Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit

I went to the gym today. Now, I’m not telling you all this because I want to show off my new Nikes, or post a sweaty insta-pic of my self with a slew of hashtags about fitness and working hard.

No, I’m writing this because it was really hard to get myself to walk into those 4 walls. And it has been. For weeks.

I have a love-hate relationship with the lifestyle and fitness portion of the Miss America Competition. When I first started competing, I wore a 1 piece suit. I was convinced that I didn’t have the “body” for a bikini. In fact, I was hesitant about not wearing a “skirt” type bottom because I felt so insecure. Looking back now, I laugh, because I looked great. I was fit. But regardless of that fact, I still felt awkward in my own skin. I was, afterall, an average 17 year old girl. But as I continued competing, I found myself appreciating my body more. I started working out more-lifting weights to be exact, and found a love of powerlifting. Powerlifting isn’t what most would equate to helping a girl achieve the “perfect pageant body” but I fell in love with it. It made me feel strong, powerful, and proud of myself. I even found a few powerlifting competitions I planned to compete in and met a lovely older gentleman at the gym who was a powerlifter for years. He gave me wrist braces, knee wraps, and pointers for several weeks. I joined online groups of women who lifted and felt at home, at ease, and confident in whom I was becoming.

During this time, I was competing locally and was feeling more and more confident during swimsuit. I was healthy and fit — and being up on stage showing off my hard work was exhilarating. Then I did a study abroad trip to Asia, where I continued to lift at the fitness center on campus. It was there I really began to question the sport I had fallen in love with. “Your legs are too thick.” “Your arms! They are so wide!!” “Girls shouldn’t lift weights! You’re going to hurt yourself!” These comments surrounded me every time I entered the gym, and while I pretended to brush off the remarks, attempting to force myself into believing it was a cultural difference, I couldn’t help but notice the numbers on the scale slowly increasing. I was gaining muscle, yes, but I was also gaining a little weight. Looking back, I’m silly to have cared so much about what was probably due more to the amount of rice I was eating and not bench pressing my bodyweight, but it started to bother me.

Adding fuel to the fire were my several naturally thin friends whom I had overseas, including my friend Liz, who was in avid long distance runner. I started running with her three times a week, with the mindset that I would grow to love it, get thinner, and be happier. But it didn’t happen. At the end of my time abroad I still hated running, and was angry at myself for “failing.”

Upon returning to the states, I felt even more pressure to do well in pageants but started feeling like I could never measure up to those other thinner, taller girls whom I was competing against. Women who started competing after me were winning and I was still losing. I know it was petty thinking that way, but I blamed myself and my inability to slim down.

So, I got back in the gym but found myself not losing weight. I tried to not care, and for the most part it worked. I love the feeling of my muscles aching, of moving up the weight on a lift, of succeeding on a new personal record. My love of working out had returned. And a few months later, I found myself with a crown and sash. I was so happy… until I remembered there was a state competition coming up, with a higher level caliber of women who worked harder than me, dieted stricter than me, and were “better” than me. At least, those were the thoughts that started getting into my head. I went to the gym, but I started focusing less on getting stronger and more on what could I do to burn the most calories.

About a month before the state pageant last year, I gave up. Honestly. I stopped caring about making my waist any thinner or trying to get abs. I was sick of feeling trapped between two worlds. How could I still be a part of these lifting groups when I hadn’t squatted more than my bodyweight in weeks? It was draining, wearing me down and I just gave up. I stopped going to the gym and come the state pageant I just had fun. And it was wonderful.

But that didn’t last. Fast-forward to a few months ago. When I had won my most recent title, I vowed I would not let myself down. I would go to the gym regularly, I would eat healthy, I would stick to the plan. I would present the best version of myself on that stage this June. But then my mind stopped my positive thinking. I convinced myself that “It doesn’t really matter because I’ll never have that body” and that “there’s no point when it won’t make a difference.”

I’m not making excuses for myself. In fact, I’m doing the opposite. I let my disgruntled pessimism get in the way of the truth:

My body, my worth, my femininity is not defined by 35 seconds on stage in a bikini. Whether or not I have abs that show does not prove my health and fitness. But you know what does? Living healthily. Exercising regularly. Eating well. Being Happy.

I have a love-hate relationship with the lifestyle and fitness portion of the Miss America Competition. It does not prove everything about one’s lifestyle or fitness, but if you have something to prove, it is the perfect opportunity. And you can bet your bottom dollar that this June I will prove that I love myself, wholly, completely, for all it has done, and all it can and will do. My Lifestyle and Fitness will never again be dedicated to the phase of competition of the same name. My Lifestyle is for my life. My Fitness for my future. And that swimsuit? I’ll be rocking it with or without defined abs.