Every time I come close to another bodybuilding show, I am reminded just how close my love/hate relationship with this quasi non-sport/beauty pageant is to becoming hate/hate.
A couple of female bodybuilders have died recently; one while at a show and the other of unknown causes, but she was almost 70 years old as well.
I am not aware of the causes of death, and because they died in other states, I cannot access the info quickly and online. I also cannot state, with absolute certainty, that either of these women were taking drugs, but one was a national-level competitor and the other a pro, so it’s highly unlikely that either of them did not have that little bit of extra help. Each woman was also extremely lean, with a bodyfat percentage that was likely in the single-digits. An average woman might carry 25 to 30% bodyfat. A fit woman, closer to 20%. A competitive athlete might dip below 15%, and someone with anorexia might hit 10%, which is barely enough to sustain life.
Most female bodybuilders are below 10%. I am at 10% right now. If I lost five more pounds, I would literally die. Not instantly; but if I kept that low level of bodyfat, my organ systems would slowly fail and then I would eventually die. This is why women don’t spend all year looking the way they do on stage; it’s simply not possible. Competing is absolutely not healthy, but done a couple of times a year with plenty of time to put the fat back on, it shouldn’t kill you. (Also, I would have to lose five pounds of pure fat; most weight loss as shown on a scale also includes water weight.)
I hate being told I am “inspirational” due to the way I look. What’s inspirational about racking up debt paying for cosmetic surgery that you don’t really need? About taking diuretics and sitting in a sauna just so you can hit the stage at a lower bodyweight, when you are not even competing in a weight-classed category? No judge will ever ask what I weigh. The only reason for trying to hit a certain weight is so you can tell everyone how much weight you lost to prepare for the show. All women do it. All women try to come in just a bit lighter with every show.
Healthy, fit women can be inspirational to those trying to get in shape, and I believe that everyone, regardless of age, weight or health, can improve. Maybe they can’t all be competitive athletes, but they can be better than they are now, if they wish. If someone looks at me and is motivated to improve themselves, then great. But self-improvement does not have to be sought in an environment which encourages unhealthy practices and even shames people who don’t take part in them.
Judges claim that breast implants do not affect a competitor’s score, but the highest-placing women all have implants. They claim they do not want to encourage starvation and dehydration, and then reward looks that are only attainable via these measures. On the men’s side, there is a lot of lip service paid to encouraging smaller sizes and more realistic body types, but those who win are the 280-lb guys with 2% bodyfat. (Men can get away with being much leaner than women, but some men also have died from organ failure due to extreme leanness.)
Many women do get implants on a whim, and don’t realize they now have a 100% chance of needing a revision surgery in five to ten years. There’s no way around it; you WILL undergo surgery again. You have bought yourself a lifetime of going under the knife, either to look better or to finally undo everything that was done. I have not known anyone who has one cosmetic procedure and then never goes back. Everyone will wonder what they can have done next, once they have taken the plunge and become part of a world where whatever you were born with just is not good enough.
The most important component of competitive bodybuilding is not the training, the dieting, not even drugs or surgery. It’s genetics. Although I am off drugs and have lost all gains that were assisted via the use of drugs, my body is just plain not attainable for most of the population. I was blessed with amazing genetics which, when not assisted with drugs, are good enough to make me very hard to beat at the local level. Great genetics + closely monitored drug use = a physique that could win nationally or even professionally. Average genetics + drugs = a bloated, crappy physique with bigger biceps. That’s how it works. Drugs are not magic; they work WITH your body type and your nutrition and training.
And no one wants to believe this. So they go on the drugs, look really bad, and think they just needed more drugs.
I’m an exhibitionist; I love standing on stage and showing off. I love being creative with routines, although now I do not weigh enough to take part in the classes that require an individual routine. I love buying spangled bikinis and getting all done up backstage. But I’m starting to hate the whole subculture that is bodybuilding.
With every show, I tell myself I’m done. This is the last one. And then after it’s over, I can’t wait to do it again, regardless of my placing. And I think of how I should improve. How much weight to lose next time. What surgeries I can afford. There are people who do not recognize me anymore; children who have asked their parents why I look so different every time they see me. I sometimes forget my own face; I describe it as “round” when it hasn’t been round in…I don’t know how long.
I hate seeing competitors laugh at overweight people in the gym. I hate seeing grown men throw their third-place trophies on the floor and stomp off, which is usually followed by an angry YouTube rant about “corruption” among the judges. There is NO MONEY in amateur bodybuilding, and therefore no reason to give undeserved placings. I hate seeing amateur bodybuilders get angry when they are not recognized in public, as if anyone other than their own family and friends follows this moronic activity. I hate seeing people make fun of competitors who haven’t quite lost enough weight but were maybe proud of what they did achieve and wanted to show it off, or those who have loose skin after a major weight loss and can’t afford surgery. “But why would anyone want to go on stage looking like that/knowing they can’t win?” No; WHY DO YOU CARE? Some woman who lost 50 lbs and is proud of herself has every right to stand on stage, knowing she will place last. She has her own reason for doing so, and that reason is more important than your desire not to look at her. I promise, your life will not be affected in the least by a slightly out-of-shape woman being on stage. I guess if it bothers you that much, you can go to the bathroom? Or start a blog about how you’re better-looking than other people?
And I hate the fact that people will continue to die for this meaningless pastime. I wish more people knew that THIS CAN KILL YOU. Even if you do not use steroids and other drugs. Choose your coaches wisely. See how many have had clients die close to their shows. See how many have had clients hospitalized after shows. I have been. It could have been the steroids, it could have been the diuretics, it could have been being 9% bodyfat. It also could have been the 700-calorie diet (I even had to weigh green beans on a food scale) plus three hours of daily training.
This can kill you, and no one will remember how great of a bodybuilder you were. They’ll talk about you for a week and then forget about you, except to say that you looked really bad anyway. Do not seek inspiration among people whose only accomplishment is dieting and putting on a bikini. Hopefully your inspiration comes from people who have actually done things.
When I picture my own funeral, I do not see myself being buried in competition wear or my trophies being displayed. This is not what I want to be remembered for.