I sat down to read a blog article earlier today called ‘Athlete or Model: What is Sierra Blair-Coyle?’. When I read the headline I was curious, even totally on board, but after reflecting a bit, I’m calling bullshit.
If you don’t know anything about Sierra, give the post above a quick read. It’s got all the background you’ll need. Long story short, she’s one of the higher profile climbers in the world right now because she is very visible online and, to quote the author of the post, “She’s totally hot”.
I follow Sierra on Instagram, and can understand the curiosity of the author, I’ve found myself wondering whether she’s a legit climber or just a pretty face with a talent for sharing in the digital age. Then a single sentence in the article put everything in perspective for me.
“What is Sierra Blair-Coyle? I wondered…I don’t mean who is she; I mean what.”
Wait…What? Really, we have to decide what single-word label we can use on her because she crosses genres? It’s not good enough to be a human being who likes climbing and modeling, and college and competition and social media and probably a number of other things that aren’t as easy to list? In other words, it’s not good enough to be a ‘Who’? The important question is now, ‘What?’
All I have to say about that is, Why?
Put your ear to the ground and you’ll find yourself privy to a number of athletes who have their legitimacy questioned on a daily basis because they also utilize their god-given good looks in developing their respective career paths.
Here’s my problem with singling these people out. It’s prejudiced, it’s generally sexist, and it supposes that a person must be simple enough to digest that we will know in a glance or with a label what to make of them.
I’ve had the pleasure of building relationships with a great number of professional athletes in my path as an athlete and photographer. You know which folks I have trouble enjoying? The singularly driven, laser focused pure athlete types who eat, sleep, live and breathe their particular sport. On the whole I find these people to be surprisingly uninteresting. Every single sentence is blah, blah, blah, skiing or climbing or bass-fishing.
There is a different style of living that I find far more harmonious with my way of thinking. I’m captivated by the athlete/musician, the athlete/filmmaker, the athlete/writer, the athlete/traveler, the athlete/philosopher, the athlete/student, the athlete/doctor, the athlete/accountant, and, yes, the athlete/model. Ask them about their motivations, their favorite place, their background, then sit back and prepare to be amazed.
But this goes beyond the fact that easily labeled people are less engaging. I’m calling into question the fact that the athlete/models in particular get shunned.
Does anyone ask if Jimmy Chin is the real deal because he’s a photographer and director in addition to being an amazing climber and skier?
Shall we assume that Steve House probably doesn’t really bring it in the mountains because he writes books that are worth reading?
And you, Jack Johnson, what were you thinking by surfing professionally while also developing as a musician? Bad move, bud.
Absurd, no? But the second that the good looks card gets played, all credibility goes down the drain. And it’s really only the grumpy athlete community that sees a problem with these people. As a fellow photographer, I’m certainly not calling Jimmy Chin to ask him if he’s ever going to stop tinkering with alpinism so that he can focus on being a legitimate photographer. I bet the people that Sierra meets in the modeling world have no problem with her also spending time as an elite climber. Being multi-faceted shouldn’t undermine someone’s credibility, it should compound it.
One of the greatest advantages of living in this time and place is there is more opportunity than ever before to forge one’s own path. The new tools and lines of communication have allowed innumerable people to become known, and to make a living by doing exactly what comes naturally to them. I know because I’m one of these people. I’m not just a photographer, I also like to think of myself as an athlete, a writer, a traveler, and a lousy but enthusiastic guitar player. This combination of interests has given me the ability to build a business based on a unique vision of the world; a vision that would not be remotely as rich if I were to limit myself to a singular creative or physical outlet.
To the grumpy athletes of the world. Get off your high horse. So what if you’re a better climber than Sierra, yet she gets paid to endorse climbing lifestyle brands? All it means is that she’s a better fit for that gig than you are. Find your own gig. There are a lot of ways to be a professional, and looking good and having fun while doing it is a totally viable approach. Be the best, be the smartest, be the most likable, the most organized, the most communicative, or even the most beautiful, it doesn’t matter. Just do your thing, and for the love of god, stop judging other people for doing theirs.