For 6 years, being a “figure competitor” in bodybuilding was the thing that defined me. In 6 years I stepped on stage 20 times. In a miserable marriage when my competing journey began, I found contest prep to be a welcome distraction and the stage a place where I found validation.
Over the 6 years, I went through one traumatic event afteranother and competing was a distraction from the curveballs life seemed to be relentlessly throwing my way. I allowed myself to become defined by what stage of contest prep I was in and once I stepped on stage, I was defined by how well I did…or didn’t do.
Over the years, my body went through, well, a lot of abuse, if I can put it bluntly. It was restriction and over exercise and extremes in the gym and in the kitchen. On two different occasions my body went through metabolic damage. Essentially, this is where the body gains weight and despite any efforts with nutrition and exercise nothing works. And the only way to recover from metabolic damage is to rest. Stop dieting. Stop training. Stop competing. These two time periods were extremely discouraging and depressing for me. As I was dealing with long term depression (unbeknownst to me at the time) this only exacerbated my symptoms of depression.
On top of all that, competition has a way of distorting any kind of normal body image you may have had before your days of competing. Get uber lean for contest…hold that look for a day, maybe 3 if you’re lucky and within a couple weeks you’ve added back a [healthy] layer of body fat. And you look in the mirror and think you look horrible. You can’t wait to be lean again. It’s a vicious cycle and one that most competitors get trapped in.
When I did my last contest, I went into it as healthy as possible. I had learned my lessons and I was determined not to repeat them. I wasn’t going to step on stage if I couldn’t do it in moderation. At least as much as is possible in the bodybuilding world. And I did. But when I got off the stage after the prejudging of my last show in late 2014, I felt something I had never felt before. And I knew I was done.
I had 3 revelations that Saturday in October 2014. Revelations that changed my feelings about competing and as a result, changed ME in a very big way.
I knew that day on stage I wasn’t the best in my class. I looked good and I felt really good about my conditioning and the package I brought to the stage. But, it was in that moment on stage that I realized that my body isn’t a “package” I need to bring in front of a panel of judges for critique. For so long, the stage had provided me validation that I needed that my body was okay. I had been through so much since the last time I competed a year and a half prior and had so much growth, I realized I no longer need the stage to fill a void. The void had been filled. Primarily with my faith which brought healing from my depression, anxiety and PTSD.
People look at bodybuilding competitors and think that they’re the picture of “health & fitness”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is so much disordered eating in the bodybuilding culture and what you see on stage is extremely unhealthy - usually very depleted and dehydrated. I got off stage after the evening show and the bikini girls and physique guys were eating Trophy Cupcakes and Krispy Kreme donuts after having deprived themselves of food for a minimum of 12 weeks. Now they were stuffing their faces with junk.
As someone who takes my role as a fitness professional very seriously, I realized in this moment that this is not the kind of behavior I want to endorse…or be around. My goal has always been to inspire and empower people to live healthier lives and feel good about themselves and their bodies. This whole scene just went against everything I want to be about.
So the night show - when each competitor gets to come out and be introduced and hit 3 poses or so. It’s typical to do a front pose, a back pose and some sort of “model” pose. My family was in the front row…VIP seating. As I looked out from backstage before my turn came I saw my dad and my 11 year old son sitting in the front row. BAM! Right there. I was soon to be nearly within arm’s reach of them. There was no way, I was going to be hitting a back pose putting my booty right in front of my son. No way. He would never be able to unsee that and I don’t think I could have lived with myself knowing I did that to him. So, I was the only competitor in that show to go out and NOT hit a back pose. And I was fine with that.
This final revelation had the biggest impact on me. It reminded me that first and foremost I am a mother to my children and they are watching me. On stage and off stage. It was different when they were younger and didn’t attend my shows but now that they are older they have a desire to see what I do. I am not saying there’s anything distasteful about bodybuilding, I’m just saying it isn’t what I want my children to see. Especially as my girls get older and more impressionable about body image and food…seeing me restricting food is not good for them.
I still love the bodybuilding world. I love the people I have met through my years competing and still consider myself part of it. I love to be around it. I love to see other people compete. But I had my days on the stage. And I no longer coach competitors. I much coaching people who just want to be fit, healthy and feel good and age UNgracefully.