The Truth About Fitness Competitions

My First & Only Bikini Competition

I was nearly naked, spotlights cooking my retinas, trying to ignore my instinct to sprint my ass off the stage and scrub the coffee-table-tan off my skin.  “Why the hell am I even doing this?” looped in my brain over and over. All I could see were the overweight and steroid-pumped male judges in the front row, giving their creepiest smiles. Cheesy club music blasted as all the girls lined up. The host said “Competitors, turn around.” cueing us to face our butts towards the judges and audience, so they could asses which butt looked the best, and that was the final nail in the coffin for me. Fitness competitions just weren’t my thing.

It wasn’t a scarring experience. It didn’t make me sad afterwards. It wasn’t the best or worst moment of my life. It was just that weird, hilarious time I got on a stage in three inches of fabric to have some out of shape weirdos, who’d deemed themselves fit to judge others, tell me they liked my body. No offense at the out of shape weirdos, as I was the weirdo with the overpriced bikini bending over in front of them.

Side note: My Facebook profile is a picture from the only bikini/fitness competition I did in 2010. I really need new pictures, I just hate taking them. So for now, that’s the profile pic.

The last place I’d ever expect to find myself would be on a stage, inviting strangers to judge my ass against the asses of other strangers, hoping that mine looked the best. It’s such a silly idea to me. BUT at the time, It just seemed like something I should do, because all of my friends and colleagues were doing it, and curiosity got the best of me. 

People say there’s more to competitions than just looking good in a bikini, that it’s fun, challenging and so on. Maybe all of that is true for other women. For me, it just felt like I was on a stage in my underwear, asking people to judge my body. Nothing more, nothing less. It would feel about the same to walk into a gym with another woman you don’t know, put on a bikini and yell “EXCUSE ME, EVERYONE! Is my butt better than hers, or no?” That’s what it felt like for me.

Why I Planned to Lose My Competition

You can do a fitness competition in a healthy way. I certainly did. I’ll also be the first to tell you, I was NOT the leanest or most ripped woman on the stage.  In fact, I looked about the same as I do all the time; fairly lean, probably works out kind of look.

As a personal trainer with a good head on my shoulders, starving myself has never been an option. I’d seen plenty of friends rebound after competitions, putting on thirty or more pounds in mere weeks, and wrecking their metabolism. Not to mention the steroids that a majority of the women take to get shredded. I just wasn’t going to grow a beard or sacrifice my ovaries for a dinky little trophy. 

Being a health-focused fitness competitor with average genetics will get you phenomenal results, but probably won’t get you the trophy. I knew that from the beginning, and that was A-Okay with me!

I decided a long time ago I’d rather be fairly lean all the time than super-ripped one day out of the year.

Below is the picture of me on competition day in 2010 vs. me this morning.


Aside from the pose, the makeup, the tan, and the hair, my body is pretty much the same as it was during the competition. My measurements are about identical. I definitely didn’t do anything extreme or unhealthy.

Some women might do a fitness competition and hear the angels sing, feel like they’ve come home, have the time of their life, and all that jazz. Great! If you enjoy something, you should do that thing! You really should. It might be an opportunity to network, or get a foot in the fitness modeling industry. For women like me, who have no desire to model, or represent supplement companies, fitness competitions just aren’t very fruitful.

In fact, for many women, fitness competitions could cause more harm than good.

The Downside to Fitness Competitions

1. Unhealthy attachments to your physical appearance.

Beauty is such a fleeting, transient thing. Placing extended periods of time , even years in some cases, focused primarily on your outer appearance is such a waste of life. For fitness competitors, the obsession with appearance is all consuming. From the moment they wake up, until they sleep, many are focused on their bodies. Placing your value as a person in how good your body looks is going to cause you a great deal of pain. What happens when your abs don’t look perfect? What happens when this external concept of yourself that you’ve put so much value into goes away?

Some people wrap their identity up so tightly with their physical appearance that they start to lose touch with their true selves. The fitness competitor is the greatest example of this. Exercise and diet become an escape from all other things, so much so that many fitness competitors feel uncomfortable taking time off.

In extreme cases, some people use their bodies as a gauge of value when interacting with others, with thoughts like, “She has a better body than me….I have a better body than her…I am more disciplined than you…I won, so I am a better person. etc”. This behavior only reinforces that ugly cage of ego, trapping the person in the rat race of placing all self-worth on the body, which is guaranteed to be different, older, and not as “tight” one day. This rat race is never ending, and will never lead to happiness.

There’s an acquaintance I know of who takes pictures of other women at the gym, sends them to various guys she knows, and asks for validation that she is better than this girl or that. This sounds ridiculous, right? It’s sad that her self worth depends on the appearance of strangers crossing her path. Well, most people do the same exact thing, they just aren’t taking the additional step of sending a text and asking another person for validation. Using your outer appearance to decide who you are, how good you are, and your place in society is the common plague of women that we all need to free ourselves from. Fitness competitions obviously place sole value on outer appearance.

All of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t appreciate your beauty and body, and admire the hard work and discipline you’ve put in. It’s wonderful to love yourself, including your body and all the things required to get where you are. Things start to get sticky, though, when you become this character; when you introduce yourself to people as “a bodybuilder”. Who are you, really? If you answered that with “IFBB Pro” or “NPC Champion”, that shows an attachment to this whole bodybuilding thing. You are not your abs. You are not your butt. Take all of that nonsense away, and now answer, Who are you? Knowing this answer will ensure happiness regardless of the state of your butt.

Enjoy your physique while it lasts, and know it is a beautiful-yet-temporary shell for the real stuff that lives inside. It is a tool to help you see and experience travel, friends, fun, love, and so much more. It is a temporary form to help you experience the formless.

2. Unrealistic Goals

Many female fitness competitors use steroids, male hormones, and or medical grade fat burners. I have never taken performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken hormones, steroids, or any other funky stuff. That being said, these things are a HUGE part of the fitness industry. Women who don’t use drugs can either be pretty-darn-lean with definition, or have lots of muscle mass. They can’t have both. This is contrary to what every fitness magazine on the shelves will imply, featuring pictures of women with thighs that are shredded to pieces. That’s not real life, folks. That is not natural.

I would never speak for or speculate about the choices of others on a public forum, so I won’t say “everyone” takes exogenous hormones. All I’ll say is that it happens more often than you’d think in fitness modeling and competitions.

Even without exogenous hormones, most women don’t have the genetics to attain super low body fat percentages! It just isn’t healthy for women to be below fifteen percent body fat, and even that is pretty low.

3. It isn’t healthy

To sum it up, here’s a list of things fitness competitors typically experience:

  • Exhaustion
  • Metabolic damage
  • Thyroid damage, both short and long term
  • Hormonal disruption, cessastion of menstruation
  • Hair loss (possibly due to thyroid issues, stress, lack of nutrients, etc)
  • Disordered eating due to the crazy dieting
  • Self esteem issues
  • Depression (possibly due to hormonal disruption, thyroid issues, diet etc)
  • Stubborn weight gain
  • Distorted view of what a healthy body looks like (chasing after a fitness model look that requires steroids, fat burners, and extreme dieting)
  • Picking up new drug habits (steroids, fat burners and hormones wreck havoc on a woman’s body. Don’t use these things unless you want male pattern baldness, a new jaw, a deep voice, and a 5 o’clock shadow)

You’ll see plenty of fitness competitors with hair weaves, dry skin, premature “dieting” wrinkles, fake nails, dark circles under their eyes and so on. The things it takes for most females to get “super lean, shredded, vascular & muscular” leaves the body starved, brittle, tired, and dried up.

Endless hours of cardio, training like an NFL football player, and living on tuna with brown rice is commonplace for fitness competitors. It usually works in the short term, creating impressively lean, muscular bodies. In the long term, though, this sets women up for metabolic damage. Their futures typically entail healing the damage done in pursuit of a $50 trophy and external validation. 

Every time you exercise, your adrenal glands are taxed. A little stress on the body is fantastic for your health. Compounding stress multiple times a day with senseless hamster wheel cardio sessions, plus dieting, plus gallons of caffeine all add up to major adrenal and thyroid exhaustion.

A quick google search of “Fitness competitions thyroid damage” yields thousands of personal stories from women who’ve experienced the dark side of competitions first hand. Stories of permanent thyroid damage, complete exhaustion, depression, and crazy amounts of stubborn fat gain are beyond common. I’d venture to guess at least 80% of fitness competitors will experience one or a few of those things. 

The female body is very resilient, and stronger in many ways than the male body. That said, most female bodies weren’t built to sustain countless hours of high intensity exercise with heavy weight training every day (I’m looking at you too, Crossfit). Doesn’t it make more sense to exercise sensibly, look great, and not take up a lifestyle that requires squeezing every last drop of energy from your body?

If you’re going to compete, compete for fun. Compete for yourself, and make “winning” the last thing on your priority list. At the end of the day, the true “winners” are the women who maintain their health throughout the competition, not sacrifice it.

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