The contest was called Battle of Texas. More than 500 competitors. Fifteen hundred fans. A crew ready to slather contestants with tanning oil and body glaze.
I was backstage at the Irving Convention Center, near Dallas. Stage lights blazed on the other side of the curtain. DJ music thumped. The crowd roared for favorite competitors.
I stood at the head of a line to go onstage, wearing an outfit I wouldn’t be caught dead in anywhere else: a ridiculously small bikini, clear plastic platform heels, hair sprayed stiff, skin brown and shiny with glaze.
I was competing in my first ever bodybuilding contest. I was so anxious, I could hardly stand up.
In just a few minutes, someone would call my number. I would walk upstairs to the stage and flex my muscles in a series of required poses. Lights would blind me. I wouldn’t be able to see my husband and the rest of my family in the audience. Seven judges would scrutinize me from head to toe.
Why had I ever decided to do this? I was 48 years old. A twice-divorced mother of two grown kids and a grandmother of three, whose previous weight-lifting experience consisted of lifting groceries out of the trunk of my car. I looked nothing like the toned, sculpted competitors around me. A year ago, I’d been a flabby 190 pounds. I’m just shy of five-foot-three, by the way.
“Number one, you’re on!” the stage manager called.
I tried to take a step but couldn’t. I felt as if I was going to pass out.
If you saw me in the grocery store, you would not say, “Wow, she looks like a competitive bodybuilder.”
For most of my life, I was so insecure that I would have preferred you just didn’t notice me at all.
Why did I get on that stage last December? (By the way, the event observed pandemic protocols. Crowd size was limited; contestants and spectators were required to wear masks except onstage.)
You could say it was a conversation with my son-in-law that started it. But, really, this story stretches back all the way to my childhood.
My parents divorced when I was eight. There was addiction. Violence. Chaos. Unmanageability. Fear. So much fear.
I made a lot of bad choices after that—and as a result of it, I’m sure. I got married at 16 and had a little girl, Kelsi. The two-year marriage ended shortly after Kelsi was born. Predictably, a second marriage unraveled too, leaving me a single mom with two beautiful daughters.
Kids internalize a lot. The message I’d internalized growing up was: I was unlovable, undeserving of love or a loving relationship. That’s why I kept getting involved with men who didn’t treat me right.
I found a job as a paralegal to support my girls. The work didn’t make me feel good. The attorney I worked for represented massage parlors and strip clubs.
One day, I saw a women’s fitness magazine at the grocery store. A woman bodybuilder was on the cover.
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