I have flown out of the Portland airport two times in my life, both times for my graduate program’s residency workshops, both times occurring in the past year. And both times I had my zipper break. Not on my bag. Not on my shirt. Nor my shoes. Not my purse. Not my mouth. But my pants.

The first time, it was my favorite pair of brown corduroy jeans. Yeah, corduroy. I’m an eighties child, so corduroy is comforting and fun. You know…the swish swish swish of your thighs revisiting each other with every step at every pace. And even when the corduroy lines wear down to threadbare material, the jeans still stay together. But the zipper on those bad boys. Nah. That was no match for my ass when I pulled the pants up in the bathroom just 30 minutes before my flight was going to take off. I had no spare pants in my carry-on bag. I had a safety pin, but that did diddly squat. Trust me. I tried. For a solid ten minutes, I huffed and puffed and said a few F-bombs and cried. If someone was in that restroom, they would have thought I had eaten something particularly bad. But nope. I just broke my zipper with my off season ass. So I had to put on my sweatshirt, tug it down to mid-hip level, and hope no one would stare at my crotch that was now allowing cotton panties to peak through.

The second time was my purple denim shorts. Yes, I have purple denim shorts. Frayed at the edges and oh so cute. They matched my purple ankle boots and sat just right just above my hip bones and gave a nice contrast to the gray bodysuit I finally found a reason to wear. But the zipper broke. I just stared down at my shorts in disbelief. Was this really happening again? I think it was the same damn stall too. I had blue denim shorts in my carry on bag, so I did a switch and shook my head. What was it about Portland that busted my zipper each time I left? What was it about me that I broke my zippers repeatedly?

I’ve been holding onto this question ever since the second zipper breakage. Once is an accident. But twice? In the same place? That’s no coincidence. That’s somebody trying to tell me something. But what? And before you tell me that I need to put the Blue Star donuts down, I only ate Blue Star donuts (6 of them, to be exact) on my first trip to Portland in January. But this second time? This second time, I was in contest prep. It was June, and I was 11 weeks out from my first show this year. No. This is has nothing to do with the size of my ass and everything to do with me trying to determine what to zip my lip about and what to break free with.

I want to talk about what I feel Women’s Physique should be. I want to talk about my fears of not having a place in any division anymore. I want to talk further about my decision to get onto hormone replacement theory and what that walk on the “dark side” has meant to me, how it has changed me, what decisions have arisen from it, what I feel women in this industry have a responsibility to divulge so that other women in this industry remain protected, healthy, free to make decisions that have no dependence upon men (and some women) who have zero medical backgrounds but are still giving advice to women who have such intricate hormone systems. But if I break my zipper and open up, where does that leave me? Will anyone else choose to unbind themselves and open up too? Or will I be exposed and alone? Pointed at and laughed at? I have a feeling more women will follow in my footsteps and start having more open conversations. I have a feeling more women will learn what questions to ask and not just say, “okay, yes sir,” when their coaches give directives. I can’t tell you how many women have divulged to me that they just followed whatever their coach (who may or may not have been a boyfriend, friend, husband, thus compounding the issue) told them to do. No questions asked. My eyes tend to become saucers when I hear this, my shock written all over my face. I think sometimes people get irritated with me because I ask so many questions. But how in the hell am I supposed to learn if I stay silent? I am not a kindergartner who is just supposed to stand in line and do what the teacher says just because the teacher is the authority figure. I am rational, thought-driven, analytical, logical individual who cares about her body and health and would like to live to be 122 (even if it means I’ll be walking around at 4’6” by that point). I don’t want my goals in the bodybuilding world to mess up my goals to retire and read books on the beach when I have more wrinkles than I have hair. I’d like for old age to take my hair, weaken my heart, damage my liver, derange my mind, steal my hormones. Not bodybuilding.

I recently asked on my Instagram page what femininity is because that term is being batted around a bunch right now when discussing women in the various bodybuilding divisions. But is this really the right term for us to use when discussing where a particular division should go? Or should we be focused more on women’s health and let that steer the conversation rather than relying upon a term that is so deeply set by cultural standards? After all, how do we define something adequately and fairly when we cannot separate our cultural biases bored into us from as early as our single digit years? I am pretty sure that back in caveman days, men and women didn’t walk around trying to figure out whether they appeared masculine or feminine. They were too worried about surviving. But with society telling us what we should believe is beautiful on a woman, as a woman, for a woman, do we ever get a breather to determine what we think is beautiful for women ourselves? Is it even possible to separate out what we truly think is feminine from what society has shoved down our throats as being feminine? And is there an age cutoff for femininity? Does femininity ebb and flow through its definition as the decades go by? I look at actresses like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirth, and I see femininity. My grandmother was feminine. But not in the lip collagen, breast augmentation, Snapchat filter alteration, lash extension, hair extension manner that is pushed on us in this era of social media. I’ve never understood why women’s bodies get to be like corduroy and other fashion trends. Skinny is in. Skinny is out. Big breasts are in. Big breasts are out. Huge butts are in. Huge butts are out. When will we break the zipper on the expectations others have for our bodies, our faces? When do we get to break free of definitions placed upon us rather than created by us? I don’t know. Maybe as long as we have eyes and are human beings, we will never break free of this. It’s in our DNA to categorize everything around us. Put everybody into their boxes based upon how they look, what they believe, how they act. But wouldn’t it be nice to break that zipper, just once, and find a different view to put on?

I am pretty sure when I fly out of Portland again in January, after my graduate program’s residency workshop, my zipper will break. I’ll be sure to pack an extra set of jeans so I’m not caught off guard. In the meantime, I’ll plan out how I’ll deliberately unzip my experiences as a competitor so that it will help other women undress their fears and find something else to change into that they are more comfortable with.

–Jodi Leigh Miller

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