Traumatic Traces

The Sunday morning after my competition I woke up happily thinking ‘I can be myself today.’ Then I ate and ate and ate. Mostly cookies. I began to transform back into a professor, becoming softer, bakier, more able to think. The following day I participated in the thesis examination of one of my MA students. He discussed the Fronde while his committee nibbled on the hazelnut-coffee scones I had prepared for the event. Signs of FFG nevertheless remained, for I was still quite lean, tanned, and wearing a tight tank top. Other traces were less evident, relating to the embodied trauma of being on stage. As I sat in my supervisory chair, asking questions about absolutist politics and architectural design, my neck and back were sore from posing, while my bruised, swollen feet pounded against prescription orthotics. A mere three days later, I was at the Big Berks, a conference which celebrates women’s history and culminates with thousands of international female professors drunkenly dancing badly on stiff wooden planks. Oh the horror. Before the free wine began to flow, I was in the front row of a lecture hall at the University of Massachusetts, listening to a former colleague—she had not seen me for a few years—deliver a paper about early modern European beauty culture. ‘During the sixteenth century the ideal female figure,’ she reported, ‘consistently featured long wavy blonde hair, blue eyes, black eye brows, and red lips.’ Some things never fucking change, right? I laughed out loud, and she looked up with puzzled eyes. I smiled and waved but she no longer recognized me.

Now I am back home, wiping away the tenacious marks of orange Jan Tana mousse that are scattered throughout my condo. How on earth did those hand prints get on the bathroom ceiling? I am writing future posts in my head, about what my body learned as I trained and dieted for the show, and about FFG’s future plans, which are equally epic. Stay tuned because I’ve got a lot more in me. First things first though; there is so much more to say about the competition itself, that I invited three friends to describe their experiences of June 4th, as they assisted me or were part of the sold-out audience. 2Do, DAD, and GlamPro agreed to write something up and for that I am most grateful. You will probably enjoy a change of pace as well. Here is what DAD had to say:   

I was acutely nervous.  Sitting in the second row of the auditorium, SLR camera tethered to my right forearm, I was shaky leg dog dreaming nervous at 10:00 a.m. surrounded by a sea of red velvet chairs and deep within a pit of maximized bodies.  Though having been awake for a solid four and half hours (after sleeping only two) I found myself ill prepared for the bright lights, coarse language and enthusiasm (God, the enthusiasm) of the Northern Alberta Bodybuilding Competition pre-judging show.  I was by far the smallest person in the crowd and as much as I would like to pretend that I was the scrappy terrier in the dog pit, I could not help but recognize my utter frailty in this context.  Had this been a farrow of piglets, I surely would have been drowned.  But I was less concerned with my present company than I was with someone explicitly absent.  The Feminist Figure Girl had ventured into the interior of the backstage and beyond the point of no return.  My anxiety was flowing forth, and had been for days, in anticipation of the FFG’s competition debut.  The very thought of it made my mouth taste like Worcestershire sauce, but not because I was afraid her performance would be sub-par, quite the contrary.  I was more concerned about the x-factors, the unknown variables that ruin plans and destroy lives.  Having worked closely with FFG for some time, I received quite an education in the dos and don’ts of figure girl competition.  I was aware that a certain degree of improvisation is required when on stage.  To me, this meant anything on this green earth could go wrong.  So my blood pressure and heart rate continued to rise, systolic and diastolic pressure becoming confused in an adrenaline frenzy as the show began and a few abused bodies began to prance out on stage like Chihuahua’s released from a purse.  My leg shook in strange syncopation with the starving, dehydrated figures before me that were shaking from exertion and fatigue.  In the row behind, a lady passed me by, her bicep, the size of bowling ball but harder, grazed the back of my head causing my leg to jut out spasmodically in a fight or flight response, the toe of my shoe striking something that lazily spun away.  I lurched forward to retrieve the object and OH.  MY.  GOD.  It was the Book of Mormon.

I had kicked the Book of Mormon.  What the hell it was doing there is beyond me, but I quickly put in back in its approximate position for the sake of sanctity, as though it might notice and appreciate the emendation.  Taking a deep breath, I collected what was left of my senses as the countdown literally began.  Girl number 9 traipsed onto the stage, then Girl 10…11…12…and BAM!  FFG number 13 bad ass don’t give a shit threw it out on stage with a rhinestone bra glittering like fireworks and more hair than a televangelist.  It was glorious and I snapped photograph after photograph of her posing this way and that, showing of this and that and then off to the side to await further judgment.  As I waited for her to return to center stage with several other Figure Girls for obligatory analysis and comparison, I noticed a subtle shifting of weight from one plastic high heeled shoe to another and I realized FFG was in pain.  Then I realized everyone was in pain.

Soon the line-up before me shifted, bringing forward FFG in the midst of several other competitors labeled with numbers in the low teens.  All began well as the roster faced forward, “smiled” and flared something I always thought was a bone.  Then they shifted 90 degrees counter-clockwise to exhibit disciplined profiles, maintained in composure steady and controlled, taut with confidence in the potential of their next position, another 90 degree turn during allowing them to showcase their sculpted backs.  Those women with towering hair, FFG included, began to arch their right arms over their heads to swoop their grandiose hair away from the clustered musculature adorning shoulders, blades and spine.  With camera trained on FFG, I watched her arm swing around her head like a hook, dragging away the locks revealing her highly defined back.  Something flickered and went dull.  At that moment a single word flashed in my brain: RETRIBUTION.  FFG’s prosthetic hair had snagged her bra strap during its transposition, setting the skimpy garment free with the explosiveness of a bon voyage.  My blood pressure plummeted.  Fighting the urge to pass out, the lizard/photographer part of my brain kept pushing the shutter button, documenting the scene from what I now consider a rather oblique and non-advantageous angle.  However, calmly, coolly and most likely without even blinking, FFG returned herself to a relative state of modesty, eventually receiving wardrobe assistance from a pale as tapioca stage hand.  Shortly thereafter, FFG was recalled by the judges for further examination.

After FFG had exited center stage I slumped back, allowing my head to loll slightly to the right in time to notice a muscled, stoic man dominate a theatre seat a few spaces down.  Slowly and without grace he extended an enormous arm to the floor, placing a cellophane wrapped protein bar on the Book of Mormon that still abided a foot and a half away from my own and began yelling things at one of the competitors that caused me to question his dedication to the text.  Part of me felt compelled to warn him of his transgression and its possible ramifications, but ultimately thought better of it.  After all, it was a competition.

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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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