“Respect my Authority” - Cartman
“You, I assume you are programmed for etiquette and protocol” – Uncle Owen
C-3PO had it easy. Programmed to function properly in any formal situation, he was able to transition smoothly amongst different races, and species, never forgetting to tip the host, step on the left tentacle of a Meruvian Lugtraf, or rub the ear of the Andegorian Slug. Bodybuilders, however, don’t come with that type of programming and must take the time to learn proper etiquette and respect for others that will help provide mainstream approval of the sport, and increased participation.
As a nascent bodybuilder and recent devotee to the sport, my last weekend was spent attending my first bodybuilding competition: 2003 NPC Texas State Championships. What follows is a firsthand account of the good, the bad, and the downright embarrassing that was witnessed during the day.
Starting at 9:30 A.M. my wife and I arrived on the campus of University of Houston at around 10:15 and were seated in the main theatre by 10:30. So far a good start, however, there was no signage advertising the meet. Obviously the promoter assumed that the only attendees would be bodybuilding enthusiasts who needed no direction. For the uninitiated, there were signs leading to (in order) a men’s rally, a children’s art festival, and a cat show, but no bodybuilding. As fate would have it, I was a former student of the University and was familiar with the campus, so getting to the venue was not a problem for us, however, I heard several people in the parking lot questioning where to go, while UH is not a large campus, it does have a lot of buildings packed together, and navigation is difficult, if you don’t know the lay of the land. (Parking was also hard for most, but not me due to my possession of an alumnae’ parking pass.) After rounding up a tussle of lost souls, we settled into our seats for pre-judging.
Here I want to start out with a disclaimer: We had a blast. Being able to see people on stage in various levels of muscularity and definition was both a motivator, and a confidence booster to my wife and I. Looking in various magazines, which was all we had to motivate previously, was both inspiring, and desperate in nature, due to the perfection displayed in those pages daily. Looking at Monica Brant, Jenny Lynn, and Elaine Goodlad is great, to a point, but to a novice figure competitor it can also be daunting, often leaving the impression that such high levels of fitness are needed to compete on ANY level, and pose a high barrier to entry in a sport that is geared to the masses. So we watched, and awed, and clapped, and cheered. We left that day for the lunch break excited for the finals, and feeling pretty good about where we were in our fitness development. My wife gained the confidence to keep trying to get on stage I felt (a little) better about my physique (I’m still a tub, but I can get there) and with the guest posing schedule (Betty Pariso, Idrese Ward-El, David Palumbo, Kelly Ryan, Craig Titus), our anticipation levels were off the charts.
After a quick lunch and some afternoon cardio, we showered and changed and arrived back at the college a little wiser on navigation and how to get where we needed to be most quickly. As we sat down for the evening finals, we noticed a stark change in the atmosphere, tension seemed much thicker in the room, non-competing fitness and bodybuilding women all had on what appeared to be the same black T-length dresses, the bodybuilding community was out in force, a clash of semi-formal and gym rat attire. At about 7:30 the show began (Houston Traffic) and etiquette flew out the window. To say that the evening was a let down from the pre-judging is an understatement. This is not the fault of the organizer, nor of the athletes on stage, rather, the fault lies with the non-performers, the friends, acquaintances and hangers-on in the crowd, there was so much commotion in and around the theatre while routines were in process, one could not hear the music, or see ½ of the routines on stage. This fact coupled with a steady stream of personnel up and down the side steps of the stage, was not only a distraction to those trying to watch the performers, but had to be a distraction to the judges as well. At one point, during a pose-down, my wife and I could not see the stage due to the fact that 10 people were exchanging hugs and kisses while standing in front of us. There was not one routine in which my wife and I did not have are view partially obstructed by: people walking up and down the isle, people hollering across the theatre to “buds”, women modeling dresses, and competitors coming down and showing off their (previously won) hardware to workout buddies and family. I missed ¼ of Craig Titus’ routine due to the fact that one of the competitors’ (who came in second in his class) wife/girlfriend/whatever was standing up and screaming on her CELL PHONE that her man had been robbed. She was so angry she catcalled Craig Titus, pretty much ruining what seemed to be a pretty awesome display of muscle, by a very interesting personality.
In my six-month peripheral involvement with bodybuilding, one of the key complaints I hear from insiders is the lack of respect granted by the general public for the effort and sacrifice that is required of participants. It seems to me that some of these misconceptions are self-inflicted wounds. Respect is a two way street, often expected of others, but never given in return. First and foremost, bodybuilders have to respect one another, before they will gain respect from the outside world. Being large does not bestow upon a human carte blanche to act in ways outside of social norms. It seems that, in a fit of rage due to the outlawing of steroids, hardcore lifters have decided to ignore society as a whole, to shrink the sport to a small circle of injectors, searching only for a “pump”, the rest of the world be damned. In reality a different scenario could be realized if some simple cultural etiquette would be applied:
1. During a performance: focus on the performer, all of the Ooohs, and Aaahs on these boards about peoples physique, and their cuts, are useless, if they are ignored by their contemporaries on stage. Not once during the performance did I see an ovation for a particularly good front double biceps pose. Not once did someone cheer, go mad, or clap (other than a Golf clap) for someone on stage obviously nailing it for the competition. Respect each other. Respect will come from outside, only then.
2. Stay seated during a performance by another competitor, ushers need to police the isles, make sure that performances are uncluttered with peripheral action.
3. Finally, celebrate outside. Don’t run down the isle, trophy in hand, and hug all fourteen cousins while someone else tries to hit a most muscular that might carry the day. This goes for competition staff as well: STAY OFF THE STAGE WHEN A PERFORMER IS PERFORMING UNLESS SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG. Trust me, whatever you need to tell someone back stage can wait two minutes until the some is over.
No one wants bodybuilding competitions to play out like Broadway musicals, they should be more like rock concerts, but the continued lack of respect and poor social etiquette shown to other competitors only serves to drive people away from the sport, which is counterproductive to the cause. Only through increased public acceptance and understanding of bodybuilding will gains be made in monetary and supplement battles, this has been shown in every significant social movement in the past half century. It is beholden to the bodybuilding community to take the necessary steps to insure that a new level of young performers swell the ranks of competition stages worldwide.