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I Never Thought I'd Become A Bikini Competitor. Here's How It's Changed My Life.

HuffPost logo HuffPost 10/17/2018 Rachel Brooks
a woman posing for a picture: The author at a bikini competition. The author at a bikini competition.

Even though I’ve always had a petite figure, I’ve had a hard time loving and accepting my body. When I turned 30, nearly a decade ago, I accepted an invitation from a friend to join her at a local gym for a group strength-training workout where I’d be lifting weights and pushing myself to physical limits I hadn’t experienced before. Several days a week, I trained with a group of women who were as feminine as they were strong.

Being around these women introduced me to the concept of strong as sexy. I wanted to look like the fitness models I’d seen plastered across the magazines and in the fitness industry. Not only were those women strong and powerful but they were equally feminine. 

Training consistently for a few months allowed me time to fall in love with the strength and conditioning of my body, and I began to see results. One day after training, a friend asked me if I wanted to compete in a bikini competition. In my mind, I saw spring break, “Girls Gone Wild” and a wet T-shirt contest atop a bar. I didn’t want anything to do with it. After laughing it off, she told me it was a new division in the bodybuilding industry.

I went home and did some research. The bikini division was what I had been chasing for years without knowing it existed. In my search for how to love myself fully, I decided to enroll in my first bikini competition in 2012 and put myself through extreme and rigorous training for 16 weeks to prepare.

The day of my first competition turned out to be a nightmare. Although I did look smaller, I didn’t feel any different. I drove myself to the competition after getting my makeup, hair and spray tan professionally done. Once behind the stage, I looked around the room, and all I could do was compare myself to everyone else. I saw perfection in their bodies and not mine.

I plastered a smile on my face and walked out to the center of the stage in the smallest, flashiest bikini and the highest heels I’d ever worn. Standing on stage, nervous, shaking, holding the fake cheesed-out smile, waiting for the judges to give the next command pose, I felt like a fraud and knew I wouldn’t place. The moment I got off stage, I looked for a private spot and burst into tears. There was a heaviness in my heart I couldn’t ignore.

I actually got into this lifestyle for all the wrong reasons. I jumped into this hobby hoping that my first competition would end the cycle of self-abuse ― yo-yo dieting, disordered eating and body dysmorphia. I was searching for perfection, assuming once I had the leanest, skinniest, “perfect” body, I would experience a deeper sense of worth and happiness. I believed women on the cover of fitness magazines had a perfect life because they had the perfect body. The association of body perfection equated to happiness in my mind, and I believed the competition would be the turning point of how I viewed, treated, loved and respected myself.

Needless to say, my first competition let me down. The endeavor started out as a means to an end to achieve a lifetime goal of body image perfection, streamlined by the media and its image of beauty. It ultimately backfired and left me broken and worse off ― mentally, physically and spiritually.

Gratefully, I didn’t give up on the lifestyle or myself. I gave myself time off, hired a fitness coach, and sought out inspirational and personal development mentors and authors. I forced myself to embrace my challenges and weaknesses as an opportunity to grow and to build character and strength. Ultimately on this journey, I’ve fallen in love with fitness and for the very first time, myself ― insecurities, flaws and all.

In 2015, I took the stage again twice ― with a new goal, a new purpose and a new me. The biggest shift started from within, as I transformed my mindset and learned to love and appreciate myself. No more extremes. No more chasing ideals. No more chasing perfection. What I learned was that everything I was seeking externally was found within: love, worth and happiness.

My lifetime goal had eventually blossomed into a passion and lifestyle. Passion came through not just fitness but also soul-searching ― self-reflection and asking tough questions and answering with honesty. Who am I? What’s holding me back? Why?

As far as the bikini competitions go, the women who compete alongside me are as committed to this lifestyle as I am. The competition is our game day. Our uniforms are itty-bitty, blinged-out bikinis. Even though it’s a competition and there is only one winner, we as women unite under our commonality: We’ve trained and fought hard to bring our best selves to the stage.

I’ve learned to embrace what being a bikini competitor is, and it’s not all about spray tans and the perfect body. It’s a lifestyle. While I do stand on stage in front of judges in an itty-bitty, blinged-out bikini, what I’m most attracted to about being a competitor is the intimate connection I have to myself.

I’m competing only against myself every time I take the stage. How judges perceive me is out of my control. My job is to create a positive mindset for myself and enjoy my own transformation. With each competition, my mind has become stronger as my body has become more conditioned. I thrive on learning and growing, and this is why I love the sport and the competitions. I am my only competition.

My love for the fitness industry now goes beyond my own journey. As a fitness and lifestyle coach, I help other women seek a healthier connection to themselves and make conscious decisions that better their mind and body relationship.

What started out as a hobby years ago is now a passion and lifestyle, and I look forward to my fifth competition in 2020.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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