Fit Mind. Fit Body. Fit Soul.

Self Perception

Fit Mind. Fit Body. Fit Soul.

I fell in love with muscles when I was about 5, back when my nickname was Jilly Bean.  Muscles fascinated me.  I liked The Incredible Hulk, He-Man, She-Ra, Wonder Woman, and Hulk Hogan.  Growing up in a conservative Christian home with a pastor father, I was raised on traditional gender roles and most things I liked and was attracted to were frowned upon as “worldly” or “secular.”  It was super cool that girls could be muscular and kick-ass too!  I was competitive and athletic growing up and played almost every sport, but basketball was hands down my favorite!  When I was 14, I started lifting weights for my favorite sport; basketball, and was very focused on building my legs and lower body for a strong base.  I was one of only two girls in the weightlifting class that was tailored for varsity athletes.  This is where I fell in love with weightlifting as my favorite form of exercise.  

As a teen, I was considered unruly by my parents’ standards and I was sent to an all-girls ultra-conservative/religious boarding school in Texas when I was 15.  I was very homesick and alone and tried to keep up physical activity.  I earned the nickname “Jill-Fonda” because I was always asking friends to do workout videos with me or run or work out.  Working out was frowned upon by the staff and I was accused of having an eating disorder and forbidden to work out.  I was forced to sit at the table for an hour after meals to make sure I wasn’t throwing up…..I didn’t have an eating disorder, just a healthy digestive system (and food allergies I didn’t yet know about) and frequently needed to use the bathroom shortly after a meal.  I used to wake up early and workout in the closet with a towel blocking the light that shined under the door.  Boarding school was a dark time in my life but built strength and self-sufficiency and independence that only trauma can produce.  I lived with false accusations but learned that no matter what was taken from me, nobody could control my thoughts or my mind.

After boarding school, I left home and married young, just two months shy of my 19th birthday.  I lived my 30s in my 20s giving birth to my daughter at 21 and my son at 23 and living the suburban picket-fence dream with a career as a banker.  Weightlifting was a hobby and part of my routine through my late teens and early twenties but without a reason or real purpose for doing it other than because I liked it and how it made me feel.  

Growing up I always dreamed of modeling, carefully tearing pages from Vogue, Elle, Glamour, and Marie Claire to hang on my bedroom walls.  The Guess models and the supermodels inspired me.  I didn’t think I was pretty enough to ever have a shot at modeling.  At 24, I was approached by a fashion show producer who gave me his card and said I should start modeling.  I was ecstatic and started a small but exciting career in runway modeling fashion modeling and as a ring girl for boxing and MMA.  Some of the designers didn’t pick me because I was “too muscular” while others complimented my athletic frame.  

After my 4th or 5th runway show, my chiropractor (who was also a trainer for bodybuilders) asked me for an autographed photo to hang on his wall of bodybuilder photos.  When he saw the photo, he told me I should “do a figure show.”  I asked what that was, and he asked if I wanted to go through hell for the next 4 weeks and find out.  4 weeks later, without a CLUE as to what I was doing, I stepped on stage at the largest bodybuilding competitions in my region.  I felt SO out of my element, completely intimidated and lost.  I didn’t even know there were two rounds that required a suit change, and I only had one suit!  To this day I am grateful for the woman who noticed me and loaned me her back up suit.  I didn’t even score high enough to place.  But I was HOOKED!  I saw women in their 40s and 50s that looked flawless!  I saw some of the most beautiful, athletic examples of the female form and the trophies they were winning, and I wanted to look like that!  I looked at them and saw an example of what I could grow up to become.  I saw a purpose for lifting weight other than just feeling good.  Old did not have to mean out of shape or not beautiful!  I had found my thing.  It gave purpose to my workouts, created a new level of ambition, determination, motivation, and drive in me.  It exercised my competitive side.  I set the only kinds of goals I knew how to set back then: modest and attainable ones. 

The next year I moved up in my placings and won my first top 5 trophy.  By the end of that season, I won my first 1st place trophy.  I was in shock with my first-place win and decided that my goal was to make it to a National show and to place top 5 there.  The sport was evolving, as was I, and by the time I made it to my national show my personal life was in shambles.  I was divorced, had “failed” at my first self-employment attempt, I was in bankruptcy and in an abusive relationship with someone who was a bodybuilding judge.  He told me after placing 4th at Nationals that he would only support me in competing if I followed his advice on hair color, suit color, how serious I took my diet etc.  I quit competing.  I resented being told what to do.  I felt like he hijacked my hobby.  It lost all its fun for me.  I set a goal and didn’t believe I could do any better.  I got into competing for what felt like the right reasons and I was leaving for the right reasons.  My mindset wasn’t right to be competing with my horrible habit of negative self-talk combined with the abusive and critical comments of my then-boyfriend.  

In 2012 I had an awakening.  It was a profound experience and a story for another day.  It shook me to my core and started a messy but beautiful process that continues to this day.  I found the courage to leave the toxic relationship and I began to build a new life.  I was well on my way to healing, balance, and in a new and amazing relationship. My focus was on building a business and competing was just a thing I used to do.  Chronic low back issues and an 18-24 hour a week commute took up all the time I would have had for the gym, and fitness took a back seat.  

Multiple years and businesses later, I was working at my smoothie shop in a gym and started to chat with other competitors.  Word spread that I used to compete, and new competitors started coming to me for diet, training, and posing help.  I helped a friend prep for a show and went to watch her compete.  The smell of show day, the sounds, the sights, the experience all seemed to call to me. I had been training again for personal aesthetic goals and didn’t feel like I was too far off from where the division had evolved.  I started to think about competing again.  I went to another show and started to think about dreams and goals.  When I was competing a decade ago, I didn’t even understand the concept of having dreams so big they scare you.

From 2019 – 2020 I started to train with a purpose for the first time in almost a decade.  I studied how the sport had evolved since I “retired” and worked on developing the look of the current top placing athletes.  I began working on achieving the new level of conditioning and development of my division while secretly planning my return to the stage.  In January 2020 I picked a show date and announced that I was returning to the sport after a decade!  

The shows have been postponed or canceled multiple times over, but I’m ready.  I’m whole. I’m healed and I’m ready to make my comeback.  I’m doing this for the right reasons with only love, encouragement, and support from my significant other.  I look back to the young woman I was when I started competing and I have compassion for her.  I look at the old journal entries she wrote and cringe at the mean things I used to write myself.  I no longer look at myself through the distorted lens I used to view myself through.  I have evolved and changed and become one of those women I used to look up to backstage.  I’m that woman who would see the new, lost competitor and lend her my spare suit.  


Written by:  Jill H.

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