I think there comes a point in time where every competitor has to pause, assess her
progress, and form or edit goals. For me, that point started after my last show, and I have been trapped in that state until today. Yes, a breakthrough!
I won't repeat my history, which has been recorded in a brilliant interview with Jason Adams, but I will back up and mention that I did not set out to become a bodybuilder—I was actually aiming to become a competitive powerlifter! I came into
bodybuilding almost by accident, because as I attempted to alter my nutrition to make my lifts better, I shed bodyfat and discovered a physique I could be very proud of!
Like many of you, especially you mesomorphs, I struggled against the “skinny is pretty” ideal for most of my life, and it's still a struggle sometimes. I spent 24 years thinking my “soccer legs” were a curse, so to find an entire industry in which
my muscular frame could be a gift called “good genetics” was like discovering a world where I could finally embrace my body, instead of fighting so hard against it. I went into my first contest prep with no intention of winning, and with nothing but
a love of my sport and a new pride in my genetics.
...Then I discovered the role of figure and bikini categories. Until my first show, I didn't know that even in this industry of muscle and power, my body could still be too muscular to be ideal, and my hard work couldn't be enough to speak for
itself. In terms of the female bodybuilding category, I am extremely pleased with the outcome of that show. However, I was informed backstage by a bikini competitor that “no one pays to see female bodybuilders.” I was devastated. If a 112lb
lightweight could be regarded with such contempt, then what hope is there for female
bodybuilding in general? I have continued to be crushed by the many indications within the industry that female bodybuilding is simply not ideal, even to the very
supplement companies, like Optimum Nutrition, which sell products geared for bodybuilders but sponsor only figure and bikini competitors. But I digress...
I went into this year's show braced for the pain of that rejection, only to find a
backstage area full of well-wishing, non-judgemental competitors from all three
categories. I will never forget the amazing women I met that night! Instead of
feeling too masculine, however, I felt too feminine. Or something. I felt out of place in my category, as though people would have preferred to see me compete in figure...the comments I received only solidified this feeling. I decided that it was
time to make a change. Either I would change myself to fit a category, or I would make room in my category for myself, win or lose. I couldn't handle feeling as though there was no place for me. I came back from that show ready to put on some size!I am certain that figure is not for me, and I want to continue to compete, so the only thing I could focus on was making improvements to my physique in terms of size.
However, I have spent all of this time seriously wondering, how big do I really want tobe? Can I handle any more of the negative comments I receive from strangers? How will Mike feel about it? How much do I really value my femininity, and how much
am I willing to part with? How much of myself will I have to compromise to legitimately win an overall? What do I need to do to become competitive at nationals? I then began to look at the pros...and well, things spun out of control. Today, it hitme: this is how it happens—this is how people lose sight of their goals and forget why they ever loved what it is they do. Everyone who was ever good at anything has been here.
Recently, I have been surprised to learn that even some of the amazing heavyweight
female bodybuilders struggle with the same issues. I find it tragic that even women who have broken beyond the gender stereotypes are still punished for it, often to
the point that their talent is compromised and many will never realize their full
potential. Most of us do not question our own love for the sport—rather, we have to worry about how we will be received by others.
So for now, I'm still focused on building and improving my physique to compete again in the summer of 2011, but I'm going to switch gears for a bit and remember where this all started. I urge everyone to do that this week! STOP and focus on whyyou started. I'm going back to the lifts that made me love my body in the first place! Soccer legs are a gift to anyone trying for a big squat! I am going to do what I do, love what I do, and secretly hope that one day I can contribute to a renewed respect for muscular females, on our own terms.
Enough of my thoughts on society's skinny/beauty ideal and its effects on the industry. For now. Stay tuned for my next installment—I'm compiling a list of my favorite (and least favorite) comments from strangers. Start thinking of yours, becauseI know you have them, and be ready to add them to my list in the “comments” section! Many of you post them in your Facebook statuses, so I know they're out there.
Sheena A. Hunter
University of Maine
BA, Women's Studies
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then
it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” --Audre Lorde