I had attended a physique competition once before, working in Florida and having a friend of a friend who wanted us to attend. We did so in support of a first time competitor, physique class which is more muscular and defined than bikini, and less so than female body building. This was a time when I was pursuing my own physical transformation, from fat and unhealthy to normal, and seeing these people who had transformed from normal to super hero was indeed quite motivating for my younger self.
When you actually know the person involved it is pretty scary, but I was mostly frustrated thinking that there would be people whom neither her nor I know personally, who would in turn be evaluating her physique and comparing it to the others on stage. Regardless of the fact that this is exactly what these shows are about, as someone who has feverishly fought for my own ability to separate my perceived value from the vanity that exists within me, watching my friend being judged purely on physical appearance and presence, it was uncomfortable.
But this is my bias, this is the result of spending significant amounts of mental energy on the topic. She did not win in her class, but it is a celebration regardless. We celebrate strength, discipline, and showcase these virtues in the most vulnerable way possible, having them stand in front of hundreds of people, nearly naked. What an empowering concept, to present yourself, a combination of natural grace, and focused effort as one might present their paintings, sculptures, or photography, yet you are the art. It makes you think, art is always in some way a combination of nature and nurture, we can’t photograph without mother nature presenting herself to us, painters use their mental imagery, a marriage of imagination and things visualized, so forth. What I respect is the feverish pursuit of your passion and self-validation that can come when you are inspired not by the judgment of others, but your own fire. There is beauty in such things.
Interestingly, it may also be easy to attribute such beauty with chance, with winning some genetic lottery, but again a discrepancy exists between perception and reality. If people understood the sacrifice and discipline that preludes these final brief photographs, then more would undoubtedly be empowered. Common man can achieve godlike attributes; it is from us that they have acquired their image after all. And that is the beauty which I celebrate.
Competition gives us an opportunity to observe what can be done; it empowers us to see ourselves more idealistically as we do our cherished heroes in fiction. What is glorious about it is that the harder we push ourselves, the greater our successes, the more idealistically we live, the more realistic such things seem to the people we live amongst. In this sense, rewarding the most idealistic of our heroes is just such a way to hold us to a standard of excellence, based in our own strengths, curved by our own champions.
So, to me, these competitions are not about winning or losing, but about rising above the perceived walls we all so readily create. Even if it is futile to live in comparison to others, it is empowering to use our heroes as a barometer for what is achievable. Along the way, with enough self-discovery, discipline, and all of that jazz, it becomes much less about living up to someone else’s standards than it is about living up to your own, and when you do, even a loss can be seen as a win.