Confessions of a Spray Queen

so much spray. photo by Walker Emerson @smashits

Recently I received a very long, very angry Facebook message. Part of the message was in the form of a list. The list contained links to the Instagram accounts of several female climbers.

What the hell is this? I wondered.

After reading more, I came to realize that this was a list of the names of female climbers who, according to the sender of the message, do not deserve their sponsorship.

I know many of the women on the list. In fact, in my own head, I already had a name for them — the Spray Queens. A Spray Queen is someone who posts often on social media about their rock climbing accomplishments, dreams, failures, plans, and trips. Some of them also receive sponsorship from climbing companies. This was a term that I started calling myself when people poked fun at me for posting a lot on social media. To call myself or these women “Spray Queen” isn’t derogatory or disrespectful (although, I would never say that to them because just because I find it empowering doesn’t mean they will). It is just my silly little way of taking the otherwise negative and narcissistic meaning of “spray” and redefining it as something positive. I wanted to do this because despite how shamed and made fun of “spraying” is in rock climbing, I often find great value, power, and inspiration in social media posts.

As I finished reading the message, I came to understand that this message represented a larger topic that has come up in the climbing community — sponsorship. More specifically, who deserves sponsorship and why.

Their opinion echoed one side of the argument — that climbers who don’t climb at a certain level don’t deserve sponsorship. This opinion is also, so far, the only side of the argument that has been supported or written about.

I was kind of waiting for someone else to shed some light on the other side of this, but it hasn’t happened yet (to my knowledge). I think the reason that no one has publicly expressed the other side of this is because:

1. It’s scary to express your opinion when it opposes some of the biggest names in the climbing industry

2. People are really mean on the internet

3. It’s hard to understand the point of view of a Spray Queen when you yourself are not a Spray Queen

and 4. There are only a few of us who actually give enough shits to write about this stuff.

So.

Let me introduce myself.

My name is Georgie. I don’t care if I piss off the cool people. When people are mean on the internet, it makes me sad for approximately .8 seconds but then I see my dog or remember that things like mountains exist and I’m happy again. I am a Spray Queen. And I give a lot of shits about this stuff.

So let’s break this down. Let’s start with the most fucked up parts of this argument and end with the least fucked up, hitting the entire spectrum of fuckedupness along the way. It’ll be fun.

But before we go on this wonderful journey together, let me be clear about one thing — Spray Queens can be any gender (Spray Kings, if you’d rather), but the message I received focused only on female climbers. Some of the other commentary on the subject sort of includes male climbers as well, but not in any direct or concrete kind of way. Bottom line — most of time, when someone is talking about a climber not deserving their sponsorship, they’re talking about a woman. No one writes articles or even gives a damn when a man gets handed free gear just because his bro works at Petzl.

I’ll start with the most damaging and unfortunately common accusation that is brought up in conversations and articles about this subject: Spray Queens over-sexualize themselves in a quest for sponsorship.

Just to be sure, I scrolled through the Spray Queen accounts including my own, looking for pictures of us suggestively licking a .75, groping horns and chicken heads for a liiittle too long, storing our chalk bags in our cleavage, twerking after we sent a project, etc. etc.

But I didn’t see anything like that (okayokay, I have seen all of those situations happen in real life — I have fun friends). But on social media, all I found were pictures of women rock climbing. Yes, they have boobies. Yes, they have asses. Yes, some of them climb in sports bras. Yes, some of them are “hot” according to horseshit societal standards. But none of that is overly sexual. (By the way, what even is “overly” sexual? Why can’t women express their sexuality howeverthefuck they want without it being seen as too little or too much?).

What’s even more surprising is that none of those things are even inherently sexual. We can blame society for sexualizing female bodies, but to accuse these women of over-sexualizing themselves in order to get sponsors when they’re simply going rock climbing wearing their own skin and bones?

Now we’re in a deep, dark corner of fucked up.

That is not okay. And it isn’t true. It’s also not even possible. We can’t take off our tits before we tie in.

The second thing that the Spray Queens are accused of is over-inflating the importance of their accomplishments.

So, I know that if you’re like really really cool, it’s hard to understand how someone could be proud of themselves for sending a 5.9. And even if you’re just sorta cool, it’s like totally impossible to fathom that someone would actually have the audacity to post about their 5.9 on social media (omgomgomg so embarrassing right?). Like, how dare that even show up in your newsfeed.

The thing is, sometimes when people send rock climbs, this strange, unexplainable thing happens — they feel proud of themselves. They feel happy and excited. Yep, even if the climb isn’t graded 5.15c. Weird right?

So when someone posts about how psyched they are to have sent their first 5.13, they are actually well aware that they aren’t the first person to climb at such a grade, nor are they claiming to be the strongest, best, or coolest (that’s you!) rock climber that has ever lived. They are just proud of themselves and want to share the psych. And actually, it’s impossible for someone to “over-inflate” their accomplishments with a social media post unless they are lying about sending something. But just because someone’s picture of their first trad lead gets 200 likes doesn’t mean that the Dawn Wall just got easier.

I know, so crazy.

Thirdly, Spray Queens are accused of being undeserving of sponsorship and recognition.

This is where things get really tricky.

First, let’s define what “sponsorship” really means. None of the Spray Queens on the list I received or that are gossiped about regularly are actually getting money. Most of them are getting things like chalk, protein powder, or a free pairs of shoes. I’m still not sure why some free hand salve has caused this to become such a big deal, but here we are.

As I became more established as a writer and climber in this community, I started receiving free gear from a few different companies. At first I was really psyched. I barely had any money and I was desperately needing new gear. But as time went on, I started to feel embarrassed. I feared that people would judge me, gossip about me, and accuse me of…well, everything brought up in this blog post. I hid the fact that I was getting free gear for a long time on social media and even to my friends. The truth is that I felt like I didn’t deserve it.

I even had an email drafted out to the companies explaining why I couldn’t accept the gear. Before hitting send, I talked to a few trusted friends about this. And pretty much all of them said the same thing:

Georgie. Take the free shit.

After months of trying to decide what to do, I finally realized that the only reason why I wasn’t taking the free stuff was because of one thing and one thing only — fear. But that’s not really how I roll, so I chose to take it, and more importantly, I chose to own it.

I love rock climbing and I love writing about how much I love rock climbing. I love taking pictures. I love telling people about my accomplishments because when I read about other people’s accomplishments it gets me psyched to try hard. I love talking about what it’s like to be climber because if it weren’t for other people’s stories about rock climbing, I wouldn’t be a climber. I love seeing posts about people sending or failing on 5.9 or 5.15. I love hearing about where other folks are traveling to, their projects, their dreams, and their worries.

If someone wants to give me free shit because of that, I’ll take it.

The thing is, social media is really powerful. Companies are smart to sponsor climbers with large social media presences that are good at storytelling.

The climbers who get likes and followers that don’t climb at an elite level are simply people who love rock climbing and have a knack for instilling that in others. That alone is valuable, important, and deserving of everything they receive.

Most of the Spray Queens are even better at creating psych, writing about their experience, and being a nice person than the top climbers in our sport. They are also much easier to relate to than a lot of professional climbers — the Spray Queens often have full time jobs, attend school, have children, and don’t get money to travel the world. Most of them are dirtbagging just like everyone else.

I do think it would be unfair if the only climbers getting sponsorship were the people with a lot of followers. But that just isn’t the case. If you’re climbing at an elite level and report your ascents, you will get sponsored, regardless of your social media savvy.

It’s also cool to see companies choosing to give free gear to someone who doesn’t climb 5.15. It’s a very rebellious, fringe, punk rock way of doing things. And that’s totally in line with the personality of our sport.

Fourth accusation: Spray Queens are a threat to the history, future and progress of our sport.

Ooph. Really?

Just because some v8 climber who kills it on Instagram gets a free crash pad doesn’t mean Adam Ondra is gonna wake up tomorrow and be like meh, fuck it, I’m done.

Just because a girl on Facebook is super psyched on Matthes Crest doesn’t mean that El Cap no longer exists.

Just because someone has 10k followers doesn’t mean that people don’t still live in the dirt in J-tree.

The fact that I receive free gear doesn’t affect who wins Nationals, who sends La Dura Dura, who flashes v14. It doesn’t impact anything.

That brings me to my final point: why the fuck does anyone care about any of this?

Why does it make people so mad to see some random chick getting free shoes?

Here’s a fun game: scroll through your social media feeds and take note of the posts that are annoying to you. Instead of commenting on their picture with a bunch of poop emojis, take a moment to wonder why you find the post so annoying. This is actually a really valuable, because the posts that piss you off are not indicative of some fault of the person who posted. In fact, they reveal something about yourself that still needs to be addressed, let go of, or healed. In other words, the person who posted isn’t making you mad — you’re making you mad. Of course, if someone posts a meme about how horrible of a person you are, that’s (kinda, not entirely) a different story. But getting pissed over a video of someone climbing their first v3, a blog about a climber’s year-long struggle on a 5.12, a selfie of some girl wishing you a happy Sunday…?

That’s your shit, not theirs.

I also looked through the various Spray Queen instagram accounts, searching for posts that would make people understandably angry. But, like the “over-sexualized” posts, I didn’t find any. In fact, all of their posts are incredibly supportive, inclusive, and friendly. I also found helpful beta, cool routes to put on my tick list, new areas I didn’t know about, and cute pants that look like they could hold up in an off width.

Their posts did nothing but get me psyched out of my mind to go rock climbing.

So then what’s the backlash and shaming of Spray Queens really about?

This is about elitism. This is the idea that some climbers are more valid than others. This is an attempt at keeping the hierarchy of cool people in place. This is the notion that some people don’t deserve to have their stories told, listened to, or celebrated.

And when you go this far to debate and degrade the worth of another human being, it’s always, always about ego and fear.

We aren’t mean. We don’t lie. We aren’t negative. We aren’t erasing, threatening, over-inflating or over-sexualizing anything.

We just love rock climbing. And you’re gonna hear about it.

To read more of my work, check out https://georgieabel.wordpress.com.

To make a donation of any amount to my writing (it really helps me out!), click here. I really appreciate all of your support. ❤