It seems ironic and even somewhat contradictory that a sport built on judging someone’s outward appearance, could have such a positive effect on the way I feel on the inside.
Especially in this day and age when body image and commenting on it is such a taboo topic.
I still get nervous ahead of a bodybuilding competition, so nervous that sometimes I even cry. I hate standing up in front of a crowd with people looking you up and down, making comments and scoring you on how your muscles rip or don’t, whether you’re smiling or not, or if your makeup’s done and how your hair looks.
But the getting to the stage where that judging takes place is the bit that has taught me so much about myself. It’s also taught me a lot about other people too.
Some of my earliest memories involve bodybuilding.
As a young girl I would be put into creche at Les Mills or my Uncles gym while mum trained. And after her competitions I would pull out all her hair pins. That was my job, to remove and count them all. Sometimes there’d be 50, sometimes 100. I even remember mum helping to paint some of the other competitors, haha, all that brown body paint.
In 2016 though, I decided to create some of my own memories in the sport where both mum and my Uncle had created so many of theirs.
It was about midway through the year and I’d just gotten out of relationship. During that relationship I found comfort in food and ballooned to a weight that just made me feel unhappy.
So, I said to mum, ‘I need something to focus on, I think I’ll give bodybuilding a go.’
Her response, as supportive as it always is, was, ‘why not, all you can do is give it a go.’
Over the next few weeks I trained and trained and trained some more. I restricted my diet and the results came quickly, the weight fell off. About halfway through mum chose to join me and registered for the same competition. She hadn’t competed for years, but I think this was her way of helping me stay on track.
I arrived at the competition and was terrified, but just relieved that I had made it too. Looking around at all the beautiful women I felt awfully out of place. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was first on stage in a category we realized I didn’t know the poses for and learnt them that morning. I was the only one in this category and I was shaking like a leaf, I had my closest friends and dad in the crowd screaming at the top of their lungs which helped calm me down.
Once that first one was done and I saw mum shine up there the nerves were gone and I went on to place 1st in Novice Figure, 2nd in Physique, 1st in Overall Figure and won Women’s performance of the day.
But it was never about placings, that was never on the radar so I was pretty shocked when I heard my number called. I was just proud I had got up there and not face planted in the process.
Since then bodybuilding has become part of my life, it’s something that I just do. Initially it felt like a chore and the sole reason was to lose weight. But not any longer, it’s part of who I am. I wake up in the morning jump on the cross trainer and knock out an hour and my day is set, more often than not when I get home from work, or if I’m away and on my own, I’ll hit the gym and throw some weights around. Especially if I haven’t had the best day. That’s how I relax.
It’s now my normal.
It’s something that mum and I do together. Quite regularly during the rugby season mum and I will do some cardio for a couple of hours while the game’s on.
To some that may sound a little over the top. But I think that’s one of the key lessons bodybuilding has given me.
That someone else’s opinion is just that, their opinion. Just because doing what I do isn’t the way they chose to do things, doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just different.
Bodybuilding makes me happy and that’s what matters the most.
I’m now used to the disparaging comments in the gym or walking down the street. Because the way I feel now is a hell of a lot better than when I was confiding in food and in unhealthy relationships.