Who is Sierra Blair-Coyle
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?

Are Eric Pollard or Jamie Lynn questioned as to their authenticity because they draw and paint in addition to their exploits in the winter sports arena?

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.

3 thoughts on “WHO is Sierra Blair-Coyle? THAT is the Question.

  1. Thanks Scott for the post and comment. This issue is close to me as I have been dealing with it since the beginning. I spend most of my time out in the wilderness but also does well in the city. I photograph and connect with wildlife yet I am pro-hunting/fishing. I am totally for conservation but most of the time at odds with their logic and rational. My views are never just black and white, but grey – always looking for the perspective. Countless of times I deal with the comment: “I just don’t know where to put you”

    The public’s default position is to categorize everything – what kind of food, what kind of movie, etc. And with each come stereotypes – the typical climber, ski bum, surfer, etc. But today, so many of us are impossible to simply confine into a box.

    Our ability to maneuver within several circles is a double edge sword, a blessing and a curse. It certainly helps opening doors but it can and often closes others.

    It is sad that the credibility of many is questioned because of their ability to forge new paths and connect several communities. It is certainly not something to cry over but definitely a reality that we have to deal with.

  2. DB, thanks so much for your comment! I totally agree that it’s a stretch to put Jimmy and Sierra in the same realm, in fact, it’s absurd; but it’s to illustrate the point that it’s only the combo of beauty and athleticism that rubs people the wrong way, while it’s totally fine to mix art and athleticism. Further, who’s to say what Sierra might accomplish by the time she’s Jimmy’s age?

    It seems to me that people have the unrealistic expectation that the only valid route to notoriety is by becoming the absolute master of a craft. From boy bands to politicians, it’s been proven over and over that looking good and putting yourself out there sometimes does the trick just as well. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s hard-wired into the human condition.

    What I find strange is that people even think that she’s trying to play in the same ballpark as the elite climbers of the world. Anyone who knows anything about climbing, knows instantly that she’s not at the top of the game from a climbing ability standpoint. She’s just at the top of the game from a visibility standpoint. It’s a different game.

    There are plenty of truly elite athletes out there, and they’re not hard to find. For those who don’t dig how Sierra approaches her career, or who find her unworthy, the unfollow button is one click away. But, beyond that move, I’d propose that instead of wasting calories on calling her out as a fraud, that the same energy be put into supporting and promoting the heroes that meet whatever criteria each person holds most sacred.

    My belief about the world in general is that it’s not a zero-sum game. Sierra’s success doesn’t negate the potential success of another less blonde but more elite climber. The world’s a big place with a million routes to the top, however you might define it.

  3. Ok, here’s the counterpoint…

    I think the reason people get all up in arms about SBC is because of what I call “Prom Queen” syndrome. People feel it is unfair that she is the recipient of endless popularity and love based on what more or less amounts to her pretty smile, and that elicits all kinds of intense reactions from all kinds of people ranging from heated jealousy to adoring fanfare. I can’t count the times i’ve heard people something along the lines of “but who cares, she’s hot!”.

    The fact is, SBC is certainly a decent climber in the realm of weekend warriors and junior competitors, but honestly one V9 and (possibly?) 5.13a is not even remotely notable these days. On that fact, it’s not her climbing ability that has cast her into the limelight, but her looks – and that bothers a lot of people.

    To be honest, the Jimmy Chin comparison isn’t really valid here… Jimmy has an incredible story of humble beginnings, huge adventures, and incredible achievements. His photography is a notable achievement on it’s own, forget everything else he’s done in his life. On the flipside, the story of SBC is mostly genetics and wealthy parent – which conversely are not an achievement, they are purely luck of the draw. There is somewhat of an unspoken, ethical consensus among a lot of climbers is that good looks, wealthy parents and millions of adoring fans on instagram are not something one should aspire to, but rather the humble pursuit of the sport for it’s purity alone.

    At the end of the day, I think what people are really annoyed with in regards to SBC is that somehow a girl who climbs at a relatively mediocre level has essentially become the Kim Kardashian of climbing – an icon that represents all the worst of the sport, and little of the best.

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