Yesterday I wasn’t the only Dude wearing skin-tight leggings in the Bishop Buttermilks. As silly a sight as a grown man dressed for the winter Olympics might look in the desert, a few friends pointed out that there were a pair of other fellows sporting some form of Fluorescent, animal print Lycra tights.
However my tights were different. They were not made of cheap Lycra, nor ordered off eBay from a Brazilian importer to be brought out on crowded gatherings as a goof.
They are my battle tights.
The internet is invaluable for the transfer of information, and as everyone and anyone with an idea shovels their sluice into the fire a crucible of experimentation allows the best practices to rise to the top. Want to know the best way to Squat? Type it into YouTube and watch a world champion explain it to you. The best omelette, the fastest mouse, even the ‘best diets’ are getting digested by the Cross-fit crowd, too extreme to allow preconceptions or ego cloud judgement. We found out that Gluten sucks, Kale rocks and while those skinny jeans might be all the rage in downtown social circles those of us with meat on our legs won’t be throwing heel hooks in them any time soon.
I own some skinny jeans (or regular fit, perhaps, as I have thunder thighs) that I quite enjoy, and even tried climbing in them – once. I was on a family vacation in Yosemite, and during the wee hours of the warm evenings mid-summer I would escape to boulder in the talus tucked behind the Hotel. One particular route I was being bouted on was the Awahnee Arete, and the high-step first move shut me down. At least, in my snug Billabong jeans I wasn’t making progress on that particular highball. Frustrated and alone in the dark, I ditched my pants all together and hiked the route the next try, trembling on the tiny edges moving up and away from the landing zone my crash pad protected. Perhaps the sight of a short hairy dude climbing house sized boulders in his underpants wasn’t my proudest moments, but the send was, and put a nail in the coffin of conversation about aesthetic vs athletic apparel.
It’s no secret that a climbing gym can be as much as a singles bar as a consolation prize for actual rock climbing. Having been out of the fashion loop for some time now I appreciate being able to roll into Vital Climbing Gym on a Tuesday evening and see what styles are the rage this season. Scarves seem especially popular in my demographic.
12 years of climbing has told me that you aren’t getting laid in a gym, especially if you are a chunky trad climber sweating in canvas pants he used earlier that day to paint his garage in, and there’s never been a misconception about why I’m indoors on plastic holds instead of watching Firefly reruns at home.
In High School a loophole in the Title IX clause that mandated an equal number of female-to-male sports allowed me to train off-season with the female Volleyball team. Sure, I was 5’7″ on a good day and had the vertical jump of a Corgi, but dammit I really liked Volleyball and there wasn’t a balanced number of sports between the genders. I understand from those humble days learning to dive on hard gym floors that boys and girls really aren’t that different, that if you liked something you should probably just do it. I never jumped on the Spandex bandwagon, but I guess I was lucky to figure out that it didn’t matter if you looked stupid so long as you were having fun.
For some reason, ladies got us again and it ain’t an equal playing field. Just like High School sports and title IX, women have a wider breadth of fashion that can be socially acceptable to wear to the gym or crag, and I’m here to show up in Spandex and show the boys how to get served.
One winter season I had it in my head that cold, cold running was the thing to do. I’d seen some promotional material from Mountain Hardwear about this new fabric they are making into 3/4 leggings and full tights, that insulates yet wicks sweat. I ordered a pair through Nomad Ventures and was immediately hooked, running long days in the mountains over snow and hard rocky trail without a hint of a chilly thigh. After a few trips to Joshua Tree that season I realized that jamming legs into flared cracks and hooking heels around arete’s was increasingly more annoying, all the while I’d been increasingly grown accustomed to unfettered movement in my Battle Tights.
On a few trips, with a sole climbing partner, I brought the tights to Joshua Tree and Tahquitz. Of course, I hiked with them in my pack to the base as to avoid weird looks on the trail, but quickly found out their benefits far outweighed the social price of allowing the world intimate knowledge of the dimensions of my bottom half.
Back to the Buttermilks. The other gentlemen parading shit-eating grins across the Peabodies are not legging-kinsmen, and I was quick to point this out. For many dudes who find themselves in flashy spandex on Halloween on Intersection Rock or back at camp posing for Instagram photos, they can only wear those glorious, unobtrusive sleeves of stretchy wonder IF they can be sure that people understand it is a goof – that it is something so foreign to their masculinity (which magically remains intact) that it is a joke.
Well it’s not a joke and leggings are fucking AWESOME. If being secure in your sexuality allows you to interpret a same-sex individual hitting on you as a compliment rather than an act of aggression, the same logic can be applied to Body Image. Ladies wear shorts, jeans (both loose-and-snug), leggings, yoga pants, ANYTHING they want – and that’s the way it should be. Ass flatter than a pancake? Who cares, it’s rock climbing!
Boys, it’s time to stop shaming ourselves.
Embrace the tights.
All comfort, no shame.