Women’s Day Magazine & bodybuilding.

I was recently interviewed about running by Women’s Day radio & the bodybuilding post below is something Ive yammered about for a while.

It’s new & old Monday up in herre I guess.

Radio? NEW.

Too long post below? MizFit in general? NotSoMuch.

Please to enjoy…

carlaflex 300x300 Womens Day Magazine & bodybuilding.

Body by my design

What would motivate a 32-year-old woman to diet like an ascetic for 12 weeks, pedal more miles on a stationary bike than Lance Armstrong, faux tan herself a dark orangey-brown, glue on a string bikini with nail glue, and parade in front of 1,000 strangers? The answer, frighteningly, is herself.

I started lifting weights in 1991 when the movie “Terminator 2″ was released. I had never seen anything like Linda Hamilton’s arms in that film. They were buff and strong and yet decidedly feminine. I wanted those arms.

Flash forward 10 years and I needed a new goal. A new source of inspiration. And then I saw “it” as I flipped through a fitness magazine: bodybuilding. I would enter a bodybuilding competition. It seemed like fate that there would be a competition in San Antonio eight weeks later.

Although the event name terrified me (The Texas House of Pain), I was ready to try anything.

The look of a bodybuilder

First I needed to purchase a posing suit for the competition. This suit, not unlike a string bikini, is made of minimal fabric to best display the body. This suit is not sold in stores and must be purchased either online or via catalog.

Next, I needed to muddle through the vast array of self-tanners to find one that would turn me some shade in the brown family. Yes, there is actually a reason and a necessity behind the fact that bodybuilders often parade around in an orangey color not found in nature. When you are “tan” your muscles look bigger.

Lastly, I needed to decide upon 60 seconds worth of music and choreograph a posing routine. While devising a routine out of the six mandatory poses sounds fairly simple, it isn’t. The audience that attends the evening show pays upward of $20 a ticket and expects to be entertained. I learned quickly, after attending bodybuilding shows, that while the most muscular women may win the judges’ approval, those who can perform an erotic dance, minus the brass pole, gain the audience’s attention.

Rules and more rules

The competition weekend began with a competitor weigh-in at a hotel. This weigh-in room was teeming with the fittest people I had ever seen. And their fit friends and family. Then I saw a doctor’s scale in the front of the room facing all of the folding chairs.

“Open-class women come forward to be weighed,” the man at the front of the room called out over the crowd’s loud murmurings.

Six of the largest women imaginable strode confidently to the front of the room and peeled off their clothes. They all stood, both patiently and with muscles flexed, waiting to be weighed. They were tanned and they were ripped. And they were thankfully not the women I’d be competing against.

“Novice women come front to be weighed.”

I took one last look at my husband and walked to the front of the room.

I pulled my linen dress over my head and jumped on the scale. Barely giving the weights time to register, I hopped off.

“Uh, you need to glue your suit down tomorrow,” a man said.

I looked down at myself and voila, my suit had shifted.

Alas, I didn’t have too much time to worry about revealing myself to the judges. I was suddenly pushed to a corner where they shoved all new competitors who had made some sort of grave error.

“You will not wear that suit tomorrow,” a large man said. “It is velour and no velour allowed during the morning show.”

With that he propelled me toward an enormously muscular woman who presented me with a lime green posing suit and said, “60 dollars.” She then paused, looked down at me and said,

“This won’t fit you. Maybe you could try Victoria’s Secret in the mall?”

“I’ll take that suit,” I said.

After all of my preparation, I would rather look as though I had a lumpy, bumpy behind than not compete.

Then my savior appeared. To this day I have no idea who she was, but to her I shall be eternally grateful (and 60 dollars richer).

This woman dragged me up to the competition promoter and commanded me to take off my dress.

“She didn’t know” the women explained. “She only brought the (dramatic pause) velour.”

“Fine,” the promoter sighed. “She can wear it.”

Tanned and glued

Very few hours of sleep and many practice poses in my hotel room mirror later, it was time for the morning show.

As I looked around the auditorium, it was evident that most of us hadn’t slept. Perhaps we had all risen too early to apply fake tanner. (I myself had successfully tanned most of the towels, the sheets, the toilet seat and half of the sink. My apologies to the hotel staff.)

I was excited to be there and, amazed at the way that I looked. I was stunned when I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw.

I waited with our other women in the novice class until it was our turn to go onstage.

“Did you glue your suit down?” one woman asked me.

Before I could answer she whipped out a tube of the glue.

“Pull down the top of your suit” she instructed.

I felt an intense burning sensation as the glue hit my flesh.

“Press the suit down. Now!!”

I pressed the cloth against my skin for a moment. Then I gently tugged at the fabric. She was right. That cloth was going nowhere.

It was finally our turn, and we all filed onstage. We did four turns so that the judges could view us from all angles and then performed all of the mandatory poses.

After relatively few minutes given all our work to get here, we were told to file off stage. It was noon. We were free to go until 6 p.m. that night.

I’m a winner

Returning that evening everyone looked frayed and exhausted. The end was in sight, though. After weeks of dieting we had a few more hours to endure and then we could feast on our favorite foods.

And then it was time.

We all filed up the stairs to the stage once and got ready to do our routines. “And next from Austin, Texas, is Carla Birnberg,” emcee Lonnie Teper announced.

Not realizing that the emcee could see past the curtains, I threw my arms up in the air and pretended to scream and cheer for myself.

Carla’s a little excited!” Lonnie said to the crowd.

The music started and I walked out on to the stage. I posed, and I flexed, and I remembered all the important things like “keeping my stomach tight.”

I finished and as I waved and ran off stage, I heard the emcee say “Well Carla is having a great time!” And with that I had won. I had reached my goal of achieving the look that I wanted.

I had enjoyed both the process of getting to the competition and the experience of being there.

I had done it.

The judges weren’t as excited with either my achievement or my experience. According to their calculations I came in last.

What do they know though? They obviously couldn’t see what I saw reflected back at me in my mirror.


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  1. says

    Wow! What a great piece, Carla! You are a wonderful writer and I really, really enjoyed this peak into the bodybuilding world (and your mind). Nine years late, perhaps, but congratulations nevertheless! You are amazing!!!

    • Beth Williams says

      Enjoyed the post! It takes motivation and I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps some movie like terminator 2 or just plain wanting to be “Wonder Woman” (HA HA!)

      Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    Fun pairing, MizFit.
    I just listened to your running talk on Woman’s Day and then came back to read the bodybuilding piece.

    You are so flipping adventurous.

    What’s next????

  3. says

    oh, how I LOVE this bodybuilding post. And that Ellen – commenter #3 – is that the Ellen Show Ellen coming to lurk around? heck, it could be.

  4. Bea says

    An erotic dance minus the brass pole? LOL
    If that didn’t make you prefer running nothing will :)

    I am with Helen.

    What’s next? How about hockey?

  5. says

    Love it! Especially as I am 2 weeks out from my figure show :)
    (Now the hotel charges you for any “tan damage!”)
    So true though-the accomplishment of achieving your goal, of getting in the best shape of your life, of continually striving to look better, to BE better, to endure the fatigue and hunger, to flex your mental strength-that’s what it’s all about. Not the trophy or lack thereof. Although I’m not going to lie-that’s nice. But the greatest trophy is the body, mind, and spirit you build.
    Metabolic circuit done this morning! Onward!
    Thanks for sharing that-what a great start to my week.

  6. Kim says

    My first 5K is this weekend and I can only hope I will enjoy the process and experience as you did.

    There is now way in hell (can I say that here? :)) I am winning either.

  7. says

    I loved this post! So well written and funny too! Thanks for sharing your experience with us and giving us a peak into the world of body building.

  8. says

    I can TOTALLY see you cheering for yourself in the wings, I laughed OUT LOUD at the thought of some beefy woman pulling you around and handling your bizness, giggled at you flashing the scale guy, and Trophy Husband (who read along with me) and I were transfixed by that photo. LOVED THIS POST!!

  9. Evan says

    Miz, do you know who George Plimpton is?

    You should keep trying new and different fitness things and write about it.
    You cuold be the female GP!

  10. Evan says

    Oh and you look amazing.

    I can say that because my girlfriend said it first :)

    Have a great week!

  11. says

    Love how honest and frank you are about the half marathon. Have a girlfriend who ran it as well who said she enjoyed the experience but would not do it again. You both are great to listen to because you really give real deal feedback without it coming across as anything less than genuine. I love that. I look forward to reading/hearing about the next adventure that you are on. :D

  12. Stacey says

    Had I missed this post before? I think it was NBC that said ITS NEW TO ME ;)

    You’re like the guy on TLC who tries out all the different jobs.

    Better you than me ;)

  13. says

    Awesome read, my friend. I didn’t know that they glue the suits down, but that makes sense, as the material would shift easily over the muscles.

    I am glad that you realized that you were a winner, no matter what. :D

  14. MizFit says

    I swear we do attract what we are –and I are early morning :)

    More when the day is wrestled under control (Ren Man may or may not have given the child birthday cake for breakfast. his from yesterday) but now I am indeed hell bent on traveling the globe as Georgina Plimpton.

  15. says

    I so see the visual of you cheering yourself on!!! Ha! Loved this post. I’m bookmarking and saving as a favorite as I prepare to run my first half marathon. Yeah I’m a runner but never did anything over 10miles and well I’m doing this one for me

  16. Amanda says

    (Holy crap about that photo)

    I need to lose 80+ pounds and will never ever compete in a bodybuilding show.

    What continually inspires me is your willingness to try new things and never to define what you’ve done as failing.

    I am curious now after listening to the Womens Day thing:

    Did you look up your race time?

  17. Tessa says

    I love the fact that your smile in that picture is genuine. Not a ‘fake smile for the judges’ grin. Your glee is unmistakable. You’re an inspiration :-)

    And I do to think the rest of you also looks like a winner. If that’s the body of a women at the bottom of the list I shudder to think what the woman on top might have looked like. oi

  18. says

    You are so fabulous! I LOVE this post. So interesting to read about your first experience and your enthusiasm. Those judges clearly had no idea what they were talking about ;). And I love that you tanned the hotel toilet. :)

    Salad dressing is over rated! I always use my own combo of olive oil, lemon, S&P! Simple, delicious, light! No crap added

  19. says

    what a great story! it must have been an amazing experience. i like that total strangers fixed your swimsuit situation for you, how cool. and while i have never had the experience above, i will say i used to use self-tanner and when i read that you tanned the toilet seat i had to giggle, having done that myself on occasion :)

  20. says

    Carla, you know that I can totally relate to this post being in your same position in my late 30′s. I did not have all the probs as you did but the suit, OMG! First time I had put on something that small & cone out in public! :-) Then the routine to entertain the crowd! It was crazy but the accomplishment that I did this and 2 YEARS IN A ROW too. Hard to believe! It seems so long ago.. heck, it was!!!!!!!!!! :-)

  21. says

    Whenever I read stories like this I think, “why can’t I make myself lift weights?”

    You know what I wish? That we could meet and you would make me love weights and I would make you love running/cardio and then we’d both be happy (and perfect).

  22. says

    Oooh look at all those muscles! :) I’m glad you wrote this, I always wondered about those crazy figure competitions. I remember hearing from someone (don’t remember, might have even been you…) that those crazy badass dudes on the stage could actually be knocked over with a feather because of the dieting to get to looking like that. How did you feel? Did you just look strong or did you feel strong too? Totally curious. :)

    And if you loved weights still after that, I applaud you, but then again, I’ve had some horrendous runs and have not given up the love. And I also echo that if that’s how you look and came in last… I can’t even imagine…

  23. says

    I love this! It’s an important message we all need to send to ourselves! I love it that you chose to do something, you were excited about doing it and you were the winner! You were your own superhero!

  24. Jana says

    I laughed.
    I cried.
    It was better than Cats.

    These posts are so fun when you test out new things and report back.
    I live vicariously through you.

  25. says

    Love this story. And I love how you set challenging goals for yourself, with an actual competition for accountability, and then you have won when you accomplish your goal. You have given me food for though–again.

  26. says

    I absolutely LOVED this post! It gives a lot of insight into YOU, and the suit gluing is the funniest thing I have heard of in awhile :) Thanks for sharing this and WOW the body!!!

  27. says

    Thanks for this.
    I’m so gald that you did this for YOU and enjoyed it all.
    And I’m in awe of the shoulder arm muscles.

    Wow :)

  28. says

    Wow Carla what an amazing story. I will have to listen to the Woman’s Day piece when I get home. Thanks for the shout out this weekend too *hugs*.

  29. says

    Just listened to the WD interview – loved it! How awesome is Abby – she’s the one who spotlighted my blog in the mag last year! Especially coming from what happened at my race this weekend, it was really great to hear that you WOULD do another half marathon.

    I remember the body building post and still LOL’d when you flashed the judges…and how cool that the other women took you under their wings and showed you the ropes – what wonderful camaraderie!

  30. says

    This is amazing!!!!!! I am training to compete in my first bikini show..in ummmm, 8 weeks!! and this is a wealth of info for me!

    I “know” who you are but I confess I dont regularly read your blog..til today :) Sign me up, I need to pay attention to what you’re doing over here my friend!

    Take Care and Ive been posting about my Gym & Training exploits lately, it’s been fun!

  31. says

    This is still one of my all-time fave posts of yours! You are amazing. I’ve watched some of these shows but never competed in one and I love your unvarnished (Jan-tan’ed, rather!) view.

  32. says

    Like Charlotte said, this is one of my favorite posts of yours, too! It’s a terrific story, and I love that smile! I’m glad that triathlon does not require bikinis, velour or otherwise. :-)

  33. says

    my gosh, you are so insanely cut in that photo! thanks for sharing with us about the inside world of bodybuilding. you have had some really amazing experiences in your life.
    i wonder how you went from eating/training like that to go back to being just an extrordinarily fit person.

  34. says

    What a great accomplishment! Learning to master your body to that extent is awesome.

    Body Building competitions aren’t for everyone I have always been scared of the small outfits and your story reinforced that for me.

  35. says

    I love it! You certainly did win. Your story reminds me of my uncle, he was a body builder too. Years later he still looks great – and of course you do too!

  36. says

    I want you to know that I had my son read this and then had him read the post about when you were 14. I found that so powerful. And this.

    We then discussed what you wrote and it was a wonderful discussion. You are so valuable–so wonderful, and set such a wonderful example.


  37. says

    just found this post (it was at the top of your page today!)

    You are GORGEOUS!! a little orange (but that is my fav. colour) the smile radiating out of every inch of you is so contagious.

    what a great post! Thanks for sharing! Amy

  38. says

    WOW! What an amazing story. I love it. I never realized how much goes into a body building contest besides lifting weights :)

  39. says

    Girl! I had no idea you had done figure competitions. What a GREAT piece on your experience. Yours is so different from most, and it is nice to see how you ENJOYED YOURSELF!! ;-)