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Driver stories: What I learned from my first bodybuilding competition

Phedeline Tanis - Feb 17, 2023
Woman with dark, curly hair wearing a yellow top over a red background.
Illustration by Luis Mazón

I like to work out. I’m an attorney, and it helps relieve stress and gives me peace of mind. Over the years, people told me I should enter fitness competitions, but I never took the idea seriously. I felt like I didn’t have the discipline to prepare. Then, last year, I met a woman who competes, and she took me under her wing. She connected me to the coach she used. She was there for me all the way.

I decided to enter my first bodybuilding competition at the end of 2021. I thought signing up would force me to be more accountable and more responsible. (I also thought it would force me to learn to walk in high heels because that’s a requirement.)

My coach designed a workout regimen for me. I exercised six days a week — usually on the StairMaster, bike, or treadmill. My coach also gave me dietary guidelines. I had to do a lot of meal prep and weigh things out by grams. I’m not someone who’s a big fan of cooking, and I was also in law school at the time. So trying to balance my class load with grocery shopping and carefully monitoring what went into my body was difficult. 

It was especially hard at Thanksgiving. Some friends were like, “You’re so disciplined; it’s inspiring,” and other friends were like, “You’re crazy!” I was really good at following my meal plan throughout the whole dinner. Then, when I was helping put food away, I’m not gonna lie, I broke. I was like, “I’m just going to eat one spoonful,” and then I ended up eating a lot more. 

I struggled with feeling like I didn’t belong in the fitness competition world. In general, there aren’t many minorities. So I reached out to other people of color who had done the competition to get advice. They helped me figure out what to do with my hair for the stage and how to get a tan. That was my first time ever getting a tan. Every time someone responded to me, I felt like they were saying, “Yes, you do belong here.”

At the competition, you’re assigned a number. Then, when you hear your number called, you walk down a stage and pose for the judges. It almost feels like a fashion show in a way. Everyone is in elaborate custom bikinis, and they’re trying to pose in a way that shows off all the work they put in to be there. The judges want to see confidence. 

Doing that walk in front of so many people and cameras was frightening. In hindsight, I didn’t spend as much time practicing my poses as I should have. 

Doing the walk was also great. Even though I was competing against other women, it really felt like it was me against myself. And I had a great support system. My coach, my bikini designer. And my mentor — she’s such a wonderful person, such a sweet soul, so encouraging. 

I didn’t place in the competition. Afterward, I talked to some of the judges. They told me my physique was great, but what was missing was confidence and attitude. I didn’t mind that feedback. I can work on that.

I’m planning on competing again. I want to go back there stronger and better and more confident and prove to myself that I could win.