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Dear Body Builders, What Gives?!

November 13, 2013

51c6pfpYWgL._SL500_AA300_A week ago a friend of mine told me she has decided to become a body builder. And I’m fucking pissed.

Okay so I’m not so much pissed as I am worried… and not so much worried as just plain shocked… and not so much shocked as just completely and utterly overwhelmed. What the hell? Is body building really still a thing? Normal people actually choose to do it for fun? But seriously, it exists?

To me body building has always been this cartoonish joke from the past, sure people used to do it but after Arnold Schwartzenkegal kicked everyone’s ass the ‘sport’ more or less faded out, right? They must have realized that steroids aren’t healthy, right? Those winners in the Guinness Book of World Records are rare people, right?

I even get that it’s sometimes fun to watch super buff guys fake wrestle in the WWE or even be entertained by the 80 year old woman on YouTube who lifts her car, but body building in real life? Like as a hobby that my close friend is choosing to spend the next 2 years of her life participating in? Like something that is prevalent enough that the local gym is offering classes to help you compete? Like something that smart, intelligent, young people decide to do for fun? That kind of body building doesn’t make any sense to me.

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From what I’ve learned in the last week, modern body building competitions are like beauty pageants for really muscled people, except beauty pageants at least ask the contestants to answer a question and show off a talent before making them parade around in a swimsuit. There are no scholarships or promises of world peace here, only spray tans and creepy posing, the judges circling around to inspect the competitors like they’re buyers at a dog show.

As my friend explained what her regimen would entail for the next 2 years of her life I did my best not to let my jaw drop, seriously questioning her sanity as well as my reality. Apparently she is going to drink 3 protein shakes, take at least 8 ‘vitamin’ pills and spend two hours in the gym every day. It’s a myth that eating small meals all day is healthier for you she assured me, so her plan is to skip breakfast and lunch, eating two large chicken breasts and some special protein filled rice for dinner. Then once she’s in better shape (March apparently) she’ll approach the body building coaches that have advertised at her gym, asking them to take her on as a client for the next 6 months. If they agree she’ll pay them $2,000 upfront (not sure if that is for the full 6 months or not) and she’ll be given a meal plan, more diet/muscle pills and a community of like-minded people to hold her accountable for her body.

_ME20393Then come September my friend will willingly cover her porcelain white skin with an orange spray tan and take routine steroid tests before parading around in a bikini as judges inspect her muscles, measuring them and comparing them to another girl’s who is just as desperate for their love. The prize money is minimal and the favor of the judges is everything, I tried not to explode as she told me that she’d be working on her abs more than her arms because the judges tend not to go for bulky biceps and that all cardio is out because just lifting weights straight does much more good. Seriously, this is her idea of a hobby? Altering her body in hopes of pleasing a complete stranger? She thinks this is something that will make her happy? No cardio?!

The worst part is that she isn’t happy now and thinks that this will somehow bring purpose and fulfillment into her life. But how can worrying about what you look like help you find happiness?

When I met her in college she was about 15lbs overweight, having grown up in oversized t-shirts to hide the boobs that had grown too much too fast. As we grew closer I watched as she shed the weight and her wardrobe, posting photos of scantily clad women on our walls for inspiration and reading beauty and dieting blogs regularly. She was always a beautiful girl, but in the last few years she’s become a stunner, putting in hours daily to perfectly primp her hair and paint her face. Every person she meets tells her how beautiful she is. Maybe she has trouble taking compliments to heart or maybe she just will always crave more of it. Maybe it’s my fault for not helping her get over this sooner.

She’s tall like me and her boobs are the kind that have never fit in a string bikini, so you can imagine my surprise when she told me she thinks she can transform her soft pale self into a tanned muscled mass. What’s the point, I asked her, genuinely confused to why she’d even consider something like this.

sf-bodybuilding-war-memorial12dIt’s for the challenge, she told me, she’s never had to work hard at anything in her life (school came easy) so she might as well see what she can do. She then pulled out her phone and scrolled through Instagram photos tagged with #thinspiration and captioned with “nothing tastes as good as healthy feels,” excitedly showing me what she’ll look like in a few months. This girl is my favorite she told me, pointing to a person that was tall like us. How could I argue with her then? She was so excited, and exercise and challenging yourself are good things, right?

Well it’s been a week and I’m ready to argue, realizing that these body building competitions are all about looks and pleasing gross judges. There is nothing about health, happiness or making the world a better place anywhere amongst these pageants and I’m worried guys, I’m so worried. How am I supposed to sit back and watch as my friend wastes her intelligence and beauty and life chasing some screwed up ideal of beauty?

The only part of this that makes even minor sense to me is the exercise part. I have plenty of friends that are hard core athletes, two of my best friends are skiing in the Olympics this year and another 6 of my Facebook friends are headed over there too. I think it’s awesome that they have 10 pack abs and can bench press themselves 100 times, that they’ve chosen to spend 60 hours a week in the gym pursuing a goal. I know how good it feels to push past that wall your body thought it saw and how rewarding it is to accomplish things that so many other people can’t do. But getting in shape isn’t the problem here. Being strong or dedicated or athletic isn’t the problem here.

The problem is the why.Bikini 3

My friend is doing this because she wants to look good in a swimsuit. She is doing this because she wants to look the BEST in a swimsuit. She isn’t creating anything other than a visual ideal. She isn’t seeing how much weight she can bench press or see how fast she can ski around a gate. She isn’t trying to win a medal for the highest jump or prove that women can dunk too. She is purely and simply working her ass off to be more attractive, trying to find happiness and validation from people outside herself.

And I hate it. I hate it. I hate the concept and I hate the practice and I hate that she’s about to spend her time and money on this crap instead of on other beautiful and important things that I know she can and should do. She has a boring, terrible job that she has no intention of leaving, and a perfect supportive boyfriend who only fights with her because he doesn’t know how to make her happier. She told me she wants to go on anti depressants but she can’t because they might react poorly with her new vitamins. She used to want to be an actress and a singer, a public speaker and a politician, now instead of trying for any of them or coming up with something new she’s decided to spend all her time over the next two years on her body. And I don’t know how to show her or tell her or explain to her that happiness isn’t found in what we look like.

How can spending that much time of your life thinking about your appearance be healthy? How can tailoring your body to be visually pleasing to a group of people who care nothing about you be good? How can spending 2,000 on pills and classes and meal plans be better than traveling the world? She says she’s doing it to accomplish something, to have a goal, but a visual goal, a comparison goal, a goal that is nothing more than an arbitrary judgment can’t be good.

which-body-do-you-want

Ummm…. My Own?

Why doesn’t she have a goal to hike to the top of a mountain every day or to compete in the Ironman? Why isn’t she spending 2,000 on a happiness coach, teaching her to love her body instead of constantly want to alter it? Why isn’t she taking the steps to provide for her future, pushing herself into new careers and learning new things? She’s only 24 years old, already 24 years old, why doesn’t she realize what other things are important?

So I obviously don’t know everything, and I’m at a serious loss at how to help my friend but right now I do know I’m the happiest with myself I’ve ever been. I know that sounds ridiculous but I swear it is really and truly because I’ve made a serious effort to do three things in the last few months. I’ve decided to love the way my body looks (I only workout to improve my stamina and overall health-not appearance), to do things that make me happy (like adventuring and loving people), and to do things that make me proud (like staying at a mediocre job so I won’t be unemployed). It’s made a world of difference in my life, and I know that these three things won’t work for everybody, or even always for me, but… it’s a start right?

And anything is better than body building.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2013 11:16 pm

    Anything is better than body building? I have to disagree with you there…I’ve been watching a lot of Breaking Bad, and I’d say that cooking or using meth as a hobby would be even worse than body building, lol.

    I DO completely agree that it’s lame to put so much effort into something that is all about the external, although maybe she would argue that she’s getting non-visual benefits as well, like developing self-discipline. While body building is totally unappealing to me, I do respect her desire to challenge herself to do something she never thought she could do. Hopefully she mellows a bit and just gets into shape without having to devote her whole life to body building, but even if she doesn’t, at least she’ll have an interesting story to tell her kids one day about those crazy years when she was a body builder, right?

    • November 15, 2013 6:49 am

      yeah. i think breaking bad is a show i’m never going to watch. too much drama and not enough singing.

      and I really hope your right that she’ll stick to the good parts of this and stay away from the dangerously close terrible ones. She did say that challenge and self-discipline are part of this and I sort of believe her – i just wish she didn’t feel like she had to discipline herself based on looks.

      p.s. what do i do now? I obviously used this amazing anonymous forum to voice my rant, but what do I do in real life? I’m supportive obviously – i love her and I’m excited she is excited. But. She and I had a bunch of talks last week about how real friends are truthful with each other even when it’s difficult. Do I nicely voice my concerns now? Or do I just let her ride it out – waiting for her to realize that the competition part isn’t necessary? Ugh. I just want her to be HAPPY.

  2. November 14, 2013 9:04 pm

    Although I think body building is weird and agree with you that the judging part is creepy, I don’t think it’s the worst thing you could do. Many times when women are unhappy with their bodies they go for the super skinny look by going on crazy diets or (sadly) becoming anorexic or bulimic. Your friend is going for a strong, fit body. That’s awesome!

    I did weight lifting in college as part of our track program. Weight lifting is really good for your muscles and bones, and it can actually burn more calories than cardio. As long as dangerous drugs or diets aren’t involved, I’d be supportive.

    I agree that getting in shape for a triathlon or hiking up mountains (if that’s possible where your friend lives) would be preferable to body building as a hobby/sport. But I think your friend could have made much, much worse decisions. (And let’s face it, many people get involved in sports to get into better shape. And if people are overweight, they’re going to use physical activity as a means to improve their physical appearance. Not to body builder extremes, but still.)

    • November 15, 2013 6:43 am

      Thanks for commenting! So I may have gotten a tad overdramatic with that line at the end… And all the others before it. Of course there are worse things she could be doing and you’re so so right that working out can be a great thing to boost your energy and mood and make you all around happier. I’m hoping this will be great for her, I really am. And parts of it definitely will be (like the weight lifting and the challenge). But. I just wish she’d worry less about her appearance and more about her strength. Taking ‘fat burner’ pills and extreme diets aren’t good for your heart (do i mean that literally?) and I’m worried that this will only make her already self conscious demeanor worse.

      Maybe I’m too idealistic (okay so I know I’m too idealistic) but I just wish NO ONE would ever work out to meet a visual standard. I know people do, obviously, but why? If you’re body is capable of doing all you want it to and last as long as you want it to then how will your life really improve? Weightlifting to get stronger and feel more accomplished? Great! EAting healthy because grease makes your arteries hurt the next day? Wonderful! Running to live longer? Sweet. But this swimsuit competition is just a heightened version of the real life looks competition all of us feel everyday, and I’m refusing to take part in it. My body is a vessel to accomplish the things I want to do, it isn’t an end in itself.

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