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Height of ambition: Sasha DiGiulian on redefining femininity

How do you square traditional images of femininity with a body trained to hang off the edge of soaring rock faces? Champion rock climber Sasha DiGiulian has found a way – and is proud of the chance to share it

S/S ’20 Austin set
S/S ’20 Austin set

Broad shoulders and powerful back muscles – or lats – are not the usual requirements for fitting into an elegant evening dress. And you won’t find calloused, crooked fingers widely featured in women’s beauty magazines. But if you want to reach the top of the rock-climbing world, that is what’s needed.

Champion climber Sasha DiGiulian – who lays claim to all of the above – thinks it’s time to embrace a broader definition of what it means to be a woman. Femininity, she says, means being confident in your own skin. “I’m thankful for what my body enables me to do,” explains the woman who has notched up multiple first ascents and more than 30 first-female ascents for climbs around the world. “If I feel any insecurities about how I look, I just need to remember this gratitude that I have for my body. 

“It takes work, like everything does, to be confident and at ease with myself. But I really believe that there is no one-size-fits-all box for what is feminine, nor for what defines a woman.”

A licence to feel empowered

It’s for this reason that DiGiulian – one of professional climbing’s biggest stars, with more than 450,000 Instagram followers – has backed the Agent Provocateur campaign that celebrates the “unparalleled potential of the female physique” and features four top female competitors wearing the company’s lingerie while carrying out their specialist sport. While DiGiulian admits that climbing a rockface in items from the latest collection felt “almost too exposing” at first, she came to think of it as another step on her journey towards feeling proud of her body.

“Why can’t I feel comfortable showing this sense of pride in myself, step outside my comfort zone and experience this world in which women have the licence to feel empowered to wear what they want doing what they love?” she asks. 

S/S ’20 Florella set
S/S ’20 Florella set

As such, DiGiulian is exactly what Agent Provocateur’s creative director Sarah Shotton had in mind when she selected the four sporting ambassadors for her Play to Win campaign. “We wanted to highlight the athletic body, the beauty and the power of the curve and muscle and the way being physically fit makes you feel empowered and unbelievably sexy,” she says.

Belief in a passion

DiGiulian’s love of climbing started when she was six and first tried the sport at a climbing gym near her family home close to Washington DC. She remembers being really proud of “getting to the top” and of the fact that it was her own efforts that got her there. She kept going – moving on to outdoor climbing – and was soon winning titles even though her school friends didn’t really understand her passion for it.

One of her proudest achievements was being able to put herself through Columbia University – where she studied non-fiction writing and business – thanks to being a professional athlete. It was a gruelling schedule, however, with classes Monday to Thursday and competitions and events around the world at weekends. 

In 2011 she was overall female winner at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships in Italy, but the achievements that mean the most to her are her challenging outdoor climbs. She lists her first “big wall” climb at Bellavista in the Italian Dolomites, which she says taught her about testing herself in the unknown, including spending one of the coldest nights of her life at the top of a spire in the mountains. 

Exploring the limits

And then there was the climb that she credits as a turning point in her career – Pure Imagination in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, which at 9a was the hardest-graded sport climb ever achieved by a woman at the time.

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“I didn’t know if I was capable of achieving this climb,” says DiGiulian. “I just went to try it. And that lesson really resonated with me: you never know what you’re capable of until you try.

“The climb inspired me to go after future goals, goals that I don’t know if I’m physically or mentally capable of achieving, in order to find out for myself – to test my limits.”

At the grand age of 27, DiGiulian can already look back on an impressive list of achievements and, while still training six days a week, she’s keen to use her voice to “illustrate the world that we all want to live in – to define the new standard.”

Whether that’s about climbing or feeling positive about your body, her message is the same: “Be you”.

Celebrating the extraordinary potential of the female body, Agent Provocateur’s #WePlaytoWin campaign highlights four elite sportswomen competing in the brand’s sensual and powerful SS20 designs. For details of the lingerie featured above, and all other collections, visit agentprovocateur.com.

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