We asked some of our T Nation pros this question:
Would you want your child to compete in a physique competition (bodybuilding, figure, bikini, etc.)?
Here's what they had to say.
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro
As a father to three teenage daughters I would certainly not pressure them to compete in a physique competition. If they expressed an interest I'd be more concerned about their hearts. I'd want to know the motive compelling them to compete.
There is little financial reward in physique competitions, particularly for women who aren't willing to sell themselves salaciously on social media and elsewhere. If I felt garnering that kind of attention was their motive, I'd encourage them to consider a different pursuit. — Mark Dugdale
Dr. Lonnie Lowery – Exercise Physiologist and Nutritionist
I've wrestled with this question in the past. I have a son and I'm a former competitive bodybuilder, not just a one-timer, so I'll focus on these particulars.
My son, now 20, grew up in a household that was pretty balanced regarding fitness. Barbells are good things. Strength and muscle mass are empowering. Appreciation of healthy foods enriches life in a way most of the population simply doesn't grasp.
On the other hand, I didn't want him in the kind of environment to which I was sometimes exposed as a competitive bodybuilder or as a back stage attendee at big events. Extreme calorie counting, eating disorders, full blown celebrations in the house over just being allowed to eat a tablespoon of peanut butter (true story), endocrine damage, unbalanced narcissism – and occasionally at competitions even recreational drugs and overt deviance. I didn't even encourage him to attend my bodybuilding competitions, although he was welcome to.
Before I get hate mail for being seemingly hypocritical – I do love bodybuilding – it's just important to understand that I've seen some sketchy, damaging, and deviant stuff on its periphery. I know several journalists and organizers who share my view. Each has some mind-numbing tales, stories that may be more extreme at high-levels in the sport.
There seems to be a fine line between dedication and obsession in physique competition. I've been guilty of drifting into self-destructive "warrior mode" more than a few times in my career. I bet many readers can relate. The flip side of the dark underbelly is of course the discipline and courage to stand out that physique competitions can develop. These are the lessons any young person should be exposed to:
- The daily act of "punching the clock" during those early morning or evening workouts when most people are comfy on the couch.
- The delayed gratification of a 20-week diet.
- Pouring your heart into something meaningful.
- Dismissing the naysayers.
And all this for just a few minutes on stage. In many ways it's more of a total lifestyle commitment than other sports. Anything worthwhile in life comes with commitment and sacrifice.
So I can only offer the "middle path" as an answer to this question, especially if the entry into competition would lead to further competitions. If there's a genuine calling to the sport and a seasoned guide who can keep the focus on the positivity and purity of what bodybuilding can be – then yes, I would want it for my boy. But without a little idealism, balance, and a voice of reason at his back, I'd have to say no. — Dr. Lonnie Lowery
Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach
I'd be okay with it because my middle daughter is, in fact, my training partner. I'd be able to help her with training, diet, and mental preparation. I already do my best to help her understand good nutritional choices without becoming obsessive about it. But there are plenty of women who compete and end up developing eating disorders or unhealthy relationships with food as a result.
I'd also be there to help her understand that while it is a competition, it's a subjective one. And that her placing isn't a representation of the amount of work she had to put in to prepare for it. She can't control the judging, but she can control how hard she works and how disciplined she has to be in order to be her very best.
This is really the most important part about competing in any subjective sport like physique competitions, but also how we should be applying ourselves to virtually everything in life. The point is giving her best effort to succeed, even if the manifestation of that success doesn't come by way of plastic trophies.
Like with anything we immerse ourselves in, there can be valuable lessons learned in preparation for a physique competition, and it can teach you a lot about yourself. So yes, I'd be perfectly fine it. — Paul Carter
TC Luoma – T Nation Editor
No. God no. This question makes me think of a line from Breakfast of Champions, a Kurt Vonnegut novel. One of the characters has a daughter who he's encouraging to be an Olympic swimmer, prompting the narrator to ask, "What kind of a man would turn his daughter into an outboard motor?"
So when I hear this question applied to bodybuilding, I ask myself, "What kind of a man would turn his daughter (or son) into a forklift?" While I love weight lifting and I'm fully aware that it's paid for a large part of my house and my food, I feel compelled to do a little gnawing on the hand that feeds me.
I was listening to National Public Radio the other day while they were interviewing an Olympic gymnast. He'd never had any "job" other than practicing or competing in gymnastics. His other passions were PokŽmon and Legos. If he had the chance to do it all over again, to be reincarnated as something else, he'd want to come back as a beach volleyball player.
Ay carumba! Muy vapid-o!
I'm hyperaware of the time needed to become a champion at anything, especially bodybuilding. And that's not even counting the 4, 5, 6, or 7 extra hours per day a competitive bodybuilder has to devote to dieting, cardio, posing, tanning, etc. etc.
What I wonder about is, in spending all this time in preparation, what are you giving up, and for what? In the case of the gymnast, he'd clearly given up anything resembling a full life, and perhaps, by his answers, an education. The gymnast might get awarded with a gold medal and at least some kind of financial security, but for the average bodybuilding or figure athlete? What does he or she get for winning? A plastic trophy. Some pictures.
Of course, whether most bodybuilding competitors realize it or not, most of them are seeking approval from their peers, even though it's momentary and fleeting. Look, I knew hundreds of male and female bodybuilders. I interviewed them. Talked to them at length about their lives. Very few of them appeared to have any true self worth.
For most of the women the story went like this: They were beauticians or secretaries or checkout girls who started dating lifters. Their boyfriends talked them into weightlifting. As they progressed, people started to pay attention to them. The compliments and encouragement grew. The more they grew, muscle wise, the more attention they got. Soon, they started using anabolic drugs. Then, they got lots of attention... for a little while. Many were sexually exploited by editors, photographers, journalists, promoters, etc.
Then, as they all do, they slowly disappeared, most likely after finding all that attention didn't equal self-worth and that the exploitation maybe even left them worse off than they started.
No, I would prefer any children I had base their self-worth not on the approval of others for having low body fat, but by defining who the are, developing understanding, mastering fulfilling skills, and being "other-aware" in addition to self aware.
But don't get me wrong; I'd love for them to lift weights, as long as it was a part of a full, well-rounded life. I prefer the old Roman/Greek "healthy mind in a healthy body" philosophy.
Maybe you noticed that I haven't mentioned figure athletes or bikini athletes yet. I can't deny the amount of work that these women put into it, and all the things I said about competitive bodybuilding surely apply to them, too, but on some levels it's even worse for figure or bikini competitors.
These women are judged largely on their attractiveness, their "doability."
Let's not kid ourselves. Often times, these contest are morally sanctioned wet T-shirt contests. Hell, even traditional beauty contests are a bit more respectable because there's at least the suggestion that it's also about brains rather than booty. Otherwise they wouldn't bother asking Ms. Finland how to solve world hunger.
If that makes you angry, then ask yourself why they're required to wear high heels. Ask yourself why almost no one without breast implants ever wins.
As a man, I love figure contests and bikini contests because, frankly, they excite me sexually, but as a father? Hell, hypocrisy or not, I'd prefer any daughter I had train in the gym for health, confidence, and yes, attractiveness, but she doesn't need to go up on a stage for anyone to validate it. — TC Luoma
Amit Sapir – IFBB Pro, World Record Holder Powerlifter
I definitely want my children to know the basics of lifting weights – how to squat, deadlift, press, pull-up, and do all the basics movements perfectly and be strong (even very strong) in them. I want them to have the physical benefits that it gives them, both in appearance and in health, performance, and understanding of body movement and function.
As for the actual competition side of things and being on stage, it would have to be their passion and they'd have to actually say they want to do it. I wouldn't push them this direction. I know what being on stage actually means in terms of drug use, potential for income, health risks, mental strength required due to the political side of competing, etc.
I would push them more toward objective sports where they have more control of the outcome as opposed to subjective judging. I've experienced both and it can be a real challenge to put everything you have into a show, be the best, and still lose. It was the most challenging part of bodybuilding for me and the most refreshing change that I had in my transition to powerlifting.
That being said. I'd never deter my kids from doing something they're passionate about, as long as they're educated and knowing what they're getting into. I'll always support them with everything I have. — Amit Sapir
Dr. John Rusin – Doctor of Physical Therapy, Performance Expert
As a father or two young children, I wouldn't be in favor of them competing in physique competitions, or any other competitions for that matter. While physique is one hell of an emotional, physiological, physical, and psychological risk for highly plastic brains and bodies for a magnitude of reasons, I believe kids should be kids and not be lead into highly competitive activities or sports just to keep up with the Jones's.
Just because some asshole enrolls his 6 year old in youth football doesn't mean you have to be a dumbass as well and follow suit. Because that's all youth sports really is these days – parents self-justifications to compete with other parents through their kids. What about the kids?
You want to be the best 10-year old bodybuilder anyone has ever seen? Congratulations. Good luck forging your way into normal high functioning society once you hit college, or even high school. The chances of you becoming an Olympia champion are less than likely. Just as every parent thinks their son playing T-ball is the next A-Rod, people need a damn reality check. My gripe is with the competition of physique, not necessarily the training or focused habits that it takes to see notable results and achieve goals.
On that end of the spectrum, I'm a big believer that more kids need to start "training" at younger ages, while trading bullshit kiddy sports and participation trophies for barbells, sprints, and a development of their motor control through the iron.
This is where the question gets more complex. If promotion of youth physique will get more kids in the gym and actually training and forming skills that will work for them for a lifetime, go for it... if that's what the child wants, not the parents goals and overly ambitious expectations.
But just know as soon as a young individual starts to be judged on a snapshot of aesthetics prowess and not on who they are, what they believe in, or the density that makes them an individual, you better get those bleacher parents ready to start in on a host of psycho-social therapy along the way. — Dr. John Rusin
Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO
Nope. In fact, I'd have to dissuade my daughter from competing. The problem is, I've seen too much over the years as somewhat of an insider. The exploitation, the eating disorders, the expense, the drugs, the emotional tumult, the loss of self... the list goes on.
Would I support her if she decided to compete? Of course, but just like when my wife competed, I'd act as her bodyguard. Perhaps soul-guard would be more appropriate.
Lifting weights, eating right, achieving goals, pushing yourself, developing personal responsibility and a strong work ethic... all good, and sorely lacking in this new world full of lazy, entitled wimps. There's just something about the lifting "lifestyle" that teaches you lessons that go far beyond biceps and abs.
But none of that requires a stage and a group of sketchy judges. All you need is a barbell and a brain. — Chris Shugart