Athlete or Model: What is Sierra Blair-Coyle?

It was Tuesday, which, for professional climbing model Sierra Blair-Coyle, means it was actually #TumblrTuesday. Unless you’re a millennial somehow preternaturally fluent in the hieroglyphic language of hashtags and emojis, you might ask yourself, What the heck is a #TumblrTuesday?

I Googled it and learned that #TumblrTuesday is “A day to share your Tumblrs”—with that day being Tuesday, I presumed.

Oh, OK. That makes sense, I guess.

After another series of leaps and bounds over logic and reason, I eventually  understood that #TumblrTuesday isn’t just about sharing SBC’s Tumblr. It’s also a chance to ask her any question you would like.


I visited her Tumblr and scrolled through the archive. Why, yes, indeed—just about any question you could ever imagine asking a person is asked of SBC on her Tumblr.

Her terse answers are bolstered, somehow, by a brilliant use of emojis which—despite being just a bunch of colons and parentheses—have a surprisingly emotional effect. Here are some verbatim examples of what goes on on #TumblrTuesday:

Do you have a boyfriend?

No : )

Would you ever date someone who doesn’t climb?

Yes : )

Do you speak French?

Unfortunately no  : (

Being one of SBC’s many followers on social media, I guess I have always been half-aware that she runs this weekly Q&A thingamajig. But, like cat memes and other online distractions, I never really paid much attention to it. Recently, however, I became curious for no reason at all, and decided to see what #TumblrTuesday was all about.

Why not? I mean, why wouldn’t I want to ask Sierra Blair-Coyle a question?

Since I’m such a pompous fartbag, however, I asked the following:

“Are you a climber or are you a model?”

She responded almost immediately.

Both! : )



Along with around 30,500 others, I follow SBC on Instagram. I’m also one of 202,000+ people who “like” her athlete page on Facebook. I can’t speak for the reasons why any of those other hundreds of thousands of people follow her, but my reason has always been pretty simple.

She’s totally hot.

In her photos of herself, which she posts each day to her popular social-media outlets, she is usually smiling and happy, wearing a cute outfit and often doing something that vaguely resembles real rock climbing.



Based on how she presents herself online, SBC appears to be genetically devoid of any physical imperfections and incapable of writing anything provocative or negative. The captions to her selfies seem to follow a tried-and-true formula of banal affirmation + sponsor plugs + sponsor hashtags + (of course) lots of happy emojis.

image1 copy

Usually I “like” whatever it is she posts, smile, and move on with my day. But after asking SBC whether she considered herself a climber or a model a few weeks ago, I’ve continued to ponder that question on her behalf long after our brief Tumblr encounter.

What is Sierra Blair-Coyle? I wondered.

I don’t mean who is she; I mean what. Who she is is just a Google search away. I discovered from reading her website that she’s 20, from Scottsdale, Arizona, in college, and likes to compete in bouldering competitions. She has climbed as hard as V9 and won some kind of junior national climbing competitions. Above all that, I have no doubt she’s the perfectly intelligent, friendly, uplifting person that she portrays herself to be on Facebook.

Still, that doesn’t tell me what she is. And what she is is much more interesting.



I’ve recently noticed a rise in a number of professional outdoor athletes whose job qualifications are as much, if not more, rooted in image as they are in substance and achievement.

Welcome to the age of the Athlete Model.

Athlete Models are not just female, though often they are. For example, I can only think of one male Athlete Model in the climbing world.

The Athlete Model seems to be mostly contained to what you might call “lifestyle sports”—athletic endeavors such as climbing, surfing and (non-competitive) skiing, et al. These sports don’t hinge on actual competition or performance the way traditional sports do—e.g., there is no football without the Super Bowl, but we will always have climbing with or without the World Cup.


Partaking in the climbing lifestyle is as good of a reason to climb as any other—just as great as sending the gnar. The Athlete Model, then, is the avatar for this happy lifestyle. They are an idol who we like, literally, because they can consistently generate a compelling visual story of themselves leading a fun, active, healthy, carefree lifestyle. All of which is only relevant to us because that lifestyle is vaguely related to that sport that we share with our Athlete Model idols.

These visual lifestyle stories told by the Athlete Model are highly relatable. For example, many of us will never know what it means to climb V15, but we can all probably relate to hanging out with friends and taking groupies at the boulders.

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The Athlete Model is a direct byproduct of social media, and their existence is completely legitimized by the companies that support them. If the goal is lucrative sponsorship, then it appears that there are now two ways to achieve this ends: you can work hard to become one of the best athletes in the world at your sport, or you can generate a large social-media following by looking good at doing whatever it is you like to do.


I can only assume that when it comes to choosing representatives/ambassadors, all companies look beyond a climber’s resume and/or skin-deep beauty. I assume companies ultimately seek out individuals who are very talented, very likable, very good-looking and, on top of all that, have a large following on social media.


Who can blame these companies? I fully agree that paying someone to pimp your products to their hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans will, in every way, provide a much better ROI than paying some scruffy kid to spend all day brushing obscure 5.15 crimpers in the woods.

The fact is, if Athlete Models are a “thing”—which they are—it’s only because we created them by following their feeds. So what does that say about us and what we value as a community?


Let me rephrase something. The number of Athlete Models is a direct byproduct of social media. Athlete Models in general are not new. In the past, writing your own ticket involved working with photographers and hoping you land a magazine cover.

Rikki Ishoy was maybe one of climbing’s very first Athlete Models.

woman rock climbing / bouldering at The Happy Boulders near Bishop, California

In his Story Behind the Image blog, Corey Rich, who took this iconic cover shot—which remains the best-selling climbing magazine ever to this day (think about that!)—described Ishoy (who is now a lawyer in Denmark) like so:

“In a weird way, Rikki almost became a professional climber after this cover ran. She was a good athlete, but perhaps not the best in the world. But she was smart. She was good looking. And she was willing to work with me to create the media that was necessary to filling the pages of editorial and advertising in the climbing magazines.”

Today, thanks to Go Pros and iPhones, people can become their own photographers, their own publishers and create their own audiences with or without a magazine’s help.

This is no easy feat, trust me. Try creating a Facebook page with hundreds of thousands of fans. Not just anyone can do this.

A new video of ski model Sierra Quitiquit, titled “How Did I Get Here,” is not a traditional ski film in which we see someone shredding a bunch of gnarly Alaskan spines. Instead, it’s a film about how SQ became an Athlete Model.

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The logline for the video reads, “From the runway to the big mountain, professional skier and model Sierra Quitiquit is quickly redefining what it means to be a modern woman.”

I’m sure she can make a nice turn through snow, too, but that hardly seems to be the focus of the film. So what, exactly, does the proverbial runway have to do with skiing?

This type of hyperbolic conflation of image and substance is becoming much more common. It’s so rampant these days that we don’t even realize that once upon a time being a professional athlete had to do with athleticism, not recognition or fame. Now, it’s the other way around: athletic recognition is the byproduct of popularity.

A recent interview with Crux Crush calls SBC, “arguably the most recognizable female climber today.”

Another interview with the Gear Institute, describes SBC like so:

“She’s not only one of the youngest and most talented climbers in the world right now, but more than 200,000 people follow her on social media channels.”


Look how overtly unaware we seem to have become in our celebration of image over achievement. In my mind, that sentence actually reads, “I believe she is one of the most talented climbers in the world and I only believe that because 200,000 people follow her on social media.”

Athlete Models are not without purpose or function, nor are they undeserving of their status. That’s not what I’m saying here. In fact, you could easily make a strong argument that Sierra Blair-Coyle, who has only climbed two V9s, should be paid more than Adam Ondra, one of the best rock climbers in the world.


It’s the fact that you can seriously make this very argument today that is concerning. That’s what’s different. What’s changed today is the degree to which we idolize Athlete Models and conflate their popularity with substance and achievement.


Will that ability to nudge the cutting-edge forward eventually be considered less valuable, less worthwhile, and less impressive than having high levels of engagement on Facebook Or has that already happened?

These are all moot questions, however. The fact is, climbing will continue forward. Climbers will push the limits. And I’m really happy that someone like Sierra Blair-Coyle is around to remind hundreds of thousands of people to smile each day—including this pompous fartbag right here. ; )

  • Ryan Day Thompson

    “Will that ability to nudge the cutting-edge forward eventually be considered less valuable, less worthwhile, and less impressive than having high levels of engagement on Facebook Or has that already happened?”

    Four years ago when I started getting into photographing adventure sports Blake Herrington told me not to bother working with males or photographing hard climbing if I wanted to make money because: “Guys are ugly and there’s no money in hard climbing.” Last year Cliffy told me in no uncertain terms: “There’s no money in climbing unless you’re Keith Ladzinski. Shoot something else.” My personal experience reveals this to be true UNLESS I’m photographing a smiling female.

    If the question is about monetary value then I think we’re all pretty well aware that the monetary value of pushing cutting-edge climbing is low and probably not worthwhile unless you’re Conrad or Tommy Caldwell or Alex Honnlove. Attractive people presenting a lifestyle via social platforms will always have greater cash value. I feel like this shift happened quite a while ago.

    If the question is about “soul” value I feel like we’re decently acquainted with the fact that social media, self-branding, climbing theater, and the business of climbing kills soul.

    I argue for a self-aware, self-imposed, and intentionally announced dichotomy of business/climbing theater and soul.

    • Javi Behr Fernandez

      Can you have a tumblr tuesday andrew?!?!? :-) 😉

      Your #1 Fan

      ps are you ticklish?

    • Lutz Eichholz

      I dont know how much she earns but from what I know about sponsoring I gues that she does not earn as much money as sponsored athletes like the Huber Brothers, Dijulian, Sharma…

  • Mike c

    I don’t really see it as a huge problem. They (athlete models) are people who make climbers look sexy, not like the dirtbags we are.

    I also think that having beautiful women getting into our sport can only be positive, the more female climbers there are the better. If SBC gets a ton of young females to see climbing as something approachable, it will raise the bar for female climbers and the sport.

    Or it could be a negative… More crowds at the Boulder Rock Club and more sport climbers…

  • Matthew Paul Irving

    I used to be an athlete model until my face was disfigured in a horrible dyno accident.

    • You were one of the best in the world, too … Tragic story and certain to become a Lifetime original movie one day.

  • Beagle

    she’s a “slashie” that’s “climber slash model, and not the other way around”.

  • matt

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend regarding another well-known (at least within the climbing community) female climber. The jist of the conversation revolved around the fact that this climber is a well regarded professional climber who when compared to women like Sasha Digiulian doesn’t climb extraordinarily hard grades. In fact, she climbs grades that are considered warm-ups for high-end sport climbers. What she has going for her though, is that she tells very good stories, constantly explores new areas, is a beautiful woman, and had the good fortune to fall in with a professional photographer relatively early in each of their careers. We both agreed though that this climber in question was absolutely someone we respected.

    I suppose the question from both these cases is: what’s more important to us as climbers? Someone who looks good and climbs relatively moderate grades? Or someone who is pushing the boundaries of the sport? Or someone who’s doing both?

    Or is there maybe a middle ground in which we as a community celebrate those who push both themselves and others to be better climbers, stewards, and friends while simultaneously appreciating beauty when we see it, whether that is in a climb, a climber, or a sunset as you coil ropes at the end of the day.

  • lauren

    I think you are correct, making money off of beauty and sex is nothing new, and it is only because the climbing/surfing/skiing lifestyle has become cool and sexy that we are seeing, and will continue to see more images of the “slashie” outdoorsy types popping up. As a female climber, I don’t have a problem with SBC, but I don’t think I’d ever follow her on social media, she doesn’t appeal to me at all… Alex Puccio flaunting her monster muscles on the other hand…. fuckin sweet XD

    • The Pooch puts us all to shame! Thanks for the great comment

  • Annie Agle

    I can’t speak to Sierra Blair Coyle, but Sierra Quitiquit cannot be reduced to a pretty face in ski boots. I grew-up ski racing with Sierra-she won every single race for a decade. She has some of the strongest technical speed skills I’ve witnessed in a female big mountain skier, and her hucking prowess is just as impressive.

    Brands expect their female athletes to be available for lifestyle shoots. You make the point that men rarely act as athlete models–agreed. Male outdoor athletes are often admired and paid for their athletic talents alone. Not so for women.

    Female pro skiers who solely emphasize their skills are not paid; female pro skiers who are capable of brand marketing are paid but dismissed as non authentic. I can only speak to skiing as I have several rocking female pro skier friends…but I think it likely this assessment would hold true for climbers as well.

    This post is exceedingly well written, but the journalism is shoddy. It saddens me to see someone I admire show such a lack of empathy or understanding towards a very complicated and distressing issue in our community. You’re a climber… you should show more kindness.

  • Vlad Innsburg

    But the dawn wall media shit show was totally rad and justified and should be lauded without any criticism whatsoever. My favorite athlete/media whore is better than your favorite athlete/media whore.

  • Milky

    Great article. My personal view of the SBC phenomenon is a little harsher than your very objective perspective. She is very much a “thing,” objectified by her own actions, seemingly on purpose. While I have no doubt that she enjoys climbing, the sport aspect appears to just be a reason to lift her leg above her head for a shameless camel toe shot that is then posted on Facebook to the delight of 40,000 Middle Eastern Barbie worshipers that want to drink her bath water and tell her so. The response, as you pointed out, is :-). Translation: “I’m a sex object and I like it!”

    One of your points is that despite her not being a world class athlete, her visibility makes her a valuable asset to the companies that sponsor her. But I think you overlooked, or neglected, the fact that the climbing industry has not bought in to the SBC craze. A look through her sponsor list: Sanuk, Roxy, Spy, Fuel One, ClimbX, Asana, Bluewater, Sierra Sage, and Quotable. Just 1/3 are climbing companies. ClimbX is a joke, Asana and Bluewater are legit (though I’ve never seen her tie into a rope) and none of these, presumably, pay her any kind of substantial salary or place her front and center in their ad campaigns. The rest of her sponsors are shoes, booty shorts, sunglasses, and greeting cards? For the most part they’re companies that are entirely unrecognizable to climbers.

    If she’s such a valuable figure, complete with 200,000+ followers, why hasn’t the climbing industry cashed in on her visibility? Why isn’t she on the North Face ticket? Mountain Hardware? Black Diamond? What’s up guys? Don’t you want a piece of this?

    I think the answer to this question is that the industry knows that those 200,000+ followers aren’t their target market—they’re not climbers that buy gear. They’re creepers, 12-year-olds, and fan boys that swoon over those butt shots. It’s either that, or (is it possible) the industry is holding itself to a higher standard of decency. Maybe they’re just not ready to shamelessly promote their product by slapping their logo on a tight little ass. Or maybe they know that for a certain percentage of their market, doing so would have a detrimental effect. I know that I’d personally be turned off to a product if I saw them throw marketing dollars toward good-looking people instead of the true athletes that are at the cutting edge of the sport.

    You wrote: “Paying someone to pimp your products to their hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans will, in every way,provide a much better ROI than paying some nappy-headed kid to spend all day brushing obscure 5.15 crimpers in the woods.”

    But as it stands, the nappy-headed kids are still getting those sponsor dollars from the North Face and Black Diamond while SBC is likely getting some free lip-balm and ClimbX shoes. If it were up to me, I’d like to see it stay that way.

    • I think this is a really great comment. Thanks for articulating it. The climbing community/industry is definitely at a juncture where it could go one way or the other right now … It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next five years as climbing grows

    • Blake Herrington

      Nailed it! I’m actually surprised she is even sponsored by Asana and Bluewater at all. I wonder how many ropes SBC goes through in a year. I’m sure her yearly allotment from Bluewater is more than adequate for her annual rope-coiling photo session. It seems like she collects the “climber company” sponsorships like they are baseball cards, just to have them on hand and provide a little street cred. I think she presents herself as a model to the climbing world, and as a climber to the modeling world. It’s pretty good marketing, as long as she doesn’t go all George Costanza with colliding worlds.

    • Eddie Fowke

      So does signing with a climbing related brand add legitimacy to someone as a climber? By moving outside the industry Sierra has tapped a far bigger market which as a climbing model (or modeling climber) will provide better income streams and increased visibility.

      She has played a far more canny game than most sponsored climbers and has gained a lot from it. Of course she isn’t the first, climbers have been sponsored by companies outside the sport since the days of Hillary and Tenzing with their Kendall Mint Cakes, or Stefan Glowarz with Audi, or even the rock masters as noted in Valley Uprising.

      The need to identify yourself by only seeking sponsorship within the sport speaks of poor choices and immature marketing strategies more than legitimacy, maybe it’s not as you say that “the climbing industry has not bought in to the SBC craze” but more that Sierra hasn’t brought into the climbing industry craze.

      Go watch a any motorsport race or a golf Tournament or a football game and tell me how many successful athletes are limiting their sponsorships to within their own industry, not many.

      • The point isn’t who sponsors her at all. The point is, what is really being sponsored here? Is it skill on the rock or skill in self-promotion? If companies simply said, “Check this girl out, she’s one of the best self-promoters in the world, so we sponsor her,” that would be fine and accurate. But instead it’s “check this girl out, she’s one of the best climbers in the world,” which simply isn’t true. In this article, I tried to understand how we’ve reached a point where that conflation/confusion has been made. I think it’s a really relevant discussion to this age of social media and how it has engendered a type of celebrity unlike we’ve seen before

        • Oh I’ll tell you how we got there. We got there thanks to guys like you who follow SBC because ‘She’s totally hot’. You’re the fuel for the objectification culture, which not only harms women, but also, as you insighfully note, spoils the sponsorship and pro athletes scape. So, sorry, but all this winging is a bit out of place.

          • Pretty sure that my article shows that I’m not the fuel for the objectification culture. From your comments, you seem as though you really just don’t understand what I’ve written. So, sorry, but your comments are misplaced.

          • Well, the article would show that you’re not, if you didn’t render your whole critique invalid by revealing that you do follow SBC, and it is because of her sexual demeanour. What good does it do that you offer us your wise words, if in fact you’re one of the people who make it socially and financially profitable for women to present themselves in a sexual way? Demand is followed by supply, not the other way round. If you look at it that way, it’s not SBC’s hot pants that are the problem. She’s only playing the system and the system, however you don’t like to notice that, is you. Think about it 😉

          • For the record, I actually don’t follow her anymore, but that doesn’t change the fact that you still don’t understand what this article is about. I have no problem with this young lady or anyone else for that matter using their good looks to get ahead in life. I’m sorry you feel as if I’m the reason for fueling the objectification culture–I’m absolutely not, nor is my critique invalid for admitting the reason why I originally followed this person on social media. Yes, I originally followed SBC because of her looks, and to be honest, her good looks are still the only thing that I find interesting about her. I still admit this, and in no way does it invalidate my critique, which is that just because you are popular on social media and have a lot of followers does not automatically make one a great climber, let alone one of the best in the world. Her looks are something that she has embraced and worked to her own advantage, and so hats off to her! I think that’s great. My problem is with the people who have confused this with substantial achievement–at least in terms of climbing achievement. You say “she’s playing the system” as if this is something to be proud of. There are many ways to get to the top and earn recognition and respect. Do you really think that objectifying yourself in your own social media pictures is really the best way to get to the top? You can blame me, or people like me, for fueling that by simply admiring those photos on Instagram (etc.), but the fact remains that my critique and article is actually a reminder that there are plenty of beautiful, strong women out there who are also truly badass climbers, not because they have a lot of followers on social media but because they have achieved something significant in their sport. Anyway, I’m sorry that you don’t get this article. Good luck to you, whatever you do. Later.

          • As a matter of fact, I know it’s not only my opinion about what you wrote, and it’s quite surprising to me how dismissive you are of what I’m saying.

            Anyhow, I absolutely don’t glorify the approach that SBC chose to her career. And also, I don’t think anybody within the climbing community confuses what she does with being an exceptional climber, although she’s definitely a good one. It’s quite obvious however that the companies that endorse her are not targeting climbers, but a more general band of consumers.

            Neither am I blaming you directly for anything. I just believe that one has to be weary of formulating strong opinions on the subject of objectification, without some serious scrutiny of one’s own approach, and how one is tangled in the culture that one attempts to critique. (Geez, I said ‘one’ in that sentence way too many times…)

            I hope that clarifies what my doubts are. Anyhow, it’s definitely valuable that you raised the topic, thanks.

          • You seem to be intent on faulting/shaming/blaming me for the fact that I’m open and honest about why I originally started paying attention to this person. You seem like you don’t like the fact that men look at women as sexual objects–and that’s a fine opinion to have, but I hardly see how what I’ve written has anything to do with this subject, other than tangentially. You said my article was “invalidated” by this admission–harsh words. In regards to my role in the objectification issue, what you have suggested would be like blaming a pedestrian for looking at a car accident, and then somehow twisting it so that they are at fault for the accident in the first place. Also, read the story again, as I directly quoted one (of many) articles that place her among one of the best climbers in the world. I didn’t make that up; that’s what people are saying. Anyway, you seem to be retracting what you originally wrote … I hope this little exchange helped you understand where I stand on this issue. Good luck!

    • Chris Ketchum

      The clue is simply what you’ve called “the SBC phenomenon.” Let’s get that straightened out: the SBC phenomenon and the person, Sierra Blaire-Coyle, are two completely distinct subjects. SBC is a campaign, a marketing ploy, a rhetorical tool- a development of various commercial media used to sell shoes, sunglasses, and maybe the odd climbing rope. The person behind the media creation, Sierra Blair-Coyle, is converted into a flashy commodity for no other purpose than to make more money. Her sexual objectification is not a problem with her behavior- it is a systematic problem with the way marketers target consumers (in this case, climbers). Sierra Blair-Coyle is a young woman who has found a way to make a living while pursuing her passion, not a porcelain con-artist out to tarnish the reputation of all the “dirty and very serious” climbers out there. I doubt she has any control over her social media portrayal at all- her sponsors need an effect from her that they certainly wouldn’t leave to be determined by someone who isn’t even old enough to hold a Bachelor’s degree. I am proud of the climbing companies who have not jumped on the SBC/Athlete-Model bandwagon not because I don’t want Sierra Blair-Coyle to receive a paycheck, but rather because I do not want our sport beholden to the sexual objectification of its athletes for the sake of marketing its products.
      Sierra Blair-Coyle doesn’t want you to look at her. Sanuk, Spy, Asana, Blue Water, and Roxy want you to look at SBC: the thing they’ve created from an otherwise innocent person. Negative commentary directed at the person rather than the phenomenon damages everyone, and perpetuates climbing as a slovenly, male-dominated subculture.

  • mike

    Question for you, AB – do you think that SB’s high level of promotion and exposure really sells the climbing products that she endorses? Scrolling through her sponsor list, most of them are generally more “lifestyle” focused than climbing focused. I wonder how many ClimbX shoes get sold because someone saw SBC wearing them vs how many people buy LaSpo or Evolv because of Ondra – even if the level of exposure is much smaller (1/8-1/2 as many “likes”).

    I partially wonder this because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone but SBC in ClimbX. Like ever.

    • I’ve never seen anyone in ClimbX shoes either, thank god.

  • Stuart Peck

    We’ve created a culture where you’re legitimized if you reach a certain number of social media followers. Working in media and advertising one of the ‘great white whales’ for ad agencies and production companies is creating a campaign or ad that goes viral. If you have an athlete that has a built in fan base and you promote them using your product, the likelihood of that image or ad going viral is a lot greater then if you’re building a campaign from nothing. It’s a bitter pill. As a writer/producer I want to find the best story to tell; having a subject that is attractive and comfortable on camera makes the video or photo so much easier to produce. That’s why talent agencies exist.

    Still, compared to the likes of Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson, Alex Honnold and others… this model/athlete model looks shallow. In my opinion, nothing will be stronger than a powerful story of hard work, struggle, set back and ultimately victory.

  • Wesley Summers

    This…. is so well done. Thank you for a great post!

  • I think you raise many great points here, thanks.

  • Zofia Reych

    There’s one important part that’s missing from this article and that is the issue of a culture, which supports women more for their looks than for their achievements. As you said, there are many male ‘athlete models’, but the scale of it is nowhere near what it is with women. And of course individuals like SBC or Caroline Gleich have every right to milk that culture, yet the question is, would they maybe be better athletes, or in general people, if they spent less time doing their hair? Very possible, but they’ll never get to know that cause the society told them it’s their hair, their white teeth, and their buttocks that are the most important things about them.

    And to look at the issue from yet another perspective, a female athlete who refuses to follow the ‘oh i’m so cute’ pattern, might actually struggle with attracting sponsorship, simply because she wouldn’t be perceived as hot and wouldn’t sell as many t-shirts/watches/sunglasses, or whatever else.

    Should we really partake in creating a culture which values people for how they look like and not for what they do? A question especially pertinent in case of women, as objectification leads to lower importance associated with women’s achievements at best (lower prices for female athletes in comps?), and to violence at worst. As members of the supposedly ‘lifestyle sport’ of climbing, with counter culturalist roots, we should be weary of such bullshit.

    • aviendha

      Yep, first make sure you look like Barbie, then we’ll pay attention.

      • not interested in attention from people for whom this is the criteria, so thanks, but no thanks ;D

    • Zofia, I totally agree. To piggyback your points, I’d say this whole phenomenon does nothing for our amateur climbing culture, too. Many of us women climbers can tell stories about condescending comments directed at us because we’re women. That our athleticism – our climbing prowess and seriousness – is still called into question at crags and in the gym is surely connected to the culture of objectification. Very thought-provoking article, Andrew – thanks!

  • Chris Desir

    I cringed when I read your use of the term “nappy.” Nappy refers to the texture of black or African hair. In some contexts, it is a descriptive term, but you used to mean an undesirable hairstyle. It is especially troubling that you used that term to highlight the desirability of a straight, blonde haired, eurocentrically attractive, spokesperson as opposed to the nappy-headed 5.15 climber.

    The fact that you used it to refer to someone who is almost certainly white (any non-white 5.15 climbers in the world?) illustrates an ignorance as to the racial origins of the term. It also demonstrates an ignorance as to the source of the term’s negative force. You can say “nappy” to refer to the shaggy haired 5.15 climber and your readers will instantly understand that you are referring to someone who has an unattractive, and unkept hairstyle. This is because nappy hair is inherently unattractive by the problematic, and outright racist standards of beauty mainstream to America. In other words, its not necessarily a negative term, but in the context of racist standards of beauty, it takes on a negative connotation. That is what you are invoking when you use it to deride the hairstyle of the hypothetical 5.15 climber

    I say ignorance because I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. I’m assuming you wouldn’t have used the word in this way had you know its meaning and the source of its negative connotations.

    I find my own nappy hair, and the nappy hair of many other black people to be both neat, and attractive.

    • SMD

      Dude. Nappies are diapers. The image speaks for itself.

    • Wow, thanks for the lesson. I did indeed use the word to mean “unkempt,” as most climbers’ hair is, but I didn’t realize the racial etymology of nappy. Good to know! And I agree that nappy hair is indeed attractive

  • Ben L

    The thing that makes climbing a valuable addition to news feeds of random people is not Honnold type solos or tiny crimps up on El Cap, I think. The import message that a climber can transport to non-climbers (that is 99% of the people) is: Climbing, especially climbing moderately, is a great way to spend you free time. It’s low impact, healthy, social, etc – yet, people that aren’t so lucky to be taught how to use their free time often end up watching TV or playing computer games or driving their custom cars every free minute that they have. And people have a lot of free time, and future generations will only have more. Climbers that have a large audience have the chance to have an impact in helping people learning how to make use of their leisure time.

    SMC is a perfect example of this newsfeed-worthy aspect of climbing. She’s pretty in American eyes at least, she conveys a positive message, and she generally talks about stuff people understand. (Get outside!, Smile!, Be Glad You’re Having Fun with Friends!, etc.)

    Of course, some of her followers have reached saturation in terms of entertainment or “inspiration” by famous climbers/athletes/models/whoeverhastwitter. But that’s another subject :)

  • Tiffany

    I’ve met the girl and was extremely disappointed when she was rude and wouldn’t talk with me and my friends. No respect for her anymore.

  • Jonathan

    Nothing wrong with model athletes. When it comes to why they’re popular on social media however, I think this subject tends to get over- analyzed when in reality it’s fairly simple. Let’s call it what it is and deal with the elephant in the room…They’re popular because they’re “totally hot”! Hence the model part of “athlete models”. But couple that with doing an awesome sport…double the popularity. If they’re actually good at said sport? People’s brains explode 😉

  • Jim Thornburg

    Great post! But it might be impossible to separate the athlete and the model.

    Here are some OG athlete-models who blur the lines:

    Anna Kournakova
    Maria Sharipova
    “Broadway” Joe Namath
    Tom Brady
    Ron Kauk
    Chris Sharma

    Don’t agree with including Chris Sharma? Was his fame in accordance with how far ahead he was of everybody else? (Fred Rouhling or Fred Nicole for example).

  • David Bowens

    SBC is the Kim Kardashian of the climbing world. The fact people talk so much about someone who is a mediocre climber at best is flabbergasting.

  • Peter Nelson

    Andrew your comments are…. should I say neutral now?

    I enjoyed reading the comments much more on Sport Climbing Vs. Bolt Clipping. Your essay’s and rants also seem to be written from more of a neutral standpoint then in the past and you’re letting people run the controversial dialogue in the comments.

    Have you decided to change your writing style and topics presented?

    This isn’t meant to take away from your work. I enjoy your blog and the presentation of climbing and climbing related issues.

    Take Care

    • You saying I don’t have any balls anymore?

      • Peter Nelson

        Not completely. Maybe shrunk with old age?!

  • AndrewMcLean

    I’d second that Annie. Sierra is a great skier in all regards.

  • Being an “older” athlete that was once a “looker” when I was running marathons back in the 70s/80s- I don’t think it’s actually helping women in sport to be taken seriously. My opinion. We fought hard for Title 9 to be treated equally in sport, regardless of how we look(ed) and here’s where we are. Not good.

  • disqus_jOaxNDjltU

    Thanks for letting the internet know how broad your range of emotional responses are man. You really answered this question

  • sean

    love this story. once in a while i take a solid hockey jab at her on tumblr tuesday and she always responds with a snarky line back and a smiley face. i still cant climb v9 so im gonna go ahead and leave her alone until then. aside from appreciating her photos and giving her shit about liking the worst hockey team ever, that is.

  • SAA

    I really enjoyed the article. I never paid much attention to SBC – just sort of followed her because she posts about climbing and is generally, very positive. I started thinking more deeply about the SBC social media persona when I started seeing articles about how she is “one of the most talented climbers in the world,” etc. She is undoubtedly a very strong, talented climber, but it’s pretty clear that she is not even in the same league as the most elite female boulderers such as Alex Puccio, Ashima, or Shauna Coxsey. I actually decided to stop following her, because I don’t think this brand of marketing is good for women or for climbing. The commentators are right that using looks to sell products is nothing new, and I would add that neither is the practice of valuing female looks over achievement. I have heard plenty of my male climber friends that talk about how hot she is, and in the same conversation, talk about how Alex Puccio has become “too manly looking for them.” It’s disturbing that in the context of discussing Alex Puccio, the fact that she doesn’t fall within their sexual preferences always trumps the topic of her incredible recent achievements in climbing. You mentioned that you can think of one male athlete model, but in climbing, I can’t think of any male corollary to the SBC image. If there were a super, stereotypically hot male climber that showed up in speedos to competitions in the winter and had greater brand recognition than Chris Sharma, I think that the male climbing community would react with plenty of eye rolling. Yet, when women react negatively to the highly marketable SBC image, the response is generally “they’re just jealous.” I think that’s a pretty shallow response to a very legitimate reaction. Whether or not it’s new, I have personally decided not to buy into it or offer my support through the social media channels. I would much rather avert my attention and send some social media love to the more inspiring women, and men, that are actually pushing the boundaries of the sport (like Alex Puccio).

  • TheAmish

    Somewhat paradoxically, SBC doesn’t have looks to be a real model and doesn’t climb well enough to be first rate pro climber so she’s both. But as this article notes, she in fact is neither, she’s a different breed all together: The Climber/Model.

    I have nothing against this fact but basic skinny American blonde girl looks are really not that interesting not compelling, and that is about all that is on the offer here. Yes, SBC is a social media darling but let’s look at this a bit closer.

    Unfortunately, when we do, we see that SBC has never added anything of value (in the way of writing, observations, etc.) in her social media output and all the content has been some combination of vapid, trite, and platitudinous. To do otherwise appears to be beyond her skill set, or at least she doesn’t care to put in the requisite effort to contribute in such a fashion

    So, all that is left of any value of this her media contribution is visual. And really, is anyone really interested in seeing yet another photo of a skinny blonde climber chick in goofy Roxy hotpants aping somewhat desperately for the selfie stick?

    Now . . . where can I get some of those rad ClimbX shoes?

    • Adam Clay

      So… now that she has sent V10 how stupid do you now realise your comments were?

  • Howie Schwartz

    Fun topic Andrew, and well presented. I think I get where you are coming from and I feel the same way. But to look at objectively, it’s never been an either/or question- model or athlete. Being both is key for any climber to become financially successful through climbing. It probably even helps success to some degree in modeling. That’s the world we live in. Something likable can translate into dollars with the right marketing touch. Nobody is wrong about what they like or dislike. Nobody can argue against that freedom. We can judge, but I am not sure what is more shallow, liking someone for how hard they climb or liking someone for how good they look. Let’s face it, 200,000 likes on Facebook is a better measure of mass like-ability than ticks. So good for her. She is playing the game and winning. When her vibrance of youth fades, will her climbing abilities or other personal skills and attributes rise enough to make up the desired difference? I think that is a question we all face as we get older to some degree. There is some natural incentive to add substance to who we are over time. Which is good because it takes a long time to get it, longer than social media and internet marketing sensations would lead us to believe.

  • I think overall, Sierra is helping to push climbing, as an industry forward regardless of her talent level. If she profits off the upswing while simultaneously bringing more awareness to the sport – more people will become engaged in climbing and learn the limits that the best athletes in our sport and industry are pushing. At the end of the day – the Dawn Wall (true outdoor athletic feats) along with pretty faces like Sierra are both needed to make a sport cool. Some people will hate the change but then again some people are just bitter in general.

    As a whole – go Sierra for being a pretty face that introduces the masses (or at least more people) to something we have all come to love… climbing.

  • Elison

    Great article! The truth is that I also follow her on Facebook. But I always thought – she has to be one of the best climebers in the world (she´s got pictures with Chris Sharma, photos of international competicions..). But I never thought that the biggest point of success is her smile and figure. Of course I recognize she´s great climber, but now I realise there are hundreds of amazing female climbers in the world! Thanks for opening the eyes

  • Katharina Kestler


  • Michael Lee Moore

    Short answer to AB’s question: Anna Kournikova. Never a major tennis talent, but like SBC, very pretty. Current net worth: $50 million

  • jnazim

    Great article, eloquently bringing up all the awkward things the climbing community has felt about the climber-model phenomenon without being a hater.

    personnally, i was inspired to do the same and get on the band-wagon. I cant beat them, so i will join them. Here’s my first foray into climbing-modelling. please like such that i get many likes and much bling:

  • Alex Quitiquit

    Andrew – I would’ve expected more from you – as a long time reader of TNB – I’ve always appreciated your pieces and your voice, and at times taking them with a grain of salt. But there seems to be something wrong here.

    Criticism comes in all flavors, but misunderstanding may be your shortfall here. Lumping one person’s story in with another seems to me to be not only disturbing but also lazy. Sierra Quitiquit doesn’t deserve that. Do yourself a favor and rewatch the “How Did I Get Here” trailer again… and let me narrate something for you. And I have no problem sharing all of this with you because most of this is featured in the film.

    The beautiful woman you see in the hospital bed is my mother. At a young age of 27 she was diagnosed with a brain arteriovenous malformation – in short, her brain has a massive clot – if it bleeds there is a very small chance at survival and an even smaller chance at a successful life if she does survive. She has relapsed 3 times. The first time being at 27 when we 4 siblings were all infants living at my grandparent’s house. The second occurred when my brother passed away from an automobile accident at the age of 16. And her 3rd occurrence happened recently during our family’s fight for cleaning up my other brother’s fight against addiction. She survived every occurrence and was there, at every moment, cheering us on in every endeavor.

    The images of Sierra skiing in the trailer are instances of recreation. Recreations of the actuality in “How Did She Get Here”

    Sierra left home at 16 – without finishing high school – and with little money in her pocket – and flew to Patagonia. After losing our brother, she found in herself the need to leave and calm her soul.

    She stayed in the Frey and surrounding area for 3 months, sleeping in a tent – sharing food and friendships with new people. She was never photographed or filmed, she went to ski. To be in the mountains. This past summer, she chose to take ME back to this place, to show me where she learned to be free and express her passion for skiing and the mountains.

    Sam Thompson, a man who saw nothing of this world but an adventure, who showed my sister pure and undying love, who spent months living with her in Switzerland – to ski – and months in Hood River – to ski – and months in Jackson – to ski – and years showing her what it is to live to express your passion. Sam tragically died in an avalanche while doing what he always dreamed and lived to do. These are the people who she shared her life with, that brought her attitude and expression to where it is – “how did WE get here”

    Sierra never, ever, ever, thought of herself as beautiful or “model-like” until our Mom decided to sign her up for American’s Next Top Model – because firs of, my Mom loved the show, and secondly because she believed more in Sierra than Sierra did. She qualified but never made it past the first round because of her inability to fit the mold – and her carefree attitude.

    She found odd jobs modeling here and there to pay for her habit and passion – to ski. She also found odd jobs waiting tables, and cooking, in Alaska where she lived by herself in a tiny shed sleeping in a hammock. Why? Because she wanted to ski.

    Sierra didn’t go to college. Didn’t have time for it – why? Because she was too busy chasing whatever dream she had – which involved being closer to the mountains.

    Started skiing more and more with those who could keep up and those who were willing to, on a shoe string, hop in her (almost broken and junky) Subaru and drive to Oregon to tag the summit of Mt. Hood on the anniversary of my brother’s passing. Some of those she went out with had a camera. Some of them wanted to share HER story.

    She continued modeling as a way to pay the bills – here’s something I know you do know – but most pro ski athletes don’t make that much money – so how does one eat? By doing what she and her family encouraged her to do, and connect with brands who shared her passion and shoot photos with them.

    I could carry on but I’ll leave the rest for you to watch or interpret in the film. I only wanted to share as I am completely and utterly baffled at why you chose to throw in Sierra Q.

    Please do not be so quick to judge. Or, more appropriate, pigeonhole someone because of the opinions you have created for someone else, and then loosely classify them. Sierra never asked to be where she is – hence the reason to tell her story – she ended up there because she never stopped following what her passion was.

    Spend more time in the mountains, man. Writing this type of stuff isn’t fair. For Sierra Blair-Coyle included. I wish I had the time to pick apart the pieces of someone else’s life who I don’t quite know well enough. But I’m too busy being in a place where I don’t feel the need to judge – as the mountains don’t care who I am or what I am there for. I’m too busy doing what Sierra inspired me, and what I know to be thousands of other to do, and that’s LIVE.

  • AdrianTregoning

    First off Nalle Hukkataival, 10 out of 10 points for writing this article. You’ve hit several nails on the head and surely spotlighted many different sportsladies (and men) under the same umbrella. What you’ve highlighted is almost what I refer to as the decline of peoples’ morals as we know it. No longer do we look up to the Mike Horn’s who undertake serious missions alone and conquer their own minds. Instead we seem to be fixated on photography depicting moments of “awesomeness” through selfies, and yes as you said the pretty face and good body ticks the box these days. Facts and accomplishment seem not to feature in this moment that we live in where instant gratification and instant cool or not, is the name of the game.

    It’s not long lasting. The looks fade, the realisation kicks in eventually. For sure being on the end of busting your balls trying for sponsors and watching lesser people get the bucks is frustrating. As a previously sponsored kayaker I have a few thoughts. I was never a great paddler, nor did I pretend to be. I also never had intentions of doing it full time as I’m a mechanical engineer but I wormed my way into getting all my boats and gear and paddles for free which worked out nicely. I made myself known through my website and perhaps a “weekend warriors hero” just to provide motivation to get out there and have a good time. I took good photos, which was probably also a draw card. 7 sponsors for 6 years, I learnt a lot about the game. Social media didn’t play much of a role as I was inactive on Facebook in the early times and Twitter I didn’t do much on either.

    My point is that it is up to you to make it happen. Don’t worry about the others, nor the haters. And there will be many, remember no one ever kicks a dead dog.

    To answer the question of the answer: model, with some climbing. The popularity comes from the looks and that’s the same as Jeb’s ex, Roberta Mancino. Same thing mate.

    Keep on climbing, keep on having fun and doing your own missions,

  • Lindsay Powers

    I think this author is caught up in a spiral of cognitive dissonance of his own misogyny. Its just celebrity and its nothing new. We teach girls if they’re hot they don’t need to be the best at anything else. And this will continue to be perpetuated as long ad you keep following her “cause she’s hot”. I mean “what is she?”?! You’re blatantly objecyifying her, following her cause she’s hot, and asking everyone else what’s this whole “athlete model” thing is about?!

  • michael_lowry

    Thanks for the thoughtful and timely post.

    There’s ability, and then there’s marketability. The two are only loosely connected.

    I see the same thing in lots of professions. Many people make a career out of something even though they’re not the best at what they do, and many very talented & hard working people struggle to make ends meet.

    I guess it’s partly luck: how you look, what innate skills you have, where you live, who your friends are, et cetera. Some are obviously just more fortunate than others. But success is also surely dependent on how willing you are to do what’s necessary to thrive. Sometimes people make the conscious decision to adhere to a purist view of their field of endeavor, even if this means forgoing opportunities for promotion and commerce.

  • Adam

    How’s the rant looking now?

    Sixth ranked after qualifiers in World Cup Haiyang, has finished higher than Jule Wurm at another comp.

    Maybe a follow up article on not judging a (female) book by its (social media, outdoor, clothing choices – ugh) cover is in order?

  • Paullim

    Given that SBC has just placed 6th in the USA Bouldering National Championships this past weekend (Kai Lightner being 6th on the Men’s side), I’d like to see Bisharat eat humble pie with his dismissive statements; the kid is just trying to make a living like everyone else, so she can climb. Unfortunately this feeds into the whole other discussion going on about how sexist Bisharat is.

    • Did we really watch the same event? It’s cool she got to sixth place, but I’m not sure if she got more than a move or two off the ground on any of the finals problems … Clearly was a bit out of her league, or just having a bad climbing day (or a really good one? I dunno). Either way, this event, which took place more than a year after I wrote this story, has nothing at all to do with this article, which is about social media and how we are confusing image and substance …

  • Gabriella McDonald

    Seeing as SBC now outranks Puccio on the world rankings I think this article is irrelevant and fucking cruel.

    • Hasn’t Puccio been injured for the past year/years?

      • Gabriella McDonald

        Yes, but you have to look at the world rankings. SBC has beaten a lot of strong women from JPN, SLO & GER. You really can’t deny the lady has been training her arse off to improve. Furthermore, I was amazed to see her kick arse at the USA Nationals last year. Beating women I thought would outperform her. e.g. Nina Williams. Okay so she didn’t top anything. Meagan Martin topped 1 of 4 problems placing 5th. As far as I have gathered both weren’t injured.

        It would seem as a female you can’t be beyond a reasonable level of attractiveness and a high performing athlete. Do we confusing image and substance? Hardly. Success doesn’t occur because one is only highly skilled. Her success required the use and acquisition of a number of skills. From her ever increasing capability as a boulderer to her ability to get the word out about her existence. Her success happened by intention, not by circumstance. Image doesn’t mean illusion and substance doesn’t mean success. As an athlete her substance has been combined with a public image created through social media marketing. The amount of women I’ve seen get into bouldering as a result (directly or indirectly) from her social media status is astounding.

        Though the article was written in 2015, I think she has ‘proved’ herself. I’m not calling it sexist, just extremely critical. And to what ends? If anything, criticisms such as yours will only continue to fuel her journey as an athlete.

        • Great comment. Thank you. It’s awesome to hear SBC is doing so well in the comp scene. I sincerely hope she wins them all

          • Adam Clay

            She doesn’t have to win to be an athlete.

            SBC currently fills all of the normal criteria for athlete status. Adding arbitrary rules of exclusion – especially to women – that includes their looks and profession, activity on social media is misguided and outdated.

            I love this comment from Gabriella.

    • Did you just wait two years for the rankings to change so you could post this comment?

      • Gabriella McDonald

        HA. No. I was browsing evening sends for inspiration and stumbled upon this.