Lessons from Bodybuilding

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

Substance Out of Glitter:

Tiny Bikinis, Gigantic Thoughts

How It Came To Be: Sometimes people see the potential inside of you before you feel it within yourself. I can name a dozen people who have extracted ridiculous amounts of potential out of me; yes I’m blessed. This journey to a bikini competition was no different.  Mentally I was “fishing” for a goal that was unrelenting, unforgiving and held me 110% accountable. “I want to look as strong as I feel inside” I told my trainer,  Ala. Honestly, I just wanted to be the same person, inside out, at least what I imagined that to be.  I don’t think that is what he was expecting when he asked me my goals.  And thanks to Marissa Flores, whose words not only awoken my curiosity for competing, in a nutshell, Marissa’s words punctured the really stubborn part of my mind. In talking to Marissa, she put me in that crossroad, when you hear a certain combination of words and you are forced into a choice: shall I choose to understand these words? Or rather, shall I choose to fully experience these words, because hearing them are too much of a tease and I don’t want to settle for simply hearing and understanding them. This was the same thinking when I first heard of home births. And with that, Marissa saying, “Lifting, as well as competing, has taught me what I’m made of, as silly as that sounds. It really tests your mettle, you know?” And with that, I decided I didn’t know, but I wanted to.  I wanted to KNOW what those words felt like.  I wanted to test and figure out what I was made of. And with many other forces combined, like a great community and a kickass family who have always supported my decisions, here I am today. So what have I learned, well I can’t tell you anything concrete, but I can share what I have thought about. When you train for seven days a week and eat every three hours, trying to put down six meals a day,  drive around with a cooler in your car so that you always have food, and strip your social interactions to their basic necessities, in that you can’t shoot the shit with friends, hide behind food and alcohol, these are the thoughts that swim through my mind in trying to live a normal life, as a teacher, mom, and woman within incredibly structured conditions:

People Diet: Why do we have such an interesting relationship with frivolous things? One thing I’ve learned from training is that, not eating crap (I mean, zero tolerance) enables me to train harder than I ever had. My body functions. I don’t have allergies or stomach aches anymore. There are so many functional benefits from eating real food consistently and still yet, I miss comfort food. It is important we explore our levels and relationship with self destruction. It is the only way we can grow. Similarly, why do I, and people in general, engage and hang out with people who serve us no purpose. Sometimes I feel like we do this because we are hopeful beings and we like to make meaning out of everything. Yet at what point do we cut our loses and admit that some people serve us no function, like the cheese puffs and flavored chewy chemicals that I love. Is there such a thing as a people/human diet/detox?

Lesson 1: Simply put, eliminating bullshit makes room for new possibility. We just have to get over the fear of the shift if that is what we really want for however long we want it.

Alone Doesn’t Always Equal Being Lonely: Some journeys are lonely; the road to bodybuilding is no exception. This is most especially true during holidays and gatherings. We connect dots that may or may not be there, most especially women, we are masters at this. Food equates to relationships and relationships equal purpose, yet taking another spoonful of food doesn’t mean the conversation is deeper or more meaningful, but damn do we try. Maya Angelou once told Oprah, “moderation in everything, even moderation.” I can’t say enough about the importance of self discipline and portion control. However, there is a point where you have to make a choice. You can’t straddle the line forever.The trick is to have a strong mental game that helps you chose, re chose and re chose the same thing over and over again, similarly to being in love and staying in a long lasting relationship. Commitment means you choose and trust that the people around you will support your choice. And when they do, when they make you feel normal in a process so bizarre, it is that much more worth it. It was one of the hardest things to take a leap of faith and communicate to my community what my goals were. I straddled taking a bikini competition seriously with taking my self seriously.

Lesson 2: at some point you have to make a choice. I enjoy practicing this really black and white world through exploring the 50,000 shades of grey. It is a whole different flavor of trust to trust people will do for you what you will do for them. This kind of relationship truly makes you vulnerable which in return,  places you into a state true intimacy. Engaging in intimacy with people is what makes us purposeful and substantial beings, it is what makes the quote, “it is not the years in your life, but life in your years” true. Bodybuilding Forces You Into a Kaleidoscope: You have limited options for food and what we understand as sustenance. You are forced to eat the same things all the time, sometimes extracting the emotion from eating, but other times you will find yourself injected with sustenance from other places. You are constantly shape shifting your thoughts on food, function and purpose. The colors and shadows of your thoughts dance around and sometimes, my favorite moments are when you don’t piggyback all this mental baggage with food, but you simply eat. There is freedom in the structure. When you workout, you transform into a beastly machine of fluid force. When you eat, you feed yourself. When you think you think. Compartments begin to form, boxes take shape. The simplicity allows you to separate the baggage with baggage and food with food. Simply, it is about slight adjustments to your perspective, from “damn look at me” (which is really focusing on one part of yourself) to “damn look at what I can do,” (to celebrating the mini gains and practicing the celebration of yourself, daily) from understanding that you are knit picking versus acknowledging that in everything, the good and bad come with process.

Lesson 3: Fall in love with the process, commit to your goal, commit to yourself (humbly, without guilt, fully supported by your community because you have let them in) and everything else falls into the background. Love and Evolve: Speaking of falling in love, with all pivotal moments, there are points in life where you have to look in the mirror and hate yourself. You have to address your predisposed judgements, reflections of past trauma and environmental mental habits and ask yourself, why are you so bothered by what you are bothered by? In order for me to become who I want to be,  I have to become the person I hate, the seemingly thin, feeble, not eating woman that ask for salad with no dressing and chicken with no salt. (I admit I have overtipped my server or contemplated making an eating disorder joke just to avoid the discomfort I felt when I ordered food.) However, back to accepting who you are, what you are, and getting past judgement, when I finally was able to see my struggle, hear my inner conversation, I was able to differentiate between my want of being strong versus my fear of feeling helpless again, I can finally address it, speak to it, differentiate my fears versus actions, feelings versus realities and “ho`opuka” break through our ridiculously thick gelatinous judgements of ourselves/people and come out stronger, wiser, and become the more refined (and in the case of body building defined) versions of ourselves.

Lesson 4: Evolution is not guaranteed, it is a decisive practice.

I have eight more weeks to go…15 weeks down and full circle…article continued.

Rainbow Colored Hour Glass: Bodybuildingis like being stuck in an hourglass that changes color with each mood.  Week by week, pound for pound, meal by meal we change and evolve. Sometimes the color of the sand is a tranquil blue,as we feel accomplished after finishing a long workout. Sometimes the sand becomes more coarse and rough, as we battle with hunger, water depletion, and fatigue. There are times where the sand is suffocating and all we can do issurrender and trust the process. And the more we sink into the sands of time, the more we allow the colors to change, the more we sink into ourselves and become more resolute and stead fast in our journey.

Process versus Product: As the 15weeks came to an end, I began to ask myself, will I like the stage as much as the training? I looked for reference points. Well, how many mothers did I know loved being pregnant, but not their kid? I could tell you how fast I could run, but posing practice was more than difficult. Unfortunately, using your body and being comfortable in it are two different things.  I left most of my posing practices defeated, deflated and discouraged. I felt like I just spent the last few weeks settling into my body, and posing completely unraveled me. “There is nothing natural about posing.” My posing coach Tady shared. “Not all competitors compete aggressively.” Marissa shared (who is my cousin and figure competitor.) “As Steph, competition day is just turning in your homework, you’ve already done the work.” My cousin Thayer who is also a bodybuilder and trainer told me. And with those conversations I was able to settle into IT. I was able to make the shift from training to competing, from wanting to blend in to wanting to be a factor. Ultimately, anything or anyone that allows you to see yourself and thrive in your own skin is a blessing worth more than words, music and gummy bears. Ultimately, seeing women of all ages and all body types trying to do the same thing, SIMPLY PUT, thrive and be in their own skin was life changing. As an adult, it is our own responsibility to identify the practices we truly value and prioritize them.

Backstage: The backstage of a bodybuilding competition is better than reality tv. There is the underlining smell of spray tan, aerosol, sweat and protein farts. I expected the scene to be edgy, as most people are hungry, tired, depleted and for some, heavy on supplements. However, what I found was yes, people were starving, but not for food, but for people. My backstage experience was a loaded dose of human interaction. Ultimately, people were incredibly ready to share, uplift and support one another because the reality is, yes they call came to compete, but not necessarily with each other; they came to compete with themselves.  I thought seeing people look in the mirror with scream of vanity and conceit but it was much more innocent than that. For some, it was like a kid looking around for their mother to make sure she was near. For some, they were simply looking in the mirror to make sure there hard work didn’t get up and walk away because in the end we are all human and shit always goes away. There was a level of intimacy and vulnerability backstage that was more than real. It was fulfilling, rewarding and inspiring.

Mirrored Reflections: I used to text my trainer pictures of other women and ask him if I would look like them? In reality, I didn’t know. In my mind, I have 1990 Nike pictures in my head of African American and European 6”2 women who are Olympians or track stars. And then my friend Ann Buan put me in touch with Khay Rosemond, a drop dead gorgeous Filipina bodybuilder who also stands at an impressive 4’11. Speaking on the phone with Khay and hearing her tell me I could do it, suggesting bikini colors and other insightful knowledge had so much more weight because she looked like me.

The competition was the same thing times 50! Ultimately, any space, place or person that allows you to become more like you is such a blessing. Standing in a room full of women who also screamed of muscles and mascara,stretch marks and wonder woman characteristics from moms, 9-5 stable jobs, part time body builders, part time whatever… made me feel normal. It reminded me on why I work so damn hard and in the end; I don’t have to choose. I don’t have to choose between feminine and masculine. I don’t have to choose between being vulnerable and strong. I don’thave to choose between being a mom and bodybuilder. In the end, being around those women, I felt like I can be anything and everything all at once. Simply put, in a world of minorities and majorities, seeing like versions of you, help you become more you.

Lasting Impressions: I used to grapple with the idea of self-image and reality. I meticulously post a variety of pictures because I am afraid to being clumped into a box. But an actual bikini competition is the complete opposite. You are put in a box, separated by  gender, height and depending on division sometimes weight. The judges and audience members don’t want to know how much you’ve lost or gained. They don’t want you to share your story. Your body is your story. The stage evolves you, pushes you, and second by second as you unravel, within those  ten seconds, you get to write the longest and quickest chapter of your life. Will you choose victim or victor? Will you remember that, just the fact that you can choose, is a privilege? Will you smile because that is all you have?And will it be good enough? Through all this, I’ve learned, there is no greater feeling than validating and reminding yourself that your best is, in fact, good enough and sometimes more. More so, it doesn’t matter if everyone knows your entire story, I’ve learned, even if you read one paragraph in one person’s book, and find substance and inspiration and meaning within those five to seven sentences, isn’t that enough?We all don’t need or have the time for heaping Costco sized packages of life stories. Sometimes we just need sustenance. Hence, sometimes it doesn’t matter how long you talk to someone or how long you’ve known them. What matters is the lasting impression you gave them when you were together. Through the interaction…is your mind stronger, your soul deeper, heart more full and tear ducts needing are fill? Does your chest ache because their hug or words hit you with the right amount of truth and love? It is in these moments that can last ten years or ten seconds that remind us why we are living and the difference between choosing to exist versus choosing to live and thrive.

Finally, here is poem prompted by Jane Sibbet’s writing project that asked me to share my experience with fire and it translated into why I do what I do.  I am poet first, and writing this article was very difficult. For all my figurative folks out there, there is everything I was trying to say not in paragraph form.


Fire is the quiet soul throbbing and thriving when everything is still

When the fear subsides and the pulsing of anxiety is quiet,dormant…snoring….

It is the bass and the kick start to your pulse to remember to thump when you are at your best

It is fearless and enigmatic

It is unapologetic and burns like velvet truth,

licking and seducing your ear because the truth is all wehave

fire is when we are sexy and naked

when we close our eyes and take in that deep exhale when we think no one is looking

And at the end of the night with our head on that pillow

When we think about the weight of our choices

The weight of the fire is light

but unquestionable and undeniable

Will I settle or am I settling?

I choose to play with the flicker and let it dance on my skin

I let it twerk on my thigh and relish too much on how it burns

There comes a time where you must throw the flame out

To draw a line and make a choice

Because you can’t dance in between forever

Eventually the flickers of shadows fade

The boundaries help to not let it consume you

To decide whether or not the fire will be a catalyst or another excuse

To enable you to be a victim or victor

The flame is a deep reminder of how rich our life lines and blood lines ride

How we should aim for progress and not perfection

My fire whispers the sweet wisdom of miraculous men and women who have come before and after me

I hold the flicker of light in my hands

I love to let it bounce between the crevices of my curves and indentations

I feel the warmth on my cheek

And smell the deep scent of the musty smoke

I fill the smoke with my lungs

And transfer its heat onto my wings

The translucent indigo ones

That crawl onto my back when I need to get to that place

Where I am no longer playing with the fire

But I become it

Where I am fearless and unforgiving

Where I am humble and courageous

When I am all the things I fear to become

Because it is easier to see the greatness in everyone else but ourselves

But there are tiny moments

In which I am desperately trying to make more frequent

Where I am everything and anything all at the same time

Loving, sexy, vulnerable, intelligent and resolute

Where  I am not torn into a million pieces

Instead, like fire

I am all the million things all at once

9,000 shades of red, orange, yellow flickering as one

Thank you for reading and if you have interacted with me in these last eight weeks, whether by honoring my random questions or just simply hanging out with me, thank you, your company feeds me in more ways than you know.


© 2019 by Kū-A-Kanaka

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