After twelve years of consistently training and physically evolving, this past spring, I competed in my very first natural bodybuilding contest. Now, those that decide to compete do so for a variety of reasons. Some are natural show-persons.
In The Spotlight
These individuals adore the spotlight and can think of nothing more satisfying than standing up on stage beneath the bright lights in front of a very large audience. For others, competing provides some sense of legitimacy. However, for me, competing represented " passion" and "commitment" at its very pinnacle.
In my mind, competing was all about the dedication, the desire and the stamina to withstand the assault on the mind and body. By its very nature, preparing for a contest is an exceptionally intense but solitary experience. At this particular time in my life, something about having to dig deep within my own spirit and devote myself entirely to a grueling training schedule and an exacting diet really appealed to me.
So, I made the commitment. I wanted to take the journey. During the seventeen-week period, however, I learned much more about myself than I ever anticipated or for which I otherwise bargained.
Looking In The Mirror
I think that deep down, if truth were told, I harbored the thought, perhaps the hope, that sculpting my best possible physique would somehow translate into a heightened self-image and an increase in self-esteem. As a personal trainer, I listen to so many women complain about their bodies and physical appearances. Some of my clients are overweight and absolutely refuse to look in the mirror. These women literally hate what they see.
In fact, one of my clients closed their eyes when they were using any machine or performing any exercise that even remotely threatened to give them a glimpse at their own reflection. Many of my clients look at me with a bit of envy and honestly believe that because of my physical condition, that I cannot possibly understand their body image problems.
On many occasions they confide, "if I had your body, I would feel really good about myself." Well, if you, the reader, are one of these people that hold this belief, I am here to tell you that you are quite wrong.
Changing On The Outside
As I indicated, I learned much more than I initially bargained for training for this contest. At the end of the entire seventeen-week process, there I stood, muscular, tan, and "shredded," but I was still the same person inside. NOTHING changed except for my physical appearance.
Rest assured, on contest day, seventeen long weeks after I began, when I got up in the morning and looked at myself in the mirror, I was the very same person that I was on day one. And, passion for bodybuilding aside, when it finally dawned on me that I would be standing up on a stage, under bright lights in front of an audience in less than a bikini flexing my muscles and asking people to judge my body, all of my insecurities immediately came front and center.
To the untrained eye and from the outside looking in, I suppose that I appeared to have it all. On the inside, I wanted to run and hide.
If you believe, for one moment, that attaining a superior physical self will solve all of your problems, eradicate all self-doubt and cure a poor self-image, allow me to assure you, it will not. It just does not work that way. Losing ten, twenty, thirty or one hundred pounds will not guarantee that you will see a different person when you look in the mirror despite the physical transformation.
Considering that the mind, body and spirit are all interconnected, if you only attend to the physical self, the issues in your life that a weight problem merely disguises will still be there once the extraneous fat is stripped entirely away. From experience, I know this as a truth.
Please do not misunderstand, working toward physical fitness and health are very important indeed! I absolutely encourage EVERYONE to embark on a sound nutrition and exercise program. Further, getting your physical house in order so to speak will indeed give a wilting self-image a boost.
But, by the same token, do not overestimate the value of your physical appearance to the detriment of your own emotional and spiritual well-being. Indeed, the mind, body and sprit are all interrelated, interconnected and thus, interdependent. You cannot become a whole person with any one of these vital components missing.
Those of you that struggle with your weight please do not dismiss me or be so quick as to think that you and I cannot relate, understand or otherwise learn from each other. We are merely reflections, indeed shadows of one another; while you found comfort in food, I found comfort in extreme physical exertion and while you used food to create a suit of armor against an unforgiving world, I used the iron to build a muscular body for the very same reason.
The demons of self-loathing, self-doubt and insecurity that plague you plague me also. While I do not purport to understand your struggles, by the same token, you cannot understand mine. But, we are still in this together. So, while our outward appearances may differ, internally, we both struggle just the same.
The Ultimate Goal
When you confront your own insecurities and enter a gym to tend to your physical being, I understand that you struggle internally with much more and I silently look on and applaud your courage and your efforts. Indeed, the ultimate goal, for both of us, is to look into a mirror and learn to honestly love the person that's staring back.