Body Image “Off the Stage”
Fitness competitions are seemingly the “thing to do” these days. As a competitor myself, with a Pro Bikini title, I know a little bit about what it takes, what is expected and what is realistic.
Your average Bikini competitor, (the most popular category) walks onto the stage at 12-14% body fat. The average body fat for a healthy active fit woman is 19-22%. This second figure will rise slightly as we age.
Society, by way of social media and other sources, has placed this unwarranted unhealthy ideal on what is expected or desired by the opposite sex, or even by the same sex, as attractive, and therefore“likeable” or “acceptable”. We have done this to ourselves by glamourizing these competition-ready physiques.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire these physiques and what goes in to creating them, but I also acknowledge that these physiques are made over time, often a long time. The bodies that we see on stage look this way for generally a short period of time, as maintaining that level of leanness is an unhealthy and not realistic.
We need a certain level of body fat, especially women to function properly in our day to day lives.
The bodies we see on stage or in the magazines are built over time in what is called “off season” or as I like to call it, the rest of life.
The goal in the off season is to continue the journey of creating your best strongest healthiest physique, so that in your next competition or next photo shoot you can see and feel the improvements. This is what this sport is all about – self improvement.
It’s the same theory behind the training regimen an NFL football player will undergo. He will train hard in his off season to improve upon his game season. His game season is longer than a competitors as we often only do maybe a handful of shows in a short amount of time. In order to grow, gain and improve we need to eat more, lift more and do less cardio so that when it’s “game time” we can shed down and display what we have spent all of this time building.
Off season is a time to learn to love your body for more than its aesthetic appeal. We are loving our body for the ability to squat our body weight, or to sprint so fast that tears stream down our faces. We love our body for the thickness in our thighs because it means we are strong and when we dial it in for show day we are tight.
Think of what it took to get into stage shape. Hours in the gym, hours prepping food and grocery shopping, early nights and early mornings. Calorie deficits, added cardio, fat burners, low carb to no carb days for some, water loading and then water pulling for others. No beats were skipped on the road to the stage.
This isn’t real life, and it’s not a version of life that is nor should be maintained year-round. If we maintained this lifestyle and physique all year, what would we call competition prep in all of our Instagram selfies??
In all seriousness, our body is amazing and is capable of drastic and powerful change, but it can’t manage full time at the max load of show prep training and dieting. It’s like running a Maserati at full speed for every single drive all day long. It will give out. Where would the joy in show prep come from if we had no physical changes to notice? No progress? If we maintained stage bodies all year what the heck would the point be?
I myself am a competitor and I love the stage and the months leading up to it, so please do not take this as thumbs down for competing; I just really want to shine a light on what it takes to look that specific way for that moment and what it means in the big scheme of life.
We eat and lift and eat and lift to build muscle so that for a (very) short period of time we can take often drastic measures to deplete as much body fat from our body in order to showcase our hard earned muscle to the 7-10 judges in the front row and the photographer capturing our moments. This moment is short lived, because it has to be, in order to remain healthy.
People sit in the audience of a fitness and bodybuilding competition in awe of these incredible “healthy” strong bodies, and they should be in awe, but should not be mistaken. The body at this exact moment is likely at its least healthy and strong state. Our bodies are typically quite low calorically, low in water, low in electrolytes and amped up with adrenaline. This look is beautiful but at the level of dehydration and leanness, is not the picture of health.
There are most definitely some athletes who are able to maintain a strong lean physique all year round, and often these are individuals who have been dedicated elite athletes their entire life, and or have a fabulous metabolism and a very structured diet all year.
We love our body for the ability to do a pull up, not for the 12% body fat. Twelve percent body fat isn’t powering us up that hill sprint, let’s be honest, any of you competitors felt like hill sprinting the day of your show?
I didn’t think so.
We are in this sport for the power it gives us as women. We are strong we are more than pretty faces and nice stage bodies. We struggle on hard days, we don’t give up when others would, we strap on the nikes and we hit the pavement or the platform. We eat to fuel our strength so that we can improve upon last time. We are strong, mentally and physically.
As a trainer and competitor I follow what I feel to be a balanced healthy and enjoyable nutrition program, which allows me to have enough energy to train hard, and the flexibility to indulge once a week, maybe twice sometimes.
I respect my body enough to feed it food that will power it through what I demand of it.
I respect my body enough to work it every day in some way.
I respect my body enough to celebrate it on and off the stage – even if my body fat is 20% and not 12%.
I am BEAUTIFUL, STRONG, CAPABLE, and POWERFUL.
Women are beautiful and sexy for so many reasons, and although our curves are one of the top contenders, the winner is confidence.
Love your body in all of its stages, for all of its amazing abilities.