Body Image and Competition

I am asked far too often by other women athletes how I deal with body image and whether or not I struggle with it like so many of them. It makes me incredibly sad that these beautiful women feel ugly after doing a show. If you have never been show lean, it’s difficult to describe the sense of achievement you feel after all of the days of dieting and the hard work it took to look amazing for that one day. Those of you who have done a show diet know how easy it is to look and feel bloated a few days after a show. To make matters worse, you were at least bigger with more muscle before you started dieting, but now you’re 10-20 lb smaller with more fat.

The body adapts to diets very easily and it always wants to return to its natural homeostasis. So when you get off your show diet, stop eating clean, and stop all your cardio, your body has a much easier time going back to its happy place. Your sodium levels have probably also quadrupled right after your show which led to you holding onto more water, quickly resulting in a softer appearance. You look in the mirror and think “I dieted for weeks and within a couple of days it looks like I didn’t even do a show.”

I too have been guilty more than once of putting on 10+ lb right after a show because I was so hungry and my food cravings were intense. To be clear, binge eating right after a show is not healthy and you need to ease back into your normal eating patterns slowly. You didn’t diet for a few days and get into show shape, right? The same holds true when you are getting back to eating more normal foods. Your body needs time to adjust so your weight doesn’t rebound with too much water and unnecessary weight.

I’ve heard a number of fellow competitors mention that they feel fat in their offseason and can’t wait until they start dieting for another show so they can look good again. Ladies, you probably didn’t think you were fat before you ever did a show. Nothing has changed except your idea of what being lean looks like. Your off-season body is beautiful and there is nothing wrong with it. If you were to hold competition-type leanness year-round, you would eventually have some serious health issues. You could lose your period due to low body fat, create metabolic damage, trigger eating disorders, etc. Your body is not designed to be that lean all year. Does being show lean look amazing? YES! If I could be show lean year-round I would do it, but it’s not healthy or possible.

Some athletes appear to be lean year-round, but this is all smoke and mirrors. Many athletes, including me, schedule multiple photo shoots with different photographers in different locations with different looks when they are show lean. We do this so that we can post new, fresh pictures throughout the year. I make it very clear when I post a picture when it was taken. I am always 100% honest that I don’t always have a six-pack and I’m usually 10-15+ lb above stage weight during my off season. Some athletes, however, will post a new picture every couple of weeks wearing a new outfit in a new location. This gives the illusion that they are lean year-round and can maintain their look with ease and a smile on their face, when in fact they too are probably having a normal off season like everyone else.

Right after I turned pro, I was told that, as a representative of the sport, I now needed to look a certain way at all times. Pros had an image to uphold and should be no more than 5 lb above stage weight. Right at that moment I looked at all the other girls who were standing around with me and I wondered if I was the only one who thought this was horrible advice. Talks like this do not encourage good health and explain why girls have body dysmorphia after a show. To make matters worse, we are bombarded by billboards, magazines, commercials, and signs that tell us we are not beautiful or good enough, we’re fat, or we need to change.

There is nothing wrong with your off-season body. I will admit that after my first show I struggled with going back to looking normal. I had the same insecurities that many people would have when putting back on some size because I enjoyed looking lean. While it’s taken time for me to learn to love both bodies, I can honestly say I love both my lean and my rounder off season body. Competing and the bodybuilding world isn’t forever, but your health is. You only have one body so you better take care of it.

Here are a few reasons why some athletes can do so many shows and still look amazing: one, they are naturally a thicker girl who can easily put on size, so they can do more shows without shrinking too much; two, while they do many shows, they look worse and worse and continue to look smaller at each show; or three, they are taking enhancements that allow them to keep on size. I have heard of many pro and amateur bikini girls becoming seriously metabolically damaged, and were forced to retire because they competed in too many shows and tried to stay lean for too long. Amanda Latona, for example, has been very open and honest about the damage to her body. She hasn’t competed for a couple of years and she is just now at the point where she can eat normal foods again.

Finally, we often hear that we need implants in order to win shows. If someone is telling you this, you need a second opinion. Under no circumstance should you ever get plastic surgery for any reason but for yourself alone. I see so many girls win shows and get their pro cards without implants. Although at the pro level (at the Olympia for example) this could be the deciding factor between first and second place, you don’t need them for your local or national shows.

To the ladies who don’t feel beautiful, I’m here to tell you there is nothing wrong with you. Take a long good look in the mirror and love your body, flaws and all. I don’t by any means have a perfect body. In fact, I am an IFBB Bikini Pro and I can still point out my flaws–I wish I had a narrower waist; I wish my calves were bigger; I wish my hamstrings were more developed. However, I can also just as easily list all of my beautiful traits, just as I could list yours.

Beauty doesn’t have a size tag. Your flaws are not flaws. They are just what makes you unique. I will tell you what is wrong with you though. You’re wrong to believe that you aren’t beautiful, that you aren’t good enough, or that you need to change. Ignore all that outside noise. You wouldn’t speak to a friend as negatively as you do to yourself, so stop talking to yourself that way. You are worthy, you are beautiful, and you are strong. Most importantly, no one is perfect. Truth courage is understanding and accepting that fact.