Research for this book was inspired by personal experience. It was when I entered the competition world where I was judged solely in terms of my physical appearance that I began to question attitudes towards the female body.
During conversations with fellow competitors, many have admitted to having ‘problems with their bodies.’ My own problem is that I do not want a body: nor the pain and effort that is required to keep it under control. Like most 21st century females, I have internalised the social and political ideal of Woman, and subsequently transformed myself into a product with which I no longer identify.
My obsession with physical perfection began aged 13 when an orthodontist fixed wire to my teeth to make them grow straight. At times, fearing my body’s appetite, I would starve it; then force a toothbrush down my throat until there was nothing left but blood. Over the years I have pushed my body to run and run and run; even in the snow, or with a bronchial infection, or suffering agonising shin splints. Now I lift weights until my vision is blurred and veins burst out of my skin. Even in the gym, I never allow myself to be without acrylic talons and a face caked in cosmetics. My hair has endured scissors, bleach and dye; and when that was not enough, I had someone else’s lifeless locks laced onto my own. Later, the needle became my ally, and for over a decade I was repeatedly pierced and tattooed. Yet, somehow, the pain of puncture and abrasion was insufficient. My body demanded more. So once I paid a thousand pounds for a woman in a white coat to brush acid onto my face. I had the surface of both my corneas burned away, and foreign objects inserted into each breast. Parts of my body have been removed, more stuck on. Every morning I take tablets, some days more than I should. Sometimes I think I should stop. I no longer recognise myself.
This book will explore the reasons why competitors restrain their appetites; sculpt their physiques into unnatural forms; and drive themselves to the limit with punishing training regimes.in ‘disorderly’ eating.
The focus is primarily upon body dysmorphia and eating disorders within fitness and bodybuilding competitions. I will explore the reasons why we feel the need to sculpt our bodies into unnatural forms; to control and restrict our physical appetites; to drive ourselves to our limits with punishing training and nutritional regimes. I will consider the reasons why I continue to judge my body as less than perfect if it is not lean with tight skin, striated muscle and a 23” waist.
Did the obsessive way that I approached competition preparation originate in my lifelong struggle with my body? Did competition exacerbate pre-existing patterns of disorderly eating? Was I brainwashed by sociocultural ideals into believing that being lean is the only means of achieving success? Is my desire to remain slender a refusal to accept womanhood and everything that it represents? Why do I judge my body; viewing it as a separate entity to be dragged around and constantly monitored, terrified in case it rages out of control?
When I exchanged my Nikes for a pair of killer stage heels in 2013, I discovered that there was a lack of literature regarding the negative aspects of training and dieting. Within the media there exists much motivational rhetoric reassuring us that ‘pain is weakness leaving the body’; ‘if it’s not hurting, it’s not working’; and ‘no pain, no gain’. These positive assertions promise pleasure through self-denial, focusing on the worth of temporary suffering in order to achieve a long term goal. They remain silent, however, on how striving to achieve the ideal body can lead to chronic physical and mental illness. Similarly, there is an absence of literature to explain the difficulty of resuming ‘normal’ eating patterns post-competition; nor the obsession and anxiety fostered by such unnatural regimes.
It was this lack of information regarding the potentially destructive aspects of competition preparation that inspired this book. The writing itself has been both a therapeutic exercise, in order to discover why I found the process and its aftermath challenging; and also to provide a voice for the silenced competitor – the woman who is viewed only in terms of her body – to bring the female subjective experience to the fore. My aim is to articulate the socioeconomic pressure that is internalised by individual women, causing them to become agents of their own subjection. I aim to leave the reader with a greater understanding of the origins of their self-judgement and to provide support and guidance to fellow competitors. In this way, we can hopefully learn to accept our bodies – whether stage ready, or off season.