Expert Advice

I am currently reading a book called Figure Competition Secrets, and boy does it offer some interesting and useful advice. In fact, I am implementing some secrets right now by visualizing my success, standing a little straighter, and smiling. The author, fabulous figure girl Karen Sessions, writes mainly about fat loss, explaining how to ingest the right high-protein foods every three hours and transform one’s lovely lady lumps into a tasty treat. According to her ‘to compete in figure or just have the physique of such an athlete, you have to have all your ducks lined up. This includes:

• Nutrition
• Hydration
• Exercise (resistance training and cardio)
• Rest
• Supplements
Personal care for the figure stage such as:
• Hair
• Skin
• Nails
• Make-up

ALL these ingredients make the recipe for a killer dish.’ ……. Hmmm. So instead of desiring food and pleasure, the figure girl turns herself into a hot, spicy, and apparently dangerous meal to be consumed. How Freudian.

Aspiring figure girls such as myself can follow this recipe carefully to become something like the cinnamon lamb tagine that I made last weekend. Oh, scratch that..Sessions seems to prefer duck, and she is the expert, after all. But what exactly constitutes expertise in the world of figure and bodybuilding in general? Luckily for you, I happen to know: it is the first-hand embodied experience of competing multiple times. That is the key ingredient, like the pine nuts in your homemade pesto. I spit on those who use walnuts. They will never pose on my figure stage–especially since it is currently red and swollen. (Yes I was back at the laser clinic yesterday. In the waiting room was another hairless wonder figure girl like me, though she already had a nice t-shaped physique, heavy tan, fake fingernails, and Brazilianized blonde hair).

Sessions’ digital book starts with a disclaimer: ‘the author of the provided material is not a licensed physician. The knowledge acquired has been obtained through years of extensive
research and personal experimentation.’ Yet it is clear that for Sessions research and corporeal experimentation are the same thing. She has engaged in trial and error over the years, evaluating different supplements, diuretics, training programs, diets, and tanning creams by testing them on her own body and observing the results. Sessions’ body is essentially a science project and she describes it as such. She insists that ‘I developed a keen interest in how the body works in relation to food and exercise. With that, I took my training to the next level and began entering bodybuilding contests. The constant challenges kept me on edge to keep building and reshaping my physique. This makes me uniquely qualified to help you meet your fitness goals.’ Her book explains what worked for her and urges the serious figure girl to try it for herself, making adjustments according to the unique craziness that is her own personal flesh.

This emphasis on lived experience reminds me of the early modern period—stop gasping in surprise at this historical reference—when bodily knowledge was respected. Women could speak authoritatively about childbirth, for example, after having been pregnant and in labour multiple times. Those who had given birth to only a few children would be laughed out of the lying-in chamber; women who had never visibly demonstrated their fertility might be excluded altogether from the pushing, panting, wine drinking, and female-only conversation linked with reproduction during that era. Hopefully those unfortunate souls would have at least had a phantom pregnancy or some kind of menstrual irregularities to compensate for their lack of bodily knowledge. Or maybe they could theatrically produce a few rabbits from their not-so-barren-after-all wombs. Google Mary Tofts if you dare to question the veracity of that example…

In figure and other kinds of bodybuilding contests, the body is also a tool for learning; it is observed, tested, and to a certain degree managed. But it is never stable, never perfect, never conquered. It is unpredictable, always in flux and changing. The goal of bodybuilding is to see what one’s body can do, to see how far it will go, to learn from it and respond to it, not to mold it forcibly into an ideal shape. In that sense, bodybuilding overlaps with the practice of yoga, to whatever small degree. For there the body is not an object to be mastered, but an essence deserving of respect. In yoga, every body is different and these differences must be discovered, cherished, and challenged. Same for bodybuilding.

Bodybuilders are respected as athletes once they compete; they will likely not be acknowledged within the subculture until they have competed many times. This necessity is part of ‘paying your dues,’ and demonstrating persistence, but relates as well to the importance of longstanding bodily experimentation. The knowledge gained must then be displayed on stage, judged by a panel of experts (ie former competitors). Simply training like, or looking like, a bodybuilder does not make one a bodybuilder. The experience of competing (see my earlier blog called ‘Bodybuilder’s Bitch’ for more details about that) is like a ritual hazing, where you run naked into the woods with no food or water, and start to have visions, before emerging as a new person, ready to enter adulthood. Except that in bodybuilding you take mind and body altering supplements, camp out in a hotel room, use tanning spray instead of paint, pose under hot lights, and then head out to Boston Pizza for a pig out.

Why am I interested in participating in this ritual? I usually shun such things. I avoided my graduation ceremonies and would rather stick a knife in my eye than have people watch me march down an aisle while wearing a ridiculous white dress. I hate formal dinners and banquets, giving speeches, participating in toasts… I even dislike the social rules that surround how to greet people and then bid them adieu. Yet I am prepared to engage in the extensive rules that surround a figure competition, following Sessions’ recipe step by step. Maybe instead of going out for a carb-load meal after the competition in June, I will rest in my bed and have all my female friends visit me, get drunk, and reveal their most intimate secrets, just like an old-fashioned birthing celebration. And with that image in mind, I will end with the toast I would give there, making an obligatory pop culture reference directed at those who watch late-night Canadian television: ‘Ring a ding ding baby. Ring a ding ding.’

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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