Change The Algorithm

When you follow THICC Climbing, you'll quickly start to notice that "changing the algorithm" is something we talk about often. We reached out to two of our ambassadors to get their take on what changing the algorithm means to them.

Why Is Changing The Algorithm Important?

By Lillian Peterson

When I first started bouldering, I did what most people do when they discover a new interest: I looked it up on Instagram. I wanted to know how many other people were bouldering, how many of them were new to it like I was, and whether any experienced accounts were dropping tips and tricks in their posts. What kinds of shoes were they wearing? What kind of gear did they have? How did they figure out the beta? What does beta even mean?

Instead of finding anything helpful, I became completely overwhelmed. Not a single boulderer looked like me! All of them were lean and strong with upper back muscles I couldn’t even dream of. Suddenly, this activity that I was already participating in and enjoying seemed impossible for someone like me.

I know this situation resonates with most of you reading this, because we’ve all felt excluded at some point in our lives. We’ve all felt like we weren’t good enough, or strong enough, or *something* enough for *something*. Some of us are brave enough to forge ahead under those circumstances, but most of us crave representation and inclusivity in order to find that courage. We need to see accomplishments by someone who looks like us before we can fully believe in ourselves.

The good news is, I eventually did find those people! My barrier to confidence in climbing is my big body, so when I saw Instagram accounts of climbers with big bodies, I started believing I could advance past a beginner level. I started trying harder and achieving a lot more! What if everyone could find representation in their chosen activity? And what if they could find it a lot more easily and quickly than I did?

That’s what THICC Climbing aims to do when we talk about changing the algorithm.

The algorithm in social media is the code that decides what we see. It decides which accounts we come across and which content is the most relevant. It gets its information from the people who have gone before us, which means we can change it for the people who come after us.

Why is this important? Because the algorithm, this tool that is meant to work for us, is actually shepherding us into an echo chamber that we never asked to be a part of. Think about it—as a person totally new to climbing, I had no idea what that world was going to look like. The content I found was everything I knew, so to my knowledge, big climbers didn’t exist. I didn’t necessarily know to ask the question, “But is there more than this?”

Let’s change the algorithm together. Let’s pave the way for the next fat climber, the next Black climber, the next LGBTQ+ climber, the next autistic climber, the next paraclimber, the next depressed climber, the next climber of color. Let’s shepherd them into an echo chamber that says, “You belong here, you can achieve awesome things in climbing!” Let’s make it simple for them to find inclusivity and representation in our amazing sport.

Join us, won’t you?

-Lillian Peterson, THICC Climbing Ambassador

“The social media algorithm is a formula that sorts the information/content that you see based on relevancy.” - THICC Climbing

The Future Of The Climbing Community

By Shae Dornan

What does it mean to change the algorithm and what does this have to do with climbing? If you’re familiar with climbing in the mainstream, then you probably already have the mental image of what that looks like to you. I’d probably guess it looks like pro-athletes, usually white, and built like Greek gods. There are many underrepresented people within the climbing community: Minorities and people of color, paraclimbers, those with different body types from the typical “climber” physique, and also those who aren’t climbing pro level grades. For this piece, I’m going to pull from my personal experience and focus on those who don’t fit the climbing physique and who don’t climb pro level grades.

I know that the reason why the people we see climbing V8 or 5.15 are built like Greek gods. I get it. I don’t want to take anything away from the incredibly talented athletes who work so incredibly hard to climb the way they do and get the exposure that they get. That is not what I’m about. Changing the algorithm to me, is simply about giving exposure to other climbers who don’t necessarily fit that profile, but who deserve it just as much.

One of these underrepresented groups within the climbing community are those who’s bodies don’t fit the pro-climber standard. I’m a curvy gal myself, but like I previously wrote, I’ve been a part of the climbing community for a while now, more than half my life in fact. Does the fact that I don’t look like Emily Harrington (she’s a total badass) make me any less of a climber? I know many curvy climbers who are crushing big walls in Yosemite, and tough boulders in Joshua Tree. They’re certainly climbers. Why is it then that we don’t see them represented on social media as much? When I worked at a climbing gym, I was always a little worried that people wouldn’t view me as a “serious” climber, or that they wouldn’t consider me a “climber” at all because of the way I looked. I’m sure it wasn’t true for most people that I met, and that it was just my own insecurity seeping through, but not always. I certainly met people who didn’t take me seriously as a climber. If people who looked like me were better represented in the mainstream, we might be able to get rid of that assumption in many people. It won’t change everyone’s perception of what a climber is suppose to look like, but it certainly won’t hurt. Time to start showing people that there are climbers who can look different to the pros you see every day.

Another underrepresented group are the climbers who don’t crush pro level grades. I am DEFINITELY one of them. I max out at about 5.10b outdoors, and I’m more than okay with that. Most climbers I know can’t actually climb higher than 5.11 outside, but they’re still climbers aren’t they? There are a lot of amazing climbers out there doing great things for the climbing community, but you still don’t see them crushing their 5.9 project on the cover of a climbing magazine, or splashed across various social media accounts. I recently read an article in a climbing magazine about great 5.6 multi-pitch climbs, which is a great first step. It shows that we’re finally giving some attention to climbers who aren’t professionals. Climbing should be about more than the grade. We should still celebrate the achievement of climbing incredibly difficult grades, for it is no small feat, but we should also be representing and celebrating more of the climbing community on social media. In the same way that I was insecure about my body type while working at a climbing gym, I was also insecure about my skill level. I was always afraid that I would be seen as a fraud because I couldn’t climb higher than a 5.10c indoors; that someone would step in and revoke my right to call myself a climber. That is obviously ridiculous. Even though I can’t send high level grades, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to set up bomb-proof gear, rappel, or belay safely. It doesn’t make me any less of a climber. I once met someone at the crag who offered to join me in climbing a 5.9 multi-pitch climb when my friend got too fatigued to attempt. After talking to him, it became clear that he was WAY more skilled than I was and could climb WAY harder. I joking brought that up, and he said, “Hey if climbing a 5.9 is hard for you, then you’re climbing hard. You climb hard.” That perfectly encompasses my point. Grades aren’t what makes you a climber. Your love for the sport of climbing is what makes you a climber. Time to start reminding the community of that.

What makes us all climbers? Regardless of our body type and what grades we climb, there is one thing we all have in common. WE LOVE CLIMBING. We would rather climb over almost anything else. From pros like Alex Honnold to your buddy who just climbed his first outdoor route, we’re all climbers and we’re all a part of the climbing community. You can meet someone all the way across the world, and if they climb then you know that they understand you in a way that almost none of your non-climbing friends do. It’s a special thing that binds us together, regardless of size or skill level. How can we as the climbing community do a better job of exemplifying that? It starts with you, the reader. Follow more climbers. Follow your friendly neighborhood curvy climber and share their content. Follow climbers regardless of grade and share their content. Write articles like this one! Share your personal experiences! Join and support amazing groups like THICC Climbing.

-Shae Dornan, THICC Climbing Ambassador