5.1
October 16, 2019

Tits over Toes: my Midlife foray into the World of Competitive Bodybuilding. {Chapter 1}

*Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series—lucky you. Head to the author’s profile to continue reading.

~

The quaking begins at my toes and races up my legs like an earthquake.

“Stop with the shaking,” I beg my feet as I teeter on six-inch Lucite heels across the black stage to my spot in the lineup. “Please, don’t do this to me,” I implore of my body.

Not now, not in this bikini, not in front of all these people. Not after five months of 5 a.m. strength and cardio workouts, thousands of dollars spent on personal training, chicken breast, and cucumbers.

But the shaking is real, and it’s relentless. I am going to fall flat onto my overly-spray tanned face.

“Ground, breath down,” I tell myself.

I’m a yoga instructor for f*ck’s sake. I know how to reign in and take control of my senses—how is it I have come so completely undone?

I was calm backstage. I felt confident and had looked forward to my moment in the spotlight. I try again, (albeit to no avail) to reason with my senses by imagining myself as the mighty warrior Arjuna, deftly controlling his chariot and his horses as he rides into metaphorical battle.

This Grand Masters bikini category is for competitors over 46 years of age; I am 49. I look good, beyond what I’d imagined I could achieve five months before, but a few of the 10 women on stage with me are totally ripped—their abs are insane. Mine are okay (considering what I started with they’re amazing), but I don’t have a jacked six-pack like theirs.

What I do have going for me are my long, lean legs, and the fact that I’m the only one with short hair on this stage. I love my hair, have worn it this way for decades; people used to call me Annie Lennox a lot when I was younger. I always took it as the highest of compliments. Annie Lennox was a strong role model for me in the 80s when I considered myself quite an edgy New Waver.

Today, on this stage though, I am not sure if this urge to stand apart from the crowd will work for, or against me.

I place my fingers lightly on the rhinestone joiner of my emerald bikini, keeping one arm straight down beside me, careful not to obstruct my number badge. I touch my thigh, then lift my hand a few centimeters away, hoping it looks elegant and effortless, like a pencil has just slipped from my hand.

I feel simultaneously like Dorothy, Jane Fonda, and Marilyn Monroe. I’m thrilled and excited and terrified of opening myself up for judgment, literally, by five strangers I can’t even see—five strangers who exchange notes on my posing, my muscularity, my posture, and the way my bikini compliments (or doesn’t) my whole package.

There is no black and white in this sport. I am about to learn that the process of judging competitive bodybuilding is relatively ambiguous. It’s not like a race, which can be judged in seconds or milliseconds, not like gymnastics or ice skating, sports that have a clearly established scoring system. Whether I make it into the top three of my category is up to the whim of the judges. One may prefer a softer look, one a more muscular look. To one it won’t matter that I have the wrong hand on my hip, another will demerit points for this.

What I do know, is that every person out there must be able to see my shaking. How could they not?

The lights are so bright I can barely make out anyone in the audience, but I know that my husband, my daughters, and my two best friends, along with Yelena, my trainer, are out there cheering for me. The better I place, the better for Yelena—up here, on this stage, I represent her.

I widen my lips into an over-exaggerated smile, and notice that my lips stick to my gums—I am so parched from 24 hours of dehydration that I literally cannot not smile.

Vaguely I hear the MC read the thank you speech I emailed in last night. Even with the H behind the D, he says my name wrong, pronounces it Dayna, with a hard A instead of Dhana with a soft A: Dhana would like to thank her trainer, her kids, and her husband for all his support…blah, blah, blah.

My number is called, and I teeter toward the masking tape X on the stage to perform my two-minute-I-walk routine, the routine I have practiced in front of a mirror every day for over a month. Almost every time I did, I’d think, Isn’t there something more important I could be doing right now? Like saving the children or advocating for women’s rights in some capacity?

I am so hyper-focused on not falling that I don’t register much of anything; I just work on automatic pilot. I flex my quads to emphasize the development in my legs (my best feature), and stretch both arms wide and out to the sides for Wonder Woman pose. The professional photographer used by the Natural Physique & Athletics Association (NPAA) captures my every angle. “Think of the competition as a photoshoot,” Yelena had advised me during our Saturday posing classes. “The longer you spend at the front of the stage in your individual routine, the better pictures you’ll get.”

“Everything up!” Yelena’s thick Russian accent anchors me.

I strike front pose—stretch my left leg out at an unnatural angle, arch my back so hard it feels like a steak knife is lodged into my lumbar spine, spread my collar bones, and lift my chest toward the ceiling. “Remember—tits over toes!”

I spread my collar bones so wide I feel they may crack, breathe vertically, hold my breath, and arch my back even more.

From Wonder Woman, I bring my right foot in toward my left, move through the mandatory quarter turn to the right, kick my foot back into a sexy swing, and swivel my butt side to side seductively to end up in back pose. Hands on my thighs, I lean forward to showcase my glutes but am careful not to lean too far forward. Although my bikini is federation approved, that’s not saying much, as there are children in the audience and we don’t want them scarred by inappropriate visuals. Hoo-Ha pose, which I’ll leave to your imagination, is considered inappropriate in the NPAA Bodybuilding Federation and may result in disqualification.

From back pose, I pop my hip to the side and swivel into Marilyn pose. I keep my right arm straight and strategically over my stomach, my weakest link. To end my routine, I blow the audience a kiss and sexy-walk on straight legs back to the lineup.

~

Read 24 Comments and Reply

author: Dhana Musil

Image: Author's own

Editor: Nicole Cameron