“She probably isn’t cut out for the sport.”
“She isn’t dedicated or committed enough to be an elite fitness athlete.”
“She thinks she’s sooo great because she competed in a bikini show, but now look at her, she fell off.”
“She used to be TOO jacked and manly looking.”
“She thinks she knows everything but she will never be a bikini pro.”
“She doesn’t see the bigger picture and she is really a slacker deep down.”
These are some of the comments I have heard spoken about me and my reasoning for no longer pursuing fitness modeling and bikini competitions over the past few years. Lots of people like to make their own assumptions apparently … and let me just start by saying I’ve heard it all, and I’m not phased by any of it anymore. And no, my decisions are not attributable to alleged lack of commitment or dedication. I’m a very motivated individual when I put my heart and soul into something and athletics have always been an integral part of my life. In college, I spotted rosters for prestigious Division 1 athletics programs and was a tri-sport athlete in high school earning varsity letters for consecutive years. So no, it’s not about the fact that I “wasn’t cut out for it”. Those who know me well have probably heard me say that “I like wings and beer too much to be able to cut them out of my diet during prep season”. While, yes, this is true (I come from a beer-loving Dutch family), I was never completely honest about my REAL reasons for throwing out the stage shoes and vowing to never look back.
But let me take you back in time here for a moment – let’s get real. Prep was NOT pretty by any means… not physically, emotionally or mentally. There is nobody to blame for this either. I originally spiked interest for the stage somewhere around 2011 when I was a fresh faced post-grad and missed my athletic environments. I am the type of person who needs goals to structure, work towards, and achieve. I am 5’8 and my weight usually sat around 155-165 throughout most of high school and college. And at this time I was ready to get in THE best shape of my life (or so I thought). I absolutely hated my body and I wanted a new challenge. I did the research, I found an educated and reliable trainer, I joined fitness teams and got myself totally immersed with two feet in. My daily routines soon became a lifestyle change after the weeks and months passed. I read nutrition labels on EVERYTHING I ate, obsessing over macro splits on my cycle days. Counting grams of everything I put into my mouth was absolutely exhausting. I would eat one more bite of chicken and feel guilty that I was “cheating” on my diet and that I would not look great on stage. “You never know who is going to be there the day of the show, you have no idea how conditioned you will be looking compared to the others until the day of the show. Don’t lose any time!” I used to tell myself this over and over. I am a tenacious person after all. As it got closer to the show, I started emotionally breaking down at the sign of ANYTHING that made me uncomfortable. If I was running late, I was upset because it threw off my meal schedule and I would have constant anxiety. If I could not get to the gym exactly at the time I wanted, I had to push my post-workout meals out and readjust for the rest of the evening to accommodate all the macros I needed. “Eating for your goals” is a term I took to the extreme.
Honestly, I apologize for anyone who knew me during this time of my life because to say that I had a constant “RBF” face and was irritated all the time is a complete understatement… I was a 5guys burger deprived WITCH. And that ain’t no way to live.
I can’t really describe the feeling I had when I stepped on stage for the first time accurately. Maybe other competitors can relate to the lack of finding the proper words. I had so much adrenaline running through me, mixed with nerves, hope, fear, hunger (literal and physical), spirit, reluctance…. maybe to try to somewhat describe that pit in my stomach. Prep was a really really hard, long, mentally challenging and trying, exhausting 16 weeks. I will never in my life want to eat tilapia ever again due to the amount of times I’ve eaten it cold, on the go, from a plastic baggie, ravished, but I was “in the zone”. But honestly it all felt worth it when I stepped on stage in 2012 for the first (and last) time. And 5 years later I’m while I’m writing this, I will still say it was worth it. Not for my physical transformation, but for my mental and emotional transformation.
That day, I placed 3rd in Bikini Tall Amateur, and 5th in Bikini Tall Open weighing in at 124lbs. Although I had the encouraging words from my team and coaches that were there that day, and they were SO proud of me, I was an absolute hurricane inside. It was all a blur. With a “that was it?” feeling. The day I worked so hard for came and went just in the blink of an eye and before I could even reflect on it, I was stuffing my face with burgers and golden oreos and gained 30lbs back in one week. Nottttt cute, or something I’m proud to admit, but it’s part of my journey.
The heels, the sparkle, the hair, the makeup, the tan, the glamour, the thrill, the pump up, the excitement and anticipation, were all gone. I remember stepping on stage, scared out of my mind, not thinking I was worthy enough to even be there, bawling my eyes out in the car before athlete check-in’s, and again during the lie detector test, and fighting tears again driving home from the show day.
I was fighting internally with myself already on the idea of competing again. I am competitive, but I have sportsmanship. I was confused and over the weeks developed a post-show depression. The crash from the high. I entered another state of depression, some call it the post-show blues, but it was different this time. I hated my body even more because of the diet rebound and comparing myself to my stage look. I hated that I had honestly lost self-control to some extent on my diet. I thought, “So what now? I ask the judges for feedback on my presentation and just keep working on it? I am always going to be a work in progress, because how do you know when to stop, when you are satisfied with your physique?? Will I keep having to measure food the rest of my life to look like this? What is considered the ideal bikini body???”
FOR ME the choice that the stage life is not for my life seemed the best thing I could do for my overall wellness. And what it came down to ultimately is that I thought everyone who goes through getting themselves ready for a show, no matter their reason or drive for it, deserves a trophy. The hardest thing I had to grasp was why I was constantly body shaming myself WORSE than ever after the show by comparing it to others, and even go to the extent of practicing habits that caused DAMAGE to my body (sorry if it’s TMI, but it’s the truth, I lost my period for about 6-8 months because I experienced metabolic damage and hormonal damage with my post show eating patterns). I don’t personally know who the judges were at my show that day, but they thought I was basically 3rd and 5th “best” at the show. You don’t get a trophy if you don’t place, and #1 took home a Pro Card that day. You just worked your ASS off and dedicated your life for MONTHS, got your family and friends on board for 5 people who don’t know you to decide if a trophy is deserving of the physique you brought to the stage. I got SO insecure after the show, because I remained in a confused state for a while until I met others that saw things similar to the way I did and helped me grow. It took years. It took a while before I FINALLY decided to just stop all these ridiculous comparisons, and dug deeper inside myself again. What was also hard for me was the inability to articulate this feeling to others at the time. It was too personal to me for me to want to be open about it.
During prep and for a while after the show I had been reached out to by many girls I had interacted with throughout the years and they either wanted to look like me, or body shamed themselves making comments like “I know I need to lose weight but…”, “I don’t have good genetics like you”, or “I wish I could look like you”. That actually upset me, and I never told them. I would try to encourage them as best I could and point them to resources that may help them, but the message, the actual BAD experience that I had competing, I didn’t feel I could communicate. Not to mention I’ve met so many other competitive athletes who turned to crash dieting, or coaches that recycle other people’s diets to other clients of theirs… “natural” athletes who still used illegal and banned enhancement supplements. I didn’t want to be a part of any of this, I couldn’t conceivably walk across the stage proud pretending that I was happy when I was actually very depressed.
In fact, someone even used my fitness modeling pictures to CATFISH someone else back in 2012. Yeah, that’s right. Someone made a fake dating profile using MY pictures that they took, saying that they were a fitness model from Nevada named “Ashley”. Ironically, the first line on the bio said “Yes I am real”… haha. I was blown away by this, and absolutely felt violated that someone took it upon themselves to save my pictures from my social media profiles and go and pretend to be me to meet people. I had enough and posted about it on my Facebook at the time, and I was even contacted by a producer from MTV’s show Catfish to see if we could catfish my catfish… what a big joke. This mysterious person quickly deleted the profile after my public call-out on Facebook. I guess they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
I am much more than my body. I did not chose my body, but I chose how to treat it, how to fuel it, and how to take care of it. In this life, we only have the one we were born with. Knowing myself, I realized that I would have probably developed an eating disorder if I continued competing or pursuing fitness modeling. My anxiety levels were already WAY out of whack if I couldn’t eat “meal 4 at exactly 7pm with a macro split of 30/20/10 on week 5 of phase 2 training”. Oh my god. And, to be honest, I was a complete WITCH depending on how many carbs I was allowed to have that particular day or week. I have a headache just thinking about all that, and how OCD about my life choices I became. Bravo to those who can do that while remaining healthy, but my personality is not built for this strict lifestyle, nor is my physique allowing me to be that lean without health considerations. And that is part of the mental and emotional transformation that has been SOO beneficial to me. I saw the iceberg and steered the ship. I got to know myself better, a lot better, and I am thankful for that opportunity. Can you believe that I actually hated my body even more and I was in (conceivably) the best aesthetic shape and conditioning of my life????!? But who’s definition of “ideal” is truly worth listening to anyway?? Every body is different and beautiful in their own ways !! But, again, there’s more to me than just how I look and that’s why I will not subject myself to the opinions of a random judge for body/sport approval. If that is what you want to do, by all means, you are probably mentally stronger and more confident than me.
That’s when I knew. That I could not carry myself proudly across a stage again knowing that I am probably contributing to the bodyshaming, fueling comparisons, and judging others. It felt socially irresponsible. The grass always sounds greener on the other side. It may sound dramatic to you, but it sounded irresponsible and unhealthy to me. I was actually going against everything I thought I stood for and was trying to promote with health. I really wasn’t healthy at all. Furthermore, I was NOT going to let a number on the scale define me, nor was I going to let judges that I’ve never met before define me, my jean size, the size clothes I wear, the number of macro’s I ate, the number of squats I did, the amount of weight I can push/pull… NUMBERS and a Plastic Trophy will not define me, and it is not a measure of who I am as a person. I didn’t want girls to have a similar experience, or look at me comparatively wondering how to “look like me”…
Fast forward to today. I am not perfect. I don’t have everything figured out. I would never claim to be an expert at anything. I am way more humbled by the life experiences that I have had so far than anything. I have taken YEARS to find out what works and does not work for my body, and that is what wellness is all about to me. Finding what works for YOU. Unfortunately, I have met other competitors who have had recycled diets from other competitors given to them by their “coach”, or have developed worse health concerns that I did post-show. I could not believe the amount of people I met in that industry who preached they were healthy, but were really not being honest about the unhealthy habits that they developed on the side. I could not be that person. I could not be someone who you looked at and said “I want to look like her”, meanwhile being completely imbalanced on the inside. Now, I find balance and moderation is key to ENJOYING your life, and LOVING your body. Don’t beat yourself up for having a “bad day”. Enjoy it. Seriously. I never regret one burger I have ever eaten, especially when paired with a good stout.
Look up retired fitness model icons such as Amanda Adams, who has re-purposed her direction and re branded her business and she is still so authentic and inspiring. She truly writes and puts out work from the heart and glows inside and out with her current mission and I want to echo women like her. Women who want to challenge the norm and empower people along the way.