The Comparison Game

OK, some Real Talk here…This past weekend I found myself checking up on all the social media accounts of the women competing at the Governor’s Cup out in Cali, as I was following the results of the show. All I kept finding myself thinking was “holy smokes, these women look amazing, there is no way I can compete with that.”

STOP RIGHT THERE.

Yes, that’s right- my personal mantra from the very start of this journey has been that I am doing this show FOR ME (my own self-improvement), not for anyone else and certainly not for a placing. And yet I still found myself falling victim to the dreaded but all too common social media comparison game.  

Here’s some advice. DON’T DO THAT.  

First of all, we must realize that the beauty of social media is that it lets us paint whatever picture we want. It lets us show only what we decide to show. And so our “followers” can never truly know if they are seeing the whole picture. This is fine. But with that, we “followers” must take ownership and realize this fact and therefore try not to put too much stock into what we see on social media.  

Social media, fitness personalities, IFBB pros- it can all certainly be very inspiring. There are people out there who are absolutely AMAZING (like all those women that competed at the Governor’s Cup- huge props ladies- you all killed it!!). But sometimes, without us even realizing it, social media can start becoming a negative mindset trigger—and usually that happens when we start comparing ourselves, our bodies, our own journeys to those of others. This was the case for me this past weekend.

But you know what, I have no business comparing myself to anyone else, and neither do you. Luckily, I am pretty quick to recognize these negative mindset triggers and snap myself out of them. But for those of you out there that may not have the same awareness yet, definitely check in on yourself once in a while as you’re scrolling through social media and ask yourself what emotion is it actually triggering. Are you feeling positively motivated and inspired or are you feeling like you’re not measuring up?

The comparison game can really become a negative mind f*ck if we let it (pardon my language, I don’t typically swear, but it really is the best term to describe what I’m talking about). But the fact is, I am ME and you are YOU. We each have our own unique circumstances with different challenges and obstacles to overcome. What I do should have no bearing on you and vice versa. Regardless of what anyone else out there is doing and regardless of how anyone else out there is looking (at 10 weeks out, 5 weeks out or on stage)- it really has nothing to do with me. It does not change what I need to do on a daily basis to get myself ready for the show. It does not change my reasons for wanting to compete. And it does not make me any less deserving to stand on stage. Because my journey is my own and it is for ME. And I encourage everyone out there to take that same approach. You can only control YOU- your own actions, your own behaviors, your own mindset- and those things have absolutely ZERO to do with what anyone else is doing. So stop comparing yourself to anyone else and start focusing on YOU.

On a personal level, I’m going to take this concept even one step further. Most people involved in bodybuilding style competitions set the goal to become better with each show. And this is a fantastic goal- it’s always best to work on improving yourself as opposed to trying to “beat” others or to win a certain placing. But sometimes even that thought process can be a little detrimental.  I’ve found that every contest prep is different with different challenges and circumstances, so it may not always be fair to even compare yourself to, well, yourself. We always have to take into account our current circumstances. When I had announced that I wanted to compete in figure, I stated that my goal was to beat my 2013 physique. It seemed like a valid and motivating goal at the time, but truthfully, I really didn’t consider my circumstances before making that statement. I have now come to realize that I was in a completely different place in 2013, and so constantly comparing myself now to myself back then has proved to be a bit of a negative mindset trigger as well. In 2013 I had done a strongman show earlier in the year (and placed 2nd and qualified for the nationals!).  I was doing a lot of crossfit and conditioning workouts leading into and throughout my prep, and my shoulders were MUCH more functional than they are now. My ability to train at an exceptionally high level was much better (and I was training for fitness) and thus my training was much different than it can be now (due to my current injury limitations).  

Additionally, my focus has really not been on bodybuilding AT ALL in the past few years. In the last 2-3 years I’ve focused a lot on my career and made some major career shifts.  I’ve also adopted two rescue chihuahuas (my full time fur- babies), and moved in with my boyfriend and taken on the role of weekend stepmom to two young boys. In the gym my focus had been on a balanced approach to exercise that kept my body (and mind) as healthy as possible, and I even trained for and ran in a half marathon this past fall. So no, I have NOT been training for a figure competition this whole time. I literally decided about 8 weeks ago that I wanted to compete again and that was when I started training for it (giving me about 2 weeks to come up with a game plan and 14 weeks for a contest prep). So with all of that being said, how can I truly compare myself now to myself in 2013, or 2011, or 2008 when I stood on the Olympia stage. I am completely different NOW than I was in any of those times, so the comparison is not valid.  

But it doesn’t change my journey. It doesn’t change how hard I am working to be my very best RIGHT NOW in my current circumstances. All I can do is the best I can do RIGHT NOW, with what I’ve got to work with RIGHT NOW. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

So just like I’m telling YOU to stop comparing yourself to others, I am also telling ME to stop comparing myself to others AND to myself in the past. MY current journey is what matters to me (and yours to you). RIGHT NOW is what I need to focus on, not what used to be.  I have no idea exactly how I’ll look the day of the show but I know I will be able to say that I did my very best. And that’s what truly matters. That, and sharing my journey and these types of insights with you guys, in the hopes that it may help you as well.

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Fitspiration gone wrong

Recently I came across an article published in the March issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders that examined “fitspiration” websites versus the already known-to-be dangerous “thinspiration (or Pro-ana)” type websites.(Here’s the link to the article in case you want to read it yourself http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25778714/ )

The study looked at 8 “coded variables” of potentially harmful messaging content on the websites, including things like food guilt, body/weight guilt and dieting/restraint messaging. Not surprisingly (to me at least), both types of websites shared common themes. In fact, the study reports that 80% of the “fitspiration” websites examined included one or more of the coded variables (potentially harmful messages). The study found that “…fitspiration (sites) include objectifying images of thin/muscular women and messages encouraging dieting and exercise for appearance rather than health motivated reasons. Such content may normalize compulsive exercise and (the) guilt inducing messages may contribute to poor body image…Research has noted the hazardous messages contained on “thinspiration” sites. The current study also indicates that sites supposedly devoted to healthy pursuits may contain (similarly) dangerous content.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the same results could apply to social media “fitspiration” as well as websites.

An additional study that I came across in my reading on this topic was aimed at attempting to identify demographic populations that most frequently visit/follow health and fitness related social media pages of 3 types- weight loss/fitness motivation (“fitspiration”), detox/cleansing, and diet/fitness plan pages.  Do you know what this study concluded? Teenage girls. Consumers of health and fitness related social media content were predominantly teenage girls.

Fitness family—WHAT ARE WE DOING?? The first study is indicating that we are essentially operating on the same level as pro-eating disorder websites.  And who are we promoting this to?? Teenage girls!

Something needs to change. 

The word “fit,” in the context we are looking at, by definition means: “in good health,” or “physically healthy and strong.” Nowhere, in any definition that I came across, was the word “fit” defined by anything about how a person looks. So WHY has “fitspiration” become so geared toward influencing how we look, instead of how physically healthy we are. Why are we promoting achievement of a “look” over achievement of health… (To teenage girls!!).  As a member of the fitness industry I can tell you first hand, the way a person looks is NOT an indication of his/her health status.  

One of the “coded” variables in the first study was “thin pose”- meaning a picture of someone posed in a way to make them thinner. This was not something that was typically found on the “fitspiration” sites. However, had they included a variable for “awkwardly twist your midsection to make your waist look as small as possible, pop your hip up to make your butt look bigger and don’t forget to flex your arm pose” I’m pretty sure the fitspiration sites would have scored even higher on their ability to promote damaging messages.

Here’s the thing folks, it’s OK to be proud of how you look. And it’s OK to post it up once in a while for the world to see. But maybe we all should start thinking twice about the true message we’re putting out there as well as WHO we are pushing this message on.  

You can be “fitspiring” without putting up a million and a half pictures of your abs (butt, boobs, etc). You can also be “fitspiring” without objectifying your body. You can promote healthy eating without encouraging restrictive/disordered tendencies and obscure food rules. And you can promote physical activity without insinuating a need for obsession or extremes.  

So let’s start actually promoting the concept of being FIT- as in “good health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”  And maybe think twice before you post that next abs/butt/boobs [insert other body part here] selfie or your “guilt-free” restrictive food rules.  What message are you really trying to send and who in fact is listening?

Why Compete

There have been more and more stories coming out about the negative experiences women are having in the realm of physique based competition (figure, bikini, etc).  I myself have even spoken on some of the negative side effects I had dealt with from my involvement in the fitness industry.  So why would I voluntary return? 
From a personal standpoint, I’ve learned so much about myself and gained so much insight over the past several years. And one thing that remains true is I simply love to train for things. I’ve reached a point in my life where being an athlete certainly doesn’t define me. I am comfortable in my own skin and I know who I am. But I truly and simply love to train to compete. If a person loves to sing she should sing, if a person loves to paint she should paint. I just happen to love training, especially with a goal in mind, so why shouldn’t I do it, so long as it’s done in a healthy way. 

At this point in my life, my options for performance based training are pretty limited due to previous injuries. Things like fitness, crossfit, triathlons and even half marathons or other running based events are really not healthy choices for me as they will almost certainly exacerbate old injuries.  But I CAN train for figure in a manner that allows me to keep my body healthy without further progressing those injuries. 

But what about all of those negative consequences that go along with competing in figure? Well, one thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that in order to embark on a journey towards any goal in a successful manner, especially one that deals directly with your body, you need to have a very good sense of self.  The fact is, when competing is approached with the right frame of mind, it can actually bring many benefits, none of which have anything to do with how you actually look. Discipline, persistence, work ethic, self confidence, strength, patience- just to name a few. There is nothing wrong with these characteristics. In fact, these are all pretty important attributes to possess to be successful for most things in life.  The problem arises when these things are rooted in fear. When behaviors are rooted in fear- fear of gaining weight, fear of not looking a certain way, fear of not being enough, fear of failure or disappointment, fear of not measuring up, fear of what other people think of you–that is when things become excessive and unhealthy.  Behaviors rooted in self love and a true desire to become a better person while maintaining a sense of contentness within yourself are not negative or unhealthy.  It’s ok to want to be better and to strive to reach goals- it just has to all come from the right place.  For example, discipline should come from a place of self love and self respect. It’s when discipline comes from a place of self punishment that it becomes unhealthy.  Obsession is not healthy. 

I can honestly say at this point in my life I have a very clear sense of what is healthy and what is not.  When I look in the mirror and ask myself why I want to compete, my reasons are exactly as I have written.  I love to do it. I love the process and I believe the process helps build me into a better person.  There is no hidden feeling of the desire to “get lean” because I don’t feel good enough as I am.  I love who I am. I say my goal is to match or beat my previous best physique. But the truth is, the actual outcome means nothing to me. It’s the behaviors and the process that truly matter. It’s challenging myself to overcome obstacles that used to cause me a lot of anxiety and feeling stronger because I can now push through them. It’s about learning to do the best I can, given the individual circumstances of each day, and feeling proud of myself for my efforts. I am no longer afraid. I’m not afraid of gaining weight after the show, I’m not afraid of what people will think and I’m not afraid of failing. I am choosing to do this for myself. 

From a professional standpoint, I feel it is my responsibility to lead by example.  There are way too many people in the fitness industry that are setting the wrong example. There’s way too much emphasis on the physical/vanity component with not enough emphasis on health. I want to show other competitors that they can choose to compete in a manner that emphasizes maintaining mental, physical and emotional health.  But who am I to tell people how to do it if I haven’t done it myself. I also work with athletes. Who am I to tell them that they can reach big goals in a healthy manner if I’m not doing it myself. I’m a big believer in the concept of actions speaking louder than words. And so I hope that my actions are what speak to those who look to me for help.

That’s why I choose to compete.