In my experience, the common perception outside the bodybuilding world is that bikini competitors are starved, validation-seeking, bimbos who are naively going into this world of competing to “make it” in the fitness industry and flaunt their stuff on a stage while creepy men ogle them from afar. While this may be true in some instances, it is not the norm and I can say that after competing in 2 shows, my takeaways were much more profound and personal. In fact, some of the most important things I learned have helped me grow in my career and gave me the tools to become a healthier, happier version of myself.
1. It’s ok to ask for help
I have always been insanely independent. I don’t ask for help when I need it, I internalize everything, and I see it as weakness when I have to admit I don’t have all the answers. When I first decided to do a competition, it was not with the intention to learn more about myself or blossom into the person I knew I could be. No, it was to get a ripped beach body by summertime, plain and simple. I got a coach to help me with my posing and tweak my nutrition and this decision was fundamentally one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not because she was able to perfect my posing ( I still looked like an awkward llama my first show), but because she was the first person that I trusted entirely with my health and nutrition and despite doing everything counter to what I used to do (eat MORE? Do LESS cardio?), I reversed a lifetime of poorly informed choices in just a few months. A year and a half later, I think about where I could be if I had sought out help years earlier rather than be stubborn in my convictions.
I have taken that mentality into my career and spend more time asking questions, learning from those who have been where I am, and asking for advice. I try to put aside the fear that I will show my weaknesses for the potential that I will become better from it. It is a lesson we can all learn. Even if we think we know what we're doing, if we're not seeing the intended results, it's okay to get outside help.
2. When you can’t yet see your progress, trust that it is happening.
One of the toughest stages of competing is what is lovingly called the “off season”. You’ve finished a show, you’re not planning to do another for 6 months, so now it’s time to gain some weight and “bring a better package” next time. It’s muscle building time. The struggle, however, is that because you’ve put on an extra 10 or 15 pounds, it’s really freaking hard to see what progress you are making underneath. When you are leaning out every day, it’s motivating to get to the gym, hit your numbers and watch yourself transform every day. It’s MUCH HARDER to do this when the end goal is so far away and you feel like you are going in the opposite direction. From your coach and team, however, you hear the mantra “Trust the process, Gains will come” (cue the inspirational music).
This is one lesson I cannot stress enough that will be SO valuable in everything you do. There will be days where you don’t have the energy, where you are frustrated, where you just don’t see the end goal. But it will come. And the harder you worked in the “off season” when nobody is watching, the more profound those goals will be. The perseverance I have learned while competing is a lesson I can apply to so many areas. Not every day will be fun or glamorous, there will be times you question why, but if you keep going, that why will be made very clear.
3. Change always causes conflict
One of the hardest parts about embracing a life that centers around your own health and well-being is that the dynamic of your life can change very quickly. Your idea of fun stops being about going out, drinking, and eating out all weekend and starts centering around doing things that actually make you feel better about yourself. You begin to see the incredible things your body is capable of when you take care of it and the appeal of the activities that your life used to center around loses its sparkle. If your social circle also revolves around those activities, you find yourself opting out more and more.
I used to be more scared of change. When you're comfortable in a situation, the possibility that it could get better is often outweighed by the risk that it will be worse. Do it anyway, especially if it's important to you. Take risks in your career and share your ideas despite how ridiculous they may seem. It’s uncomfortable at first because the pressure to conform to your old habits is constantly thrown in your face but it teaches you to stand true to what YOU want. I guarantee people don’t care as much as you think they do.
4. If you can stand on a stage in a bikini and be JUDGED for it, you can do pretty much anything.
People often think that you are standing on a stage in a bikini because you just LOVE the attention and want to be sexified. Truth is, that shit is SCARY. It is scary to walk out on stage in a teeny bikini and heels and wait to be judged by a bunch of people you don’t know. All you can think is don’t trip, don’t shake, remember your number, smile, turn, smile, keep smiling. You know you look the best you have ever looked, you know you get a cheeseburger in about 20 minutes, but it’s scary and possibly even awkward if you don’t place very high.
However, next time you’re presenting at work or need to muster up the courage to do something scary, you are going to think back on that moment. You are going to think of everything you did to get there and you will be insanely proud. You are going to think about how you didn’t let failure stop you from getting up and trying again.
I may never compete again. For me, it was never about making fitness a career or strutting my stuff on stage. It was about pushing boundaries and going after a goal where I had once said “I could never do that”. At the end of the day, competing pushed me to limits I didn’t know I was capable of. It helped me understand what really mattered to me in life, taught me that nothing worthwhile will be easy, and that life is a stage. Every day, we get up and work towards a goal for ourselves. Whatever form that may take, there will be an “off season” where we have to bust our ass with no glory. There will be days where we want to quit, but there will also be incredible rewards that we didn’t even know were part of the process. Do it for those.