Finding my inner BEAUTY in the UGLY world of fitness

by Amy Renee
Finding my inner BEAUTY in the UGLY world of fitness

I have no regrets. If not for my experience in the fitness industry I might not have ever found my true, inner beauty.

Amy

Fat Girl Turned Figure Pro

Sounds motivating right? Maybe a little exciting? Not quite. Ever since figure made it’s debut back in the late ’90s I was hooked. I loved looking at the fit, toned models in the fitness magazines and dreamed of one day walking on a stage in a blinged-out bikini with my body as beautifully toned as theirs.

IT’S LIKE AN ADDICTION

Let me preface my story by saying that this is MY story and even though I DO believe that this industry (the bodybuilding and fitness industry) is NOT a healthy one I honestly do not mean to offend anyone. As you read about my short (three years total) figure competing journey you will see how the industry appeals to a specific type of individual and feeds obsessive compulsive behaviors that lead to eating disorders, excessive exercise behaviors, and narcissism. I was a weak person with low self-esteem. Competing fed my need for acceptance and approval by others. It made me feel special and accomplished. But for what? I was one of the lucky ones. Some people such as myself recognize how completely unhealthy the “fitness” industry is and get out before they do any real harm. Others choose to retire from this “career path” after they’ve suffered some health-related damage (physical and/or emotional) and try to repair what they’ve done. Then there are those who choose to ignore what they are doing to their bodies and continue to chase a dream, one with no rewards and full of health damaging, life altering effects.

THE EXCITING PART OF MY JOURNEY

Years went by. A decade. Although I continued to work out, eat healthy and idolize the fitness models and figure competitors in the magazines, I never had the opportunity to compete. By this time I had graduated from Western Michigan University, moved to Florida and was working as personal trainer at an athletic club just outside of Tampa. It was now or never. So I entered into a local show, the NPC Tampa Bay Classic. I created a nutrition and workout plan for myself, bought my suits (at that time figure had both a one-piece and a two-piece round) and starting counting down the days. It was so exciting! Something I had dreamed about for years.

When the time finally came I wan’t sure I had done everything necessary to fully prepare. It was the night before the show and I was in line for registration. I was all alone. I had no idea there would be groups of girls in “figure prep clubs” with matching outfits. It was a little like high school all over again. I was intimidated. I felt like they were all prettier and fitter than me. I didn’t feel like I belonged at all. I overheard conversations about when this girl should be eating this potato and what time she stopped drinking water or eating any food with any water in it…I was completely confused. Maybe I should’ve had someone help me with me contest preparation? The nerves set in bad!

I finally got to the registration table where I was measured (in figure they measure your height which is how you are categorized) and received my number to wear during judging. I was ready to get the heck out of there and go home. Was this all a big mistake? Was I going to be the only girl who didn’t know anyone else? Would I look like a total idiot and be laughed off the stage?

THE DAY OF MY FIRST CONTEST

It was finally here. Competition time. I had dieted and worked out hard for about 12 weeks. And now it was my time to shine. I had my smelly, fake tan on and attempted to make myself look pretty – makeup, hair, nails…and had been practicing walking in my super high, stripper heels…

I was super shy. But thankfully some of the girls were nice. I ended up talking to a few. But I think the nicest people I met were the ones putting on the show. The Schleicher family. They were amazing. They were so complimentary of me and so warm and friendly. They explained exactly what we (the competitors) needed to do so there was no confusion in all of the excitement. As excited as I had been for so many years to compete in figure, now I was finally getting the chance and once I finally made the walk on stage I was so nervous that I felt like my legs were shaking while I did my quarter turns. I wondered if the judges could tell. But once I made my way on stage in the evening show (the judging happens at an earlier show and the evening show is more for fun and to present the awards) I had so much fun! Several of my personal training clients came to cheer me on which made me feel special and I just felt amazing. So proud. Like I accomplished something great.

I can’t remember how many competitors there were total. I want to say around 15 in my height class??? Anyway, I ended up taking 4th place and was ecstatic to be bringing home a trophy. As I was making my way out to go home the show promoter came up to me with his wife and another girl who was an IFBB Fitness Pro. They told me I had an amazing physique and made a big fuss about my 4th place finish saying that I got ripped off. I was overwhelmed by their compliments. They made me cry! The Fitness Pro told me she also was an NPC show promoter and that her show (The NPC Southern States) was in a few weeks and a national qualifier. What this means, and I didn’t even know at the time, is that if you win your height class in that show (a national qualifier) you become a ‘National Level NPC Athlete’ so you are eligible to compete in National Level shows which are much bigger than the amateur shows. And if you win your height class (or are one of the top winners of the height class winners depending on the show) at one of those shows you become an IFBB Pro athlete (IFBB is the Professional status of NPC).

So after the excitement of the show wore off and I ate almost an entire pizza and half a gallon of ice cream (healthy, right?)…I made the decision to compete in the national qualifier. What the heck. It would be fun, right? After getting my feet wet at the Tampa Bay Classic my confidence had increased substantially and I was super excited to compete again, this time knowing what to expect. The Southern States was in beautiful Fort Lauderdale so it would be a nice vacation as well and my best friend at the time said she would come. Fun!

So I get to the show – this time a little more trained and a little more prepared. Backstage I was a little embarrassed though. All of the girls has super blinged-out competition suits that made mine look super cheap. But I have to admit my body looked good. I still felt intimidated though since I didn’t belong to any of the ‘figure girl cliques.’ But I didn’t let it ruin my fun.

I got out on stage and did my thing. I was still nervous, but nothing like the first time even though this was a much bigger show. The night show came and I had some friends in the audience. There were a lot of girls competing – 20 to 30 in my height class alone and there were 5 height classes. Most of the girls looked amazing. I was hoping I would place in the top 5 of my class so I could take home another trophy, but at least I was having fun. Once it came time to announce the placings the people backstage held back the top 5 to stay and I was one of them! So exciting. We all made our way back to the center of the stage and they started giving out trophies. Fifth place. Fourth place. Third…all the way to second and they still hadn’t called my name. Seriously? I was thinking in my head, is this really happening? I must be in second. Then they said it. I won my height class!!! I was shocked! I couldn’t believe it. This girl who was once obese in high school who always felt ashamed of her body just took first place at something having to do with her body shape? WHAT? It was such an adrenaline rush. I walked off stage and was about to leave and someone grabbed me. “Where are you going? You have to stay for the overall.” I hadn’t even thought of that. I had to go back on stage with all the class winners to compete for the overall win. I didn’t even care about that. I was so excited to have won my class. And now I was considered a national level figure competitor at just my second contest.

But guess what? I WON! I WON THE ENTIRE SHOW! I couldn’t believe it. Little ole me with my boring little cheap suits and my tan that I did myself and hair and makeup that I did myself…I was shocked and AMAZED and ready to celebrate!

THE NEXT STEP

Winning The Southern States made me want to focus my career toward the fitness industry. I was determined to achieve my goals of becoming the next fitness inspiration. When FLEX magazine advertised a fitness model search competition to be held at the 2006 Olympia in Las Vegas I sent my entry with photos and a biography right away. When I got a call back to be interviewed I was so excited and traveled all the way to Atlanta, GA for the opportunity. It was so exciting when I found out that I had been chosen as one of the finalists to compete in Las Vegas at the 2006 Olympia. They told me they had received thousands of entries! (not sure if that is true – just what I was told).

It was my first trip to Las Vegas and very exciting. By this time I had competed in two shows, so I expected the girls to be catty and mean. I didn’t let it affect my having fun. They had announced the finalists online well before the contest so of course I looked up each finalist. Jamie Eason was by far the most well known girl with the most professional photos and website, so I expected her to be the meanest of the bunch and of course go on to win. The funny thing was that she ended up being the sweetest girl there and the only one I actually really talked to the entire time. She ended up winning the model search, but I was still proud to take second place right behind her!

WINNING MY PRO CARD

I competed in two national level contests in 2007. First was the NPC Jr Nationals in Chicago. It was a huge show! Nothing like I had ever competed in before. For the first time ever I had my tan professionally done as well as my hair and makeup. I had two new, gorgeous competition suits and was ready to go. I ended up winning my height class! Unfortunately, there were 5 height classes and only 3 of the class winners were made IFBB Professional’s. I was not one of them. On to the next contest.

The second show I competed in was the IFBB North American’s in Cleveland two or three months later. Again I had my tan, hair and makeup professionally done taking much of the stress out of “looking good.” Once again I ended up winning my height class…and the entire show. After just five contests I had won my IFBB Pro Card. I would now be considered an IFBB Professional Figure Competitor. I was so excited. Thinking back on it now it seems so ridiculous, but back then it was probably the most exciting moment of my life.

I ended up taking an entire year off before competing again. It was in August of 2007 that I won my pro status and I didn’t compete in a professional level show until 2009. It was the Jacksonville Pro Classic and it was the only pro show I ever did.

COMPETING AS A PRO & SEEING THE INDUSTRY FOR WHAT IT IS

My mom, sister, and aunt flew in from Michigan to support me at my first pro show. We were having a lot of fun together. I registered, got my room, got my first spray tan…it had been a while since I had competed, but I felt like I knew what I was doing and felt confident. I was excited to have fun and compete as a pro for the first time. I was thrilled to be sharing a stage with Jenny Lynn, someone who I had admired in fitness magazines for years and couldn’t believe I was going to be judged at the same level as her. But once I got backstage it was an entirely different ball game.

 

“I listened to everyone talking about how they hadn’t eaten this or drank that or done this in months and blah blah blah…it made me think, wow what am I doing? I don’t want to be like these people! They’re all so depressed and have no lives because they are so obsessed with looking a certain way…and for what?”

There were some good things about being pro – we had a better backstage area with more room, more mirrors, less crowding, etc. We were treated like VIPs. But the excitement was totally gone. Everyone looked lifeless. Drained. Depressed. Like they had been running after this dream with no rewards for years. Everyone looked so sad and serious. It deflated me. It was so energy draining that once I walked out on stage I barely even posed. I didn’t even want to be there. I just wanted to get off stage and go hang out with my family. I listened to everyone talking about how they hadn’t eaten this or drank that or done this in months and blah blah blah…it made me think, wow what am I doing? I don’t want to be like these people! They’re all so depressed and have no lives because they are so obsessed with looking a certain way…and for what? There is NO MONEY in this industry. Even if you’re a top earner you STILL aren’t going to make much. And it is so hard on your body. And even though I didn’t take steroids (you’d be surprised at how many of the girls do – even in the new ‘bikini’ division where muscles aren’t supposed to be big) I still took mega supplements and ate tons of protein – AWFUL FOR MY POOR BODY!

So I quit. But it’s funny, because once I got out is when I started to meet more people who were into “competing.” I would recognize behaviors in them that I recognized in myself. For example, a lot of people who decide to compete suffer from low self-esteem. Competing makes you feel good. To get on stage and get recognition for looking good – for people who have felt bad about themselves for years that’s a great feeling! Then there’s the comradery. You meet others who are also into obsessive behaviors like weighing every morsel of food they take in and exercising 2 to 3 hours per day and not having any other social life other than going to the gym and fitness competitions…whoa. THIS IS NOT HOW I WANT TO LIVE MY LIFE! You know who I am talking about. It’s the girl or guy who is always in the gym carrying around that giant jug of water (can’t they just refill a smaller one? LOL), constantly posting pictures of themselves in barely any clothes after workouts or by the pool, and also posting pics of everything they eat and all of their workouts – pretty much their entire lives are on display via social media. They need to let everyone know how much they work out and what they are eating at all times. They need approval from others – they need everyone to make a big fuss over the hard work they are putting in and the sacrifices they are making. They call themselves fat in a desperate attempt to get others to post comments on how great they look.  These people are DESPERATE for attention and will ALWAYS be seeking approval. They will NEVER be happy with what they look like and it is so very sad. Very, very sad because it is ALL CONSUMING and there is so much more that life has to offer! 

“When you put someone who has had a low self-esteem for several years on a stage and make them feel like a super star they get addicted to the attention. They end up doing whatever it takes to keep looking good. At any cost. No matter if they are killing themselves or not.”

It had been a dream of mine to compete in figure for over a decade. Never had I ever imagined I would become an IFBB Figure Pro. But soon after that dream became a reality I realized how absolutely unhealthy it was. It made me so sad. Eating disorders, excessive exercise, drug abuse, excessive supplement use, the list goes on. IT’S LIKE FEEDING AN ADDICTION! And I say this because when you put someone who has had a low self-esteem for several years on a stage and make them feel like a super star they get addicted to the attention. They do whatever it takes to keep looking good. At any cost. No matter if they are killing themselves or not. “Fitness” industry? To me this is a misnomer since the word “fitness” by definition means physically fit and healthy. This industry is far from physically fit. Have you seen these pro bodybuilders? They wouldn’t be able to run a mile! Not a single mile! And healthy? Don’t even get me started.

So I’m sure I have a bunch of “haters” out there now after writing this blog post. Let me say again, I DO NOT think that ALL competitors have low self-esteem. And I DO NOT think ALL competitors are taking drugs (I wasn’t). And I DO NOT think ALL competitors have eating disorders and obsessive behaviors. And for the record, I have to say the Schleicher family at the Tampa Bay Classic is one of the nicest families I have ever met and I don’t for one second regret competing. After all, most of my experiences were fun and it DID open my eyes to a whole new perspective toward nutrition. In fact, if it weren’t for my experience in figure competing I might not have decided to go back to school for my Master’s degree and become a plant-based nutritionist. And most importantly, I might not have ever found my true, inner beauty, the ability to “let go” of my need for approval from others and appreciate all that I have – especially my health. Because that – my health and happiness is what is truly beautiful. Health, love and happiness. All things happen for a reason, right?

Thanks for reading about my experience. I wish you all of the best.

“I have no regrets. If not for my experience in the fitness industry I might not have ever found my true, inner beauty. I may have never found the strength to “let go” of my need for approval from others and appreciate all that I have – especially my health. Finally I am free!”

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