I’m Smaller Than I Think

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I have never been overweight a single day in my life, but since everything is relative, and since there is tremendous pressure on fitness models and competitors to be extremely lean, I definitely experience fat days. You know those days when you just feel fluffy, bloated, tubby, like a stuffed sausage? Yep, I have those days too. However, I guess I am retaining less water, mostly due to following a pretty clean food regimen, and as a result have been awarded with a tighter appearance. My measurements are still the same, yet a bunch of people have asked me if I lost weight, and will tell me I look tiny.

I got confirmation of my tiny dimensions lately when I tried on two different articles of clothing in my closet. One item was a pair of jean leggings from Hue which I had purchased in a size Small, based on online reviews which suggested that someone with my dimensions (5’5″ tall, 120 pounds, 24 inch waist, 34 inch hips) would fit better into a Small than an X-Small. Much to my surprise, I put on the leggings, and they were so baggy on me that they looked ridiculous on me. Then I tried on an old pair of MEK Denim jeans in a 24 which I had avoided because I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to wear them. Instead, they fit like a glove. I had almost gotten rid of those expensive jeans because I thought they didn’t fit me anymore!

I realize that my immersion in the world of fitness has made me more neurotic about having more of an off-season body, but the truth is that my off-season appearance is actually quite acceptable. I admit that the increasing laxity of my skin has caused me a certain degree of distress. However, even though the half-century mark looms several months away, I am making every effort to give myself credit for looking pretty damned good for my age.

I no longer live in waist trimmers in order to squeeze out subcutaneous water and shrink me down. I am well aware of the fact that an excessive degree of body dysmorphia exists within the fitness community, which is the inevitable result of constant pressure to look almost superhuman, with defined muscles, ripped abs, and unnaturally low body fat. Though I adore that look, I am also tired of having every square millimeter of my body scrutinized.

By no means am I saying that I am giving up on being as fit as I can possibly be, but I will no longer allow myself to feel as if I am out of shape or huge when I can fit into a size 24 jean!

The Funhouse Mirror Effect Part 2: The Women’s Mirror

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It almost seems to be an inherent part of a woman’s nature to be self-effacing, so much so that women often downplay or neglect their beauty and talents. In fact, I am willing to bet that if you placed an average looking man and an average looking woman in front of a mirror and asked them to assess their physical appearance, the man would concentrate on his assets, while the woman would immediately zone in on her imperfections and problem areas. Though the natural human tendency is to practice self-enhancement, in which we rank our abilities or physical attractiveness as higher than it actually is, women are exposed to physical ideals which bust their confidence and often plant a seed of self-loathing. How can an average woman feel good about herself when she sees rail thin models in fashion magazines who are excessively Photoshopped? Consider this: the average high fashion model has these body statistics:

Fashion Editorial Model
FEMALE: Usually 5’8” – 6’0” (175 cm) in height. Tall, thin build, narrow hips, smaller bust, and usually young. Ages start at fourteen up to early twenties.
Weight: 113 – 128 lbs.
Bust: 32” – 34”, cup A, B, sometimes C
Waist: 26” maximum
Hips: 35 1/2” maximum

Thank goodness the tide is turning in favor of a healthy, realistic view of women’s bodies. Women are beginning to understand that fashion magazines depict a view of the female form which is so far removed from reality that it isn’t reasonable to compare themselves to it. I love this passage from an article I read on this subject:

Perhaps we’re finally starting to realize that so much of what we see on TV, in the movies and in magazines is actually fake. A few women’s blogs — particularly Jezebel — have become sort of watchdogs for Photoshop fakery in women’s magazines. Most recently, the blog attained an untouched photo of Jennifer Aniston, posting the untouched picture next to the airbrushed photo of the actress that appeared in an Australian magazine.
“I think those are great because they really remind people that what they’re seeing in the magazines isn’t reality,” says David Frederick, a psychology researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who co-authored the survey along with researcher Kim Elsesser and professor Janet Lever of California State University, Los Angeles. “You’re taking someone who’s already considered really attractive, and then you’re saying, ‘She’s not enough; we have to do more to her.’ So you’re literally creating an impossible ideal. Even the perfect women aren’t perfect.”

I think it will take a while before we women are completely healed from the skewed perception of ideal female beauty which countless magazines, Barbie dolls, and fashion billboard ads have imprinted on us. It is that skewed view which contributes to the flaw-finding gaze which many women adopt when regarding themselves in the mirror and which makes that reflective surface act more like a funhouse fat mirror.

Bigger Breasts Are Not Better

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There is such a thing as TOO BIG when it comes to breasts that are surgically augmented. In my humble opinion the limit has been reached when each of a woman’s breasts is larger than her face. Some women don’t have a choice and have to deal with what Mother Nature bestowed upon them, but other women actually choose to go under the knife to have excessively large implants surgically installed. I have even heard women say pre-surgery that they were hoping to achieve a cartoonish Jessica Rabbit look with extremely large, round implants. In other words, they wanted their breasts to look fake.

When breasts look like distorted balloons, the natural curved architecture is lost. Another problem with extremely large implants is that men (and women) tend to regard women who have them as cheap, slutty, and lacking in intelligence. I realize that these are gross generalizations, but they are so common that any woman who tries to deny this is a fool. It’s important to be aware of how people may potentially regard you once you have a surgical augmentation, and if you have a problem with society’s impression of very large breasts, you might want to reconsider the size you are getting (if you don’t care, then more power to you!). Every once in a while I will see a beautiful woman with a delicate face and petite body who went overboard with the implants and as a result looks top heavy. For women who compete in the bodybuilding world, large implants can be very distracting, and not in a positive way.

Some augmented breasts may look alluring or eye catching when clothed, but horrifying when uncovered as a result of surgical revisions, scarring, ripples, unevenness, improper nipple position or capsular contracture. Almost every single woman I have talked to who has had extremely large implants (i.e., implants which have created a DDD or larger cup size) has had to have surgical revision. Some women who have had breast augmentation surgery also lose sensation in the nipples and in the breasts, obliterating that area of the body as an erogenous zone. It is also important to consider the anterior load on the chest which results from large implants and how it impacts posture. And forget about finding clothes off the rack that fit an extremely large bust.

The breast area is quite prone to body dysmorphia, which in large part explains why gargantuan breast implants are sometimes requested. Since the breast’s primary function is to provide nutrients to a baby, women and men will often equate a fuller or larger breast with greater fertility and femininity. While it is fine for a woman to desire larger breasts, selecting an extremely large implant size may only reinforce any insecurities about a woman’s sense of self and sexuality.

The Mind Of A Competitor

Oh, to be a competitor in the world of bodybuilding. It is empowering, exhilarating, inspiring, stressful, challenging and at times heartbreaking. A fascinating psychology exists in this world which can best be described by listing some of the quirks competitors have.

Ripped versus “Fat”:

First of all, competitors develop a bizarre love-hate relationship with their bodies in which they marvel at their bodies when they are lean and muscular and in contest shape, but will curse their bodies when they are the slightest bit mushy or fluffy. Competitors live in a world in which the bar is set VERY high. Competitors will see themselves as fat when others see an amazing body and will say so. Competitors will always believe that the more ripped and lean they are, the better they are. While this is a necessary component of contest prep, it plays games with a person’s self-esteem because it is a constant battle to reach or remain at the pinnacle of leanness and muscularity.

2012 North American
Overtraining:

Some competitors will overtrain in an effort to get their bodies dialed in, without considering the inevitable damage they are doing to their bodies. Yes, we are warriors, and yes, it can be a great thing to push through, but with too much training, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. I completely relate to the principle of training constantly for a big contest because I have done it many times. I have endured double training and double cardio sessions which at times had me in the gym for five hours at a time. I have sustained injuries in my foot, ankle, knee, shoulder and forearm and continued my training because a big event was looming around the corner. Was it smart to train through injuries? No, but at the time I couldn’t imagine slowing down or stopping just because of a silly injury. This is the very thing I now scold clients about. No contest is worth hurting yourself!

“A judge told me I suck!”

Another thing that competitors have a habit of doing is worrying about what judges say and taking criticism hard. Competitors need to remember that bodybuilding, to a considerable degree, is a subjective sport, and if you are going to allow a judge to rip you apart and kill your spirit, then you probably shouldn’t be competing at all. The word of one judge is exactly that. Now if you speak to a bunch of judges and people in the sport who know what the ideal for the division you compete in is, and they all tell you the same thing, then you can probably assume that what they are all telling you is constructive criticism which you can then use as a reference when you make adjustments to your training program. That way, you will address certain weaknesses without throwing in the towel.

Money drain:

Bodybuilding is a VERY expensive sport. When you tally up the cost of food, supplements, coaching, competition apparel, spray tanning, accessories, hair styling and makeup application, travel expenses, and entry fees, the financial load can be immense. Competitors will often go broke, scraping up whatever money they have to make the dream of competing happen. This is not a poor man’s sport! That is why I tell competitors to establish a budget and be judicious about which events they want to do and what they can afford to do. I also advise competitors to seek out sponsors to help out with the enormous costs of competing. It is not unusual to see competitors forgo other hobbies and vacations in an effort to gather enough funds to support their competing habit.

Food Porn:

As a competitor who used to dream about food, I completely understand the fantasizing which occurs in competitors when on a contest prep meal plan. Contest prep meals are usually bland as a result of how clean they are, and some meal plans are so restrictive that one may eat only two food items throughout the day, such as chicken and asparagus. It’s only human nature to rebel against this type of meal plan after a while, because it is quite a chore to adhere to it every single day with no treats and no cheats. It is a normal occurrence for competitors to discuss what foods they plan to eat post-contest. What’s also interesting is that some competitors will become so rigid and so fearful of backlash from their coaches that they will only have a quasi-cheat meal post contest, then return to the same rigid eating plan they were on before. Other competitors may go off the deep end, eating everything in sight for days or weeks, only to deal with considerable rebound.

Conclusion:

Those of us who compete are indeed a strange breed. We are disciplined, driven and focused. I am fine with our quirks and accept them as part of the sport.

Fat Days

Feel fat catI have never been overweight a single day in my life, but since everything is relative and since there is tremendous pressure on fitness models and competitors to be extremely lean, I definitely experience fat days. You know those days when you just feel fluffy, bloated, tubby, like a stuffed sausage? Yep, I have those days too. An extra layer of fluid and fat has recently taken up residence right over my abdominals, preventing them from fully coming out to play. I was in a runway show a week ago and when I had to do my runway walks, I was horrified when my thighs rubbed together as I walked. This was due to several factors: 1) My thighs are very thick right now from heavy training, more muscle mass, and higher carb intake, 2) I am holding extra water under my skin, and 3) a runway walk requires you to lead with your hips, which decreases the space between the thighs. It was not an enjoyable experience to be on the runway and feel like a cow! Yet I had to be professional and push through the job, despite how I was feeling about my body.

There are days when I don’t want to show my midsection, when a baggy tank and maxi skirt or a flowing maxi dress will be selected as my wardrobe for the day. I know many of you are probably thinking, “How dare she say she has fat days when she’s not fat, she models and is an IFBB Bikini Pro?”, and to that my response is, once again, that everything is relative. Most women can relate to the monthly bloat that rides in with Aunt Flow and busts any plans to wear tight dresses and skinny jeans, and what I experience is similar. Five pounds can make a HUGE difference on my frame. And while I am always presentable, I am not always super shredded and super lean.
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Hooray for elastic waistbands, Lycra, flowy burnout tank tops, maxi skirts and maxi dresses. We all need comfortable clothing that doesn’t magnify every single body flaw. Though I don’t wear sweats, I completely understand why people gravitate towards them on weekends or other lazy days. I have always been intrigued by people who hide under their clothing and can relate to the faltering body image which accompanies it. Do I have days when I feel like crap about my body? Oh yes. Though it is usually a rare occurrence, I have had days in which I have grabbed the most forgiving garment and avoided the mirror, the scale, and the measuring tape.

Those of us who have careers in fitness are particularly neurotic about being fluffy or soft. We obsess over any pocket of fat, and stress out when water retention causes mini muffin tops to develop over waistbands. We will reach for those squeems In desperation to squeeze out that subcutaneous water and shrink us down. Some of us even hide away and avoid fitness events and other social outings due to embarrassment. An excessive degree of body dysmorphia exists within the fitness community which is the inevitable result of constant pressure to look almost superhuman, with defined muscles, ripped abs and unnaturally low body fat. Basically, we in fitness are expected to look completely different from the average person, which creates tremendous pressure to ALWAYS look great. A fat day for an average person may flatten mood but ordinarily will have no impact on the person’s livelihood or reputation, whereas a fat day for a fitness person can at times translate into lost gigs and hence lost money and notoriety.
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If only we all could relax and enjoy those fat days, and be grateful that we are blessed with bodies that are marvels,instead of fixating on how our pants don’t fit. As long as you aren’t using fat days as an excuse to avoid fitness goals, it is perfectly acceptable to relax and take the pressure off yourself every once in a while. We aren’t perfect, and that is what makes us human.