A New Leash on Life
If our view of everyone’s lives was centered solely on Facebook status updates, we would think that the whole world is beautiful and happy. We are all eating great food, waking up charged and refreshed, having the best workouts, experiencing wonderful relationships, hanging with the best friends, and looking incredibly amazing. But what we tend to not post is the pain, strain, and drain in our lives. Facebook is a lot like planting the most beautiful flowers in our yards while behind closed doors exists a murky, moldy mess.
Don’t get me wrong. I use Facebook just as much as the next person. But I recently read an article (while on Facebook, if you can believe that) about how Facebook and social media in general is causing girls to feel less than confident about themselves and thus resort to eating disorders in order to be as beautiful and skinny as their Facebook friends.
I wonder how much this relates to the bodybuilding, figure, fitness, physique, bikini world (good lord, I wish they would stop adding divisions and just polish up the expectations for the divisions already in existence, but that’s a whole other blog post that I’ll save for another time). Think about it. Girls are constantly posting progress pictures and competition pictures. And we now can do in our personal lives what the magazines do for their businesses…weed out the photos we want the public to view and throw away the scraps, never to see the light of day.
I think that is a disservice to human nature though. It’s important for you, as a fan or fellow competitor, to see what I look like in off season. Without the make up. Without the spiffy hairdo. Without the bronzed tan application. Without the glitter suit. And even sometimes without the smile.
Not every day in my life is sunshine happy. I don’t walk around with sprinkles, unicorns, and rainbows pouring out of my sweat glands. In fact, I handle depression. While in the shower earlier this morning (why is it the best writing comes to me when I’m in the shower and have no waterproof post it notes?), I carefully thought about how to word this. I typically say, “I suffer from depression,” but that makes me a passive participant that tags along with Depression in the lead. And it’s not that way at all. Depression may rear its ugly head, but I single-handedly calm its rough waters, and so I deliberately chose that verb, “handle,” when I decided to bare myself in this post.
I actually think of depression as a puppy dog on a leash. It follows me wherever I go, right at my footsteps, waiting for table scraps, begging for attention, nipping at my heels just to remind me of its existence. But I have to make it obedient to me because if I don’t train it, then this creature will overtake me, rule my house, make messes in the carpet of my life (and that’s the nice way for me to put it).
The best leashes I’ve found to rein in my depression are the gym and healthy eating. Those are my antidepressants that clear the fog that darkens my soul on some troubled days. But that same fog threatens to infiltrate my clear skies when competitions enter the mix. Growing up, I never felt good about myself, and it became worse when I went off to college. I didn’t like my face. You might snort at that statement, but just like anorexics look in the mirror and see fat and bodybuilders look in the mirror and see scrawny, I looked in the mirror and saw ugly. It took years to overcome this, and there are still moments today in which I fight the same battle, but I now have the weaponry and maturity (and the absence of a once-toxic relationship) to slay that dragon with minimal battle scars.
But it wasn’t until I began competing and being compared to other girls…and to my stage self…that I started to doubt not just my face but my body as well. Then I began to experience firsthand the yo yo emotions of moving through contest prep into off season and back into contest prep that threatened to shred my self-esteem.
Here’s the thing: when in the final weeks, days, minutes prior to stepping on stage, you feel your best. Everyone stops to ask you, “When is your show?” They exclaim, “You look so incredible! I can’t believe how lean you’ve gotten.” They remark, “I wish I could look like you.” Photographers want to work with you; men want to be with you . . . you get the picture. And so it goes. You step on stage, pose your way to a placing that you may or may not like, march into the cheat meal of a lifetime to celebrate the victory (or weep for the loss), and wake up the next morning wondering where your abs and hard work went. And so the battle begins:
Self: “I want Belgian waffles and burgers and fries and chocolate cream pie and nachos, fritos, Cheetos, and ice cream sundaes and whatever that crazy concoction was on Diners, Drive ins, and Dives.”
Self again: “But I want my abs and veins and striations and size 0 jeans and guys looking at me in amazement with drool escaping the corners of their mouths.”
Self: “Godiva cheesecake, Thai noodles, lasagna, meat lovers pizza, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.”
Self again: “Abs. Abs. Abs. Veins. Veins. Veins.”
I’m making light of this just a tiny bit, but in reality it’s no laughing matter. It is a true tug-of-war between wanting to eat foods of which you have deprived yourself for months and not wanting to throw away that crisp stage physique that cost you hours of sleep, hours of social entertainment, and hours of sanity. You must know, I have had to work hard to appreciate my body’s changes from off season to the stage and back again. And that means I have had to work hard to appreciate myself…my whole self.
Competitors, especially those at the top of their game, tend to be hard on themselves, tend to have an overachiever aspect, a Type A personality, maybe even suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or previously experienced an eating disorder. As a result, we expect perfection and we beat ourselves up when we don’t reach that. The thing about competing is that there is no such thing as perfection. We always try to be better than we were before. Leaner, meaner, bigger, stronger. But at some point we will plateau, we will slide backwards, we will fail. It’s the human way. This is precisely the point at which self-appreciation comes in handy. I look at it this way. No one lives with me quite like I do. Judges don’t. Trainers don’t. Boyfriends don’t. I am the only who lives inside of this mind and body, who looks in the mirror and sees her own image staring back. Thus, it is only my opinion that truly counts, and I need to make sure it is an accurate one. I need to understand and accept that my thighs will touch in the off season. My butt will grow twofold. My lower abdomen will pooch out. My arms will soften. My face will fill out. My hamstrings will smooth out. My curves will loudly announce themselves because that’s the way I was made.
I have had to consciously make an effort to accept my face, my body, my mind, my life. This is who I am. While there was a time when I would wish I was anyone else but me, now I understand that the mistakes and choices I’ve made to date are what make me who I am today. I will always be flat chested. I will always have a large nose. I will always be sarcastic. I will always appreciate staying in and reading a good book or watching a movie over going out amongst strangers and drinking myself silly. I will always speak my mind. I will always have the crinkles around my eyes and the freckles along my nose. I will always love to eat; conversely, I will always know how to make the right choices at restaurants and grocery stores. I will always expect more from myself and will always pick myself up when I don’t reach those expectations. I will always know how to select magical words to express my feelings. And I will always know how to empathize with others because I’m willing to admit the pain, strain, and drain that I’ve experienced in my life and to thus share my “leash” on life.
Stick around. These definitely aren’t my last words.