Serious Reflections from a Bikini Competitor
Reflection #1: Coach.
It took me a while to compose my thoughts after the competition last Saturday. Here’s just one of them.
“You can’t do it alone” I met some of the strongest (physically and mentally) women this last weekend. Those that were successful all had one thing in common. A coach. You are probably thinking, along the lines of a personal trainer or an encourager. Well, if you are, you would be wrong.
I don’t have a person standing over me at the bench press yelling “one more”. I have a coach. Just like the one you had on your 4th grade soccer team. They taught you new skills, watched you practice, had you focus on training to improve skills you lacked , encouraged you when you were dragging, and celebrated every goal with you.
I pretty much hit the lottery when I found my coach Heather Owen. Yes, she knows her stuff. She’s competed herself. Has a ton of successful clients. Master of the art of posing.
But most importantly, she “gets me”. I’m vegetarian, lactose intolerant, and have IBS. So customizing my plan was not an easy feat. She’s funny, smart, sassy, responsive, and strong as hell. She has her thumb on the pulse of this industry and she brought years of knowledge of the Triple threat – Nutrition, Strength Training, and Posing into my life in 9 short months.
It wasn’t until recently that I met the infamous Tara Annemarie Thatcher. At first I was like, how can Tara help me? I already have a coach. Boy was I in for a real treat! She not only choreographed my individual presentation but she helped me find my “why”. She changed my mindset about myself and this sport (more on that later). She made me cry, laugh, find my inner sultry warrior, and hug random strangers. She gently nudged me into a sisterhood of competitors that filled my bucket with encouragement and support in an environment where I was most vulnerable to judgement.
These two women have forever changed me for the better and I can’t “quit them” even in the off-season.
Whether pro, own a gym, are a personal trainer or nutritionist, they all still spend the money and hire a coach. Why? because no human being can be objective when it comes to their own body.
Note: Training for a competition or not…Just trying to lose weight or find yourself…..there is limitless value in finding a coach.
Reflection #2: Judgement.
“Oh, my, God Becky, look at her butt” Even Sir-Mix-A-Lot recognized that girls are mean, jealous, and envious of other girls. It’s true. I’ve looked at other women and done a head to toe comparison.
Google “Bodybuilding Bikini Competition” and you are flooded with images of women with perfect bodies, tanned, oiled, and leaner than you were in middleschool. You’ll silently make a judgement. She’s conceited, those aren’t her real boobs, she’s never had kids, she’s probably 18, can’t be her real hair, she’s mean, she’s gossipy, she’s got 9 boyfriends and ignores their texts for days, she thinks the world revolves around her, she’s in love with herself, she is an attention hog, she’s a narcissist.
It’s impossible to not make an initial judgement. I did too. I normally struggle to say this, but “I was wrong”. In fact, this is my biggest misconception/realization of the entire weekend. Do you know what these girls are? They are real. Like really real. Yes, there are extensions, breast implants, fake lashes, but it’s not because they are trying to steal your boyfriend, it’s because in this sport there are certain things that help frame their physique and they are trying to win!
Photo by Kegan Stewart: Fierce Co.
These girls are the ones wearing messy buns, tennis shoes, and no makeup 7 days a week in a sweaty mess at the gym. These girls are the ones that still go out with their friends to the bar and restaurants even though they can’t drink or eat appetizers because that’s just what good friends do. These girls are moms, bosses, students, small business owners, wives. Being a bikini competitor isn’t a job, it’s a hobby. These women are carving out a piece of their lives to do something incredibly challenging, not because they are trying to be better than you, but rather just be better versions of themselves.
My misconception was so completely wrong. Backstage was not a group of Divas, it was a celebration of kick-ass women that had just gone through months of prep. Nobody wakes up one day and decides to go compete. We had a common bond, we also had giggles, hugs, encouragement, and selfies. I literally was welcomed with open arms. I mean it, hugs galore! Compliments flying everywhere “That suit color looks amazing on you,” “You are going to crush it on stage,” “Your T-walk was fantastic”. And at the end of the day, everyone that won hardware was welcomed offstage with applause and not sneers. Women offering extra suits, shoes, earrings, food, to those that were frantic with unexpected issues. These women are incredible. So the next time you google “bikini competition” and you see pictures of the athletes I hope you see the kind heart of a warrior princess who just happens to be wearing heels and extensions. Both of which are uncomfortable and coming off as soon as the show is over. Because no one wears heels with sweats.
Reflection #3: Limits.
“It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop.” “Push Yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.” “Wake up with determination, go to bed with Satisfaction.” These are all motivational quotes that I embraced for the last 8 months as I prepared for my competition last Saturday.
I woke up one day and said “I’m going to compete in a body building competition.” Yep, just like that. I knew very little, didn’t have a coach, didn’t know about off season vs. on season, didn’t have a timeline. Nada. What I learned throughout my prep is that you have to trust the process.
No I really mean it, you have to push away, or way way down every instinct you have about ‘dieting’ and going through the steps your coach lays out. You will initially panic at the thought of eating MORE when you feel like your ass is already huge. You’ll cry during your walking lunges hauling the weight of three or four toddlers. There will be days where you think one bite of something sinful won’t hurt and also days where you feel like that celery is going to turn you into a cow. And then, the show gets closer….
Off season becomes “prep”. Things just got serious. You’re in your “cut”. The dreaded word that comes up everytime someone asks you to eat a meal with them. “Oh I’m in my cut” which inevitably is followed up by a mini lesson in your metabolic rates. You begin to miss all the fun stuff you could eat while you were bulking. You mourn dairy and pasta. Hell, you even shed a tear for Broccoli. And what do you have to show for it? Very little. Your reflection isn’t changing, you’re required to work even harder in the gym to maintain your muscle and you’re getting frustrated.
You shoot questions at your coach about super trivial things like how much being constipated could be affecting your 12 week progress pictures. When they tell you to add oil to all your food to increase fat the “low fat everything” you’ve bought for years suddenly seems foolish.
Next your debating about throwing in extra cardio sessions and keeping it a secret. Seriously, most people post all over facebook if they did 5 minutes on the eliptical and suddenly you are thinking about going on the DL with your new significant other the “step machine”. You have to fight all the typical urges that you would normally have when you aren’t completely satisfied with your physique. The discipline you have shown for the last few months is now pushed just a tid bit further with peak week. You’ve cut out everything it seems, and yet there are more restrictions. Not even sure how that is possible. And yet. Yep.
You’re tired, hungry, crabby, and none of that compares to the mental doubt you will face for the 7 days of peak week. Your body is slammin’ compared to 99.9% of the women in the world, and yet you feel like you just don’t have it all ready yet.
What I learned was that it’s a process where each step and stage has a distinct and meaningful purpose. Some people’s bodies have a little more flexibility than others. Some people need more time, some are ready early. But EVERYONE gets there EVENTUALLY. Trusting the process, trusting your coach, trusting your self discipline, and throat punching every basic instinct about weight loss is not easy. But it’s worth it, because you shouldn’t limit your challenges, but challenge your limits.
Reflection #4: Sultry Warrior.
What do Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Beyonce all have in common? They are also known as Superman, Batman, and Sasha Fierce. I am now finding myself in the same group of people.
Right before I walked on stage, I received a text from my sister Christine. It said channel your inner Beyonce. At the time I knew what she meant, but didn’t believe I had any Beyonce in me much less an inner Beyonce. I had spent the last 8 months practicing my posing three times a day. I couldn’t walk past a mirror without striking a side pose and maybe a quarter turn or two. You might think this is vain, or easy, but the level of endurance to hold a pose completely twisted and contorted is painful and unnatural. You have to train, train, train. In the beginning I wasn’t prepared to hold a pose for 5 minutes. It wasn’t long before I realized how inflexible I really was.
Everything I read, and everyone I talked to said practice your posing. Be comfortable in your heels. Walk around at the grocery store in your 5-inch glittery stilettos if you need to. All of this needed to become second nature in order for me to compete with the other girls. I thought to myself, yeah yeah yeah I got this I wear heels all the time. What I didn’t account for was the level of nerves I would have which had a direct correlation to my balance I believe! it was just logistics. I could figure this out. My coach Heather Owen would tweak my posing down to hand placement and exactly how far I could pop my booty out. So much so that I would dream about amazing flexibility and giant glutes!
Then I met Tara Annemarie Thatcher, her approach caught me off guard at first. We went inside deep into the emotion of why I was competing, what I was trying to portray, what were my strength, and my weaknesses. I felt completely inadequate, confused, and unprepared. The entire competition begin to take a new form for me. It became less about the diet the lifting the cardio and more about me, my needs, my purpose, and most of all my happiness.
Now would probably be a good time to tell you that I have major social anxiety. The thought of walking in to church, a movie theater, a restaurant, or even a happy hour alone is paralyzing. I will sit in my car four hours trying to muster the courage or will power to walk through the door. It’s embarrassing and seems ridiculous but I find ways to work through it. I’ll set up carpools just so that I have a companion when I go someplace. I find myself constantly saying ” no you go first, after you”. Now imagine this shy insecure anxious girl putting on a teeny tiny bikini walking on a stage alone and asking for someone to judge her body. It’s petrifying. I was a hundred percent sure I would fail.
Tara helped me understand that it was my stage, My moment, my story to tell. I didn’t have a hundred percent support going into this, but I did this for me. When I walked on that stage something happened. My inner Sultry Warrior came out. I didn’t know that at the time, it was all a blur, I just tried to do my best and let the muscle memory of all my practicing shine.
When all was said and done the compliments were nice, the medals were reassuring, and the anxiety subsided. After a much-deserved donut I had an opportunity to watch the T Walk my family recorded. Right then and there I burst into tears. Who was this girl? Surely it wasn’t me! I saw someone that I had never seen before. This woman was confident, strong, beautiful, and Powerful. She owned the stage in a way that made me proud to know her. It was incredible and all I could think of was she belonged. She fit in. She was prepared. I had never felt this way before in my life.
I cry as I write this, because I have one regret. I wish I could have met this girl years ago. She is known to some as Marie, but she is also a Sultry Warrior. Will I still struggle with self-esteem? Anxiety? Confidence? Yes of course. But the knowledge I have about myself is empowering and I’m so grateful to have found a way to uncover it.
Reflection #5: True Perfection.
5 more pounds…. if I lose five more pounds I’ll finally look good. If I do 50 more crunches I’ll have that flat stomach I saw in a magazine. If I lather myself in cocoa butter then wrap myself in saran wrap overnight I’ll fix that cellulite. If I apply $100 serum my loose skin will tighten. Ladies, this is the shit we tell ourselves. At least I did. Well, if you are like me then this reflection #5 is for you.
I’ve never really been overweight but I had two babies and yo yo dieted a fair amount of my life. At my thinnest I would wear a bikini but was sure to sit in that half laid back lounging position. You know the one, where you are almost flat but you prop yourself up on your elbows making sure that your stomach is slightly bent but not enough to show the inevitable rolls. Standing up meant a cover-up, and you made sure to only sip beverages throughout the day instead of chugging beer knowing the ramifications would be disastrous to your abdomen.
I would think to myself, if I lost five more pounds I wouldn’t have to do all of these crazy things to make myself look thin enough to actually justify wearing the suit. Well let me tell you, it’s not achievable. Well, some might disagree. But those are the few that God blessed and clearly loved more than the rest of his creation. For the rest of us lost souls, no amount of want, will, determination, discipline, can get to True Perfection. You might be thinking, well, this post sucks! But, it’s in finding this out that I found freedom.
You’ve seen pictures of me recently, tanned, oil, lean, and posing in flattering positions. It all seems so real right? Well, yes it is me… But there is a level of Illusion to it. Those abs, are but a moment. That number on the scale, is only a week. Those muscles and the definition, but a month. It’s a season, it passes and a new season begins.
When I first started training for my competitions this year I looked at women online and thought to myself “I honestly don’t think I have those muscles or that shape inside me”. I honestly thought maybe I had two abs, like I was some freak of nature that when losing weight they would discover I don’t have 8 in there and no one knows where the other six went.! As the months went by the weight dropped and the fat burned off. It became real that yep, under my skin was the same human form as those women on the internet and I just had to uncover it and build it.
This was exciting! I thought wow, I’m going to get there. I’m going to be so fit that my insecurities about my body will disappear. I thought I figured it out. Well, in a way I did.
This isn’t an easy post for me, but the last few haven’t been either and everyone has been very supportive. So I figured why not? And, I’d like to think that I’m not alone. The day of my last competition of the season I looked in the mirror and was so happy with how I looked. My abs were visible and my muscles were popping. My flat iron was in my suitcase on the floor in my hotel room. I was wearing my competition suit and I bent over to pick it up. I looked down at myself, and my heart sank. What the hell was that?!?! What was I looking at? How could this be?
Well, I’ll tell you. I was looking at my pooch, my friendly roll, my muffin top. Albeit its smaller than it used to be but it was still there. My most recent dexa scan showed me at 16% body fat. I was nearly too lean for my bikini division, I was in the best shape of my life, and I look damn good in my bikini (when I was standing). That’s when it hit me! I’m always going to have this. Everyone has this. Yes, some of it is skin, some of it is fat, some of it is because of the clothes you’re wearing. But my God, if at this little body fat I still have these rolls, then my everyday Marie will always have it too. A moment of sadness wash over me. First, because it was discouraging to know that it’s not possible to perfect my body to a place I had visualized in my head. Then a second wave of sadness, for me, and the years I spent thinking if only… If only this or if only that. And now here I was achieving all of those things I thought I needed and was coming up short.
Here’s where I want to encourage you. I now have the freedom of understanding. As I gain weight back and fat adds back to my frame in the offseason I’m going to try to be content with the way my body forms, shifts, changes, and yes even rolls. The “if onlys” are gone and when I bend over to do barbell rows, I will understand that my little saggy belly is acceptable, and even expected. Will everyone else? Perhaps. Will they think I need to lose 5 lbs? Will they think that’s the problem? Probably. But going through this competition experience has revealed the “truths” that I don’t think I would have believed had I not travel the path myself. These pics are all from competition day, my very peak… rolls and all.
I was reassuringly not alone…. the women competitors that look so amazing under stage lights had stretch marks, cellulite, saggy skin, scars, etc. Why? Because they are real women. The illusion of perfect bodies was satisfyingly shattered. So much that I feel it’s important to pull back the curtain.
So for you ladies out there that are lounging by the pool in your semi relaxed pose, feel free to sit up, lean forward, grab that beer, and rock that two piece. Because unless God really really really really really loved you more than everyone else, you are normal, with a normal body, and normal rolls.
Reflection #6: Perspective.
I found this quote that said, “look in the mirror, that’s your competition.” Easier said than done. I know I wouldn’t have walked on that stage if my coach and I didn’t think I was ready. Of course there’s that little bit of doubt as you meet all of the other girls backstage but you’re just so happy that you survived the process up until this point! You look in the mirror, you’re happy with what you see, and yeah, there are things that you want to work on for next season, but you know you belong on that stage. It’s a rare moment in time, when you feel like you’ve done everything you could. No regrets, just pushed hard and pushed through.
I’m 39 years old, which means I was 9 months shy of competing with the 40+ year old women (masters class). The night before the competition, I had never wanted to be 40 years old in my life more than in that moment. I was definitely the oldest one in my class, and you could tell. Worry lines, gray hair that peeked through, and loose skin from having babies were a dead giveaway.
I mentioned this before, but want to reiterate. None of the women there ever made me feel insecure or inferior. In fact, just the opposite! But, on stage no one is complimenting you on your tan or makeup or hair. You are up there with 8 to 12 other women, staring at the blank faces of the judges. They whisper, point, shake their head in what I can only imagine is complete disbelief of my lack of conditioning. They move us around, we turn, and then they move us around some more. There isn’t one bit of our bodies that isn’t assessed. I really appreciate this piece of the sport, especially noticeable the competitions that I was in. I’d rather be on stage for an extra 5 minutes dying from painful posing, knowing that the judges are really looking at every little detail vs being rushed through and not given a fair shake.
So here is where my reflection all began. I was fortunate or unfortunate, (you decide,) to be lined up smack dab in between the first place and 2nd Place winners of my classes. Both of these women were extremely sweet and kind, and I knew it was just the luck of the draw. At the end of the day I had to stand on stage next to these two women for what seemed like hours. The judges would move one to the end, and then immediately move me right next to her. Then to the other side, then to the middle, we were kind of like Siamese bikini twins, or better yet Siamese triplets.
When they brought us back out after prejudging, I’m not entirely sure they knew who the winner was. There was more talking, pointing, scrutinizing. What could they be looking at? I was caught a little off guard.
Us triplets took 1st, 2nd, 3rd. I was 3rd. I was also thrilled. I mean, the winners had incredible physiques, like really incredible. I had nothing but happiness for them, sincerely. I was incredibly proud of myself. After eating my celebratory donut, my daughter and I headed to the bathroom to change out of my suit. The day was kind of a blur. I had gotten to know the women by name and number. We talked about workouts, my kids, prep, it felt like we talked about everything. Turns out not everything. I walked out of the bathroom stall, and my daughter who is 13 gave me a big hug. She was so proud! And then she said to me, “did you know the winner was only 19 and the second place was 30?” Those numbers didn’t seem that significant to me before, but today they represented a new level of accomplishment for me. “Wow, that’s Young” Is all I muttered. But my daughter didn’t stop exploring what this actually meant. “Mom, that means that the first place winner is two decades younger than you, and the second place winner is one decade younger than you”
“Whoa, that is quite the age Gap” I said. I was feeling a little bit more proud of what I accomplished knowing I was on stage, and in the mix of these two beauties, not to mention all the other young competitors who placed after me. Could I really have ever dreamt that I would belong on stage with these girls. But then my daughter said something that I’ll never forget. Mainly because it was a moment where I was incredibly proud of what I accomplished, what I was accomplishing, and what I was going to conquer in the future. She recognized the magnitude of my accomplishments more than I did and she wanted to expose it fully to me. “Mom, I’m 13, that means you were on stage battling neck-and-neck with someone only 6 years older than ME, your daughter” It hit me and I burst into tears at that very moment. Perspective is everything. Two decades younger than me is one thing, but 6 years older than my first born is a whole new level. My body has gone through twice the life of injuries, pregnancies, surgeries, car accidents, and illnesses of a 19 year old. How had I not realized this?
I am jealous of the winners…. not of their bodies (okay a little bit), but more of the time they have. Training and competing demonstrates incredible discipline and strength so early on in life. I’m envious I didn’t embrace this concept and this sport sooner. I’m confident I wasn’t in the running for 1st, and maybe not even second, but looking at these pictures where I’m standing next to these incredible women makes me feel incredible too! Did I feel old? Yes. Did I compete and belong in that class? Hell yes! And that feeling is something I wouldn’t have comprehended or understood until my daughter made me realize this in the tiny bathroom stall, in a Convention Center in Wisconsin. You just never know.