Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mind Over Matter: Making a Place For Female Muscle....and If Anyone Minds, It Doesn't Have To Matter by Sheena Hunter

Mind Over Matter
Making a place for female muscle...and if anyone minds, it doesn't have to matter.

This has been a pretty interesting week for me. Just a few days before my second
bodybuilding show, my Promoting Women interview posted and I was asked to write a column for this blog. To be honest, the first thing that came to mind when Jasonannounced that I would be doing a column for this blog was, “oh no don't suck don't suck don't suck...” No pressure, right? And then it occurred to me—there really is no added pressure. I can contribute to the world of female bodybuilding with or without an overall win at the second contest of my short career. I am learning, and I am a work in progress...but aren't we all? Let's progress together.

I should begin by introducing myself, but before I send my very private thoughts into the vast abyss of the world wide web, I'd like to invite you to introduce yourself to me as well. Post a comment, shoot me a message, or Facebook me...just let meknow who I'm writing for. Are you a competitor, or someone who just wants to build a better physique? This might be helpful to know before I go off on a tangent about peak week or other contest-specific issues. However, please know that I'm not
writing to offer advice on training or nutrition—not only am I not qualified to help
anyone, but I am also still learning and am certainly not an expert. I can only write about my own experience in the sport, with the hope that something I write
might brighten your day or affirm your own experience.

I am 26 and this is my second year as a competitor. My family means the world to me, and if I'm not in the gym I'm either with them or reading a book. I have a BA in Women's Studies and am headed on to graduate school in Atlanta. I am a feminist,
and I am very strongly opposed to the standards that women have been expected to live up to. I am in this sport to make room for women who do not want to be held to the ideal that skinny and weak equals feminine beauty. I also reject the idea of
boundaries—who drew the line between “perfectly toned” and “too muscular”? Why are
Michelle Obama's arms considered over-the-top by some critics, and what does that mean for the rest of us? I am not immune to the struggle with insecurities and bad
body image days, and so I will explore these issues openly as I grow as a woman and as a competitor.

I chose bodybuilding over figure because I work damn hard for my bicep peaks and gym cleavage (pecs), and the figure poses felt very unnatural, like I was being asked (yet again) to hide my hard-earned size. I have felt the pain of the Barbie idealfor a very long time, and I have felt the confusing pressures of the mixed messages that say women should be sexy but not slutty, thin but not skinny, curvy but still thin, etc. I feel that figure competitors are caught in the middle of those mixedmessages, constantly guessing how much is “too much” and which judges are going to favor which look. For me, I want there to be no confusion: I am an aggressive athlete. I sweat. I have pullup and deadlift calluses. I refuse to present myself as anything other than an athlete, until I am outside of the context of my sport. I don't work out in heels, so why on earth would I compete in them? If you want to see me in heels, I'll likely be rocking six-inchers at the after party.

I have no hard feelings toward figure competitors—in fact, I have many friends in
figure. There is a girl at my gym who busts her butt in the gym harder than any man
there, but still chooses figure even though she could be competitive in
bodybuilding. I believe what keeps her in figure is that the industry offers more
opportunities for figure, and I am certainly not mad at her for being smart enough to see that. It is the industry that angers me. It is frustrating to know that my
chances of ever being a sponsored competitor are very slim. I am frustrated by photos of figure competitors on ads designed to appeal to female bodybuilders, as though the figure image has been superimposed on the unsightly reality of bodybuilding.

I can't say it hasn't been hard to swallow my pride as figure competitors get to be
known as the “pretty” and “ideal” ones with “not too much” muscle, while I watch my
femininity diminish as I get closer and closer to the show. I struggle between
the part of me that wants to be “pretty” and feminine, and the bodybuilder side of me that wants more size. It hurt like a punch in the stomach to hear the difference between the way FBBs were announced as we took the stage, and the way the figure
and bikini girls were announced. But, as an intelligent and attractive female athlete, I owe my daughter and the world more of myself than sex appeal, so I'm learning every day how to take it as a compliment when some backwoods hillbilly man tellsme I would be so much hotter if I wasn't so muscular, or when I hear girls whisper, “ew, why would you want to look like that?” as I walk by in a tube top.

So, this is me and this is what I'm about. Who are you? It is likely that, competitor or not, if you are attracted to this sport it is because you yearn for self-improvement in some way. Improve with me, inside and out, as I move forward and
explore both the mental and the physical sides of female bodybuilding.

In the meantime, let me leave you with a perfect illustration of my battle with
femininity...I still giggle about this one. Maybe some of you can relate: it was
miniature golf in a small town, and I was going for that feminine pretty feeling of
being on a date with my breeze, warm night...I thought the kids were all staring at my boobs until I saw the photos later:

1 comment:

  1. The reason this girl at the gym competes in figure is because I do not have the courage to perform a routine and I do not feel that I accomplish the size you seem to be able to achieve. I have to give you kudos, you are right there next to me busting your butt! To be honest your are part of my drive. When you start bulking up and I feel I am looking a bit on the puny side or that my workouts are lacking, I step it up a notch! I am also very competitive. I am not afraid to say that I am sometimes a bit intimidated by you. I do not seem to have the knowledge or expertise with nutrition and workouts like you seem to. Even though we are not extremely close, I will miss you when you move. I amdire you as a person and as a promoter of natural female lifters. I laugh because people at the gym always ask me about you or refer to both of us when asking if "we" are training for a competition. Some even refer to us as sisters. We are alike in some ways. I have to say that I do learn from you. I do feel that sometimes we get on edge with each other only because we are both so competitive. Congrats on your recent competition. You looked so much more defined and had more size this time! Keep up the good work. Well I wish you the best of luck on whatever Atlanta brings! Keep in touch and dont forget about us small people when you make it big!