Community Poll: Skins vs Shirts — Equality in Indoor Climbing

The thoughts or ideas expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Moja Gear. We do, however, support a platform for freedom of expression and open discussion within the climbing community.


bouldering shirtless
Shirtlessness … should it be allowed for men at the gym? Photo: Blockhelden

Editor’s note: Please add your input in the 1-question poll at the bottom of this post. Results can be viewed upon submission.

Skins vs Shirts … it’s how we used to solve the problem of not having bibs when playing football (soccer) as children. Put simply, one team remains with their tops on; the Shirts, while the others donate their upper garments to form goalposts and as such to form the Skins team.

One problem we never came across was a girl playing.

Presumably, they would have joined the Shirts, along with any males who didn’t feel comfortable going topless. I can vouch that this scenario is a common discomfort among young males …

I know I’m not alone in saying that men climbing topless is not acceptable.

Modern society is more gender equal than ever, so why should we let it stop at the door of climbing gyms?

Current societal norms dictate that it would be unacceptable for a woman to climb topless, so why should a male have that privilege? It’s really not a matter of “but I get too hot, why can’t I be topless?” … it’s a matter of equality. Males and females are not, by definition, biologically the same but the point is that all genders should be treated the same.

Take a look at other sports, triathlon for instance; all competitors are required to keep their tri-suit done up so as not to show their bare chest at any point during the race. Easy, simple. Men cannot undo the zips on their suits, neither can the women. They play on a level field.

Why is climbing lagging behind?

2020 will see climbing in the Olympics, which will carry its own nudity rules, so why can’t this trickle down into the Corinthian spirit of indoor climbing gyms?

Anyone who claims they need their top off because they are climbing at the top of their game and pushing their limits need only look up. For example, the IFSC Boulder World Cup: both genders are wearing tops and I’m sure the case will be the same in Tokyo. Surely these climbers are at the top of their game and indeed the game as a whole. They seem to perform just fine with their tops on.

While writing this article I considered the implications of the all-gender ‘shirts on’ rule at a climbing gym for a breastfeeding mother. Clearly, this should not be classed under the same implication since it is nearly always contextually appropriate for a mother to feed her child naturally. Is the context always appropriate for a male to bare his torso?

No. In a public climbing gym where others have a right to be treated equally, it is not appropriate to allow males to do so but not females.

Climbing outside is another matter. Outside you are free to do as you please so long as it remains legal (keep in mind causing offense to others can fall short of the law …). So, as a matter of respect for the equality that should prevail in society, and until such time that a bare female torso would not cause controversy in a climbing gym (at which point I guess society can choose whether to be Skins or Shirts) let’s all keep our tops on please.

What do you think?


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  • Andrew Riley

    So many questions, (1) What about outside at the crag? Is that considered private or public? (2) If men can’t go topless, can they wear sports bras then?, or the inverse should women stop wearing sports bras because it’s not culturally acceptable for men to wear them? (also same argument for wearing makeup, nail polish, or any other visual marker that society says is okay for one gender but not another). (3) Would a better approach be to give women the freedom to go topless thereby giving both genders the “privilege” rather than restricting both genders? Just some thoughts, and I’m not sure I buy into the idea that to be equal men and women have to look exactly the same. I think the determining factor for me would be if a large number of women believed that this was indeed a privilege that they were missing out on: If that’s the case, I’m all for the shirtless ban. But I also know enough about research, to know that a one-question poll after a highly opinionated article, is not enough to establish that consensus.

  • Rob

    Why not just follow the local laws and allow being topless for both sexes wherever it is legal? Most states allow both women and men to be topless in public as can be seen here: http://gotopless.org/topless-laws
    Some cities or counties have their own laws though. I personally do not choose to be topless, but I think it should be the individual’s choice.

  • Ms M

    no offense to the author, but this is the LEAST of the problems in the world @ this point….so, yeah

    • Jersey Geneticist

      Ms M, I have to disagree with you. For one, if authors ignored the “lesser” problems our reading would be rather monotonous.

      More importantly, this article is underpinning a larger problem in the world. One of those big problems your post is alluding to. That’s the unequal and secondary treatment of women in society. Making lopsided laws and norms that affect women more than men stretches from unequal pay to reproductive rights. The topless issue is just a mirror of those greater inequities in the microcosm of our climbing community.

  • Jersey Geneticist

    Before saying anything else, could you change how the poll question is asked?

    “No one—male or female—should be allowed to climb topless at a public climbing gym.”

    It just doesn’t seem to be in the same spirit as the rest of the article. It would be more relevant to ask, “If a woman cannot climb topless in a gym, neither should men.” I don’t necessarily think that no one should be able to, but it’s the only choice you are given and isn’t as pertinent to the body of the article.

    Gender equality is exactly why I never climb shirtless at a gym or at the crag, even in cities where toplessness is legal (like NYC). Until our politics and societal norms grow up a bit and we all get more mature about breasts/nipples I’ll be climbing with my shirt on. Why my (male) nipples are acceptable in public and not my female counterparts’ is antiquated and stigmatizing.

  • Jake Kruse

    Thank Satan we have the internet these days to address and debate such burning topics… How else would I know how to behave when heading out for a sesh at my local climbing gym? Truly a wonderful modern era we live in! Keep it up MOJA doggs.