I enter a too-small room with hot lights, and mirrors everywhere, filled to capacity with 40 to 50 girls in various states of undress -- plumping, primping, adjusting, or minimizing themselves with a frenzied kind of determination. The smell of fake tanner, hair spray, and sweat invades my senses and I can’t help but feel both overwhelmed and excited, all at once.
Water depleted, I feel drier than a raisin that has sat in the sun too long. Carb loaded, my veins and muscles bulge to the surface, making me look almost alien-like. Hyped up on fat burners and brimming with nervous energy, I take a spot in the dressing room and begin my pre-stage ritual.
My name is Dina, and I am an NPC bikini bodybuilding athlete.
My journey began exactly six months ago. After losing 15 pounds, I decided that I wanted to take my fitness exploits to the next level. I was wasting time on Facebook, as I often do, when I came across the profile of a childhood friend. Scrolling through her pictures, I couldn’t help but notice those select snaps of her tanned and posing in what looked to me to be a blinged-out bikini.
My old friend had become a bodybuilder, and it was at that point that I realized that I kind of wanted to be one, too. It looked like fun. So in November of 2012, I joined a competition team, and the rest is history.
All competitors start somewhere, and my somewhere was bottom -- at least in the bodybuilding world. I thought I looked pretty good back then. I liken it to being on a beach in a throng of average women, where your body stands out as a seven or eight, or maybe even a nine or 10 on a great day.
Now imagine being thrust into the world of bodybuilding, where silicon and surgery are common, and in a sea of perfect bodies you are now a three or four. Reality called, and told me that I needed to lose some serious weight. Elliptical and crunches just wouldn’t cut it anymore. It was time to do work.
So I stuck to my plan, and my body started to change. About three months in, my training was ramped up even more.
I picked my very first show for April, which is considered pretty early in the competition season. Now with all of this talk, I bet you are wondering what a day in the life entails?
Lucky for me, I am a freelancer with the ability to make my own schedule. I have all the time in the world to spend in the gym, and many days I do. Following my coach-prescribed plan, my social life quickly became eclipsed by my two-a-day cardio sessions and once-daily weight lifting sessions.
Wrapped up in layers of sweat-inducing neoprene, and loaded to the gills with caffeine and all of those other unpronounceable stimulants listed on the back of fat burner bottles, I ran on the treadmill until my legs and lungs burned and my mind was mush, and I lifted weights that sometimes surpassed my own.
A weight belt and Pumas, not a handbag and heels became my accessories of choice, and Lululemon became my new fashion mecca.
I was starting to look like a bodybuilder. Gone were the cellulite and dimples, the sag and the pudge, and in their place stood lean, hard muscle.
As my show date approached, training took a turn for the more intense, and various beauty prep rituals came into play. In that week leading up to prep, my weight training intensified, my water intake increased from my usual gallon to two, and I had to begin an exfoliating, moisturizing, and shaving ritual that would ensure that my fake tan would look as good as it possibly could.
Twice daily, I had to scrub my skin to new, rosy perfection and then slather it with lotion, and I also had to shave every hair on my body that wasn’t the hair on the top of my head or my brows. This includes, but is not limited to my face, arms, legs, stomach, and back. I enlisted the help of my dutiful boyfriend in getting to those hard-to-reach places. Suffice it to say that you don’t know the meaning of the word intimacy until you utter the words “Honey, please shave my back.”
Pesky body hair out of the way, it was time to get tanned. No matter your ethnicity, your natural shade or your body chemistry, all competitors are required to tan their bodies to the same shade of reddish brown. If one opts to do it herself, good luck -- because potential for a catastrophe for the self-tanning novice is pretty high.
I opted to have my tan airbrushed on by a professional, and as such had to lay down a good chunk of change to venture forth to the tanning location the day before the show, strip down to nothing but the pale and pasty skin I was born in, and stand in a room with other women in the same state of undress, waiting to have a complete stranger spray my here, there, and under-there with a cold mist of self-tanner. The poor woman spray tanning me saw areas of my body that even my boyfriend hasn’t seen. It’s just not a pretty endeavor.
I went through the spray process four times in the days leading up to my show.
The morning of the competition, I was a shade so deep that my own boyfriend didn’t recognize me when I stepped on the stage. Since my face wasn’t sprayed, I had to match my visage to my body with a foundation so dark compared to my natural complexion that I felt like a fool putting it on.
Next came false lashes, dark eye makeup, and a reddish blush that would put Bozo to shame. A bright pink lipstick finished off the clownish-in-person but perfect-on-stage makeup rather nicely.
Settled in my spot, it was time to get into my bikini, which is an ordeal in and of itself. Nothing more than rhinestone-encrusted scraps of fabric that barely cover top and bottom, the delicate suit needed to be carefully put on, and then strategically (literally) glued onto my body by my coach, to ensure that it remained where it was supposed to.
Boobs plumped, and bikini bottoms firmly wedged into my butt, it was time to rock. The jitters, the nerves, the stress, all of those feelings melted away, replaced by the rush that I felt strutting across that stage. I was a different version of me -- one with confidence, self-assurance, and a killer body. I was a better version of me.
In reflecting after the show (I took fourth, by the way), I understood that despite the ordeals I was put through, the stress, and all of the work that I had to put in, that I had found something that was missing in me, in competing.
When you are a spectator of a bodybuilding competition, it’s all glamour and glitz. Beautiful men and women with perfect, glistening bodies parade in front of you, flexing and posing, smiling and winking, trying to win your love and convince you that they deserve to take home the overall win.
What you don’t see is the hard work, the sacrifice, and the countless hours of preparation it took to get them there. You don’t smell the stink of tanner and sweat, don’t feel the incredible exhaustion that comes with the process, but you do appreciate the bodies that you see before you.
I understand how crazy the whole preparation procedure sounds to the non-competitor, and knowing what it is truly all about, I can’t help but want to do it again and again.
My name is Dina, and I have fallen in love with the sport of bikini bodybuilding.