “It’s a really cool mental training in other parts of my life, like at work, for example, I can present myself in a more powerful way,” she said.
Bougri also mentioned her subconscious transition to a leadership role in the climbing community. Leaders like Bougri share their expertise, guide and support those that don’t yet have the experience, and when it is time to put their instruction into action, leaders trust those that are learning — with their lives — to perform. Being a leader isn’t about doing things that others can’t, but trusting and empowering others to do better.
Elevated Mountain Guides, a local non-profit, works to bring climbing to communities that don’t have access to gyms or outdoor climbing. One of their projects, called Project Embark, is specifically for refugees in Utah. The mission statement for the program is to “empower young women who have been relocated to Utah due to conflict in their country of origin to get outside. Through hiking, rock climbing, camping and mountain skills education, Embark challenges our young women to see themselves as athletes and leaders in their communities.”
To help Elevated Mountain Guides bring the benefits of climbing to those that wouldn’t otherwise have access, head to their website, read more about work they are doing in our community and make a donation at elevatedmountainguides.org.