My Mom’s Fitness Competition
by Taylor Orci
I recently attended a bodybuilding competition to cheer on my mom. She was competing in the fitness division, which, as she reminded me a number of times, was completely different than the bodybuilding division. “The difference,” she said over her brunch cheat-meal of blueberry pancakes, “is that in the fitness division, the women aren’t all jacked to shit.” Then she showed me some pictures of the “difference,” which I couldn’t see, because everyone looked jacked to shit.
The competition took place across town, and my dad didn’t know what time my mom was going on, so I arrived early, with a flask. Why the flask? I was nervous.
I had debated whether to go at all, mostly because I didn’t want to see my mom lose. Isn’t that terrible? But my mom has made similar declarations before, such as, “I’m going to pole dance like Teri Hatcher!” or “I’m going to sell hand-made jewelry!” or “I’m going to be a therapist!” All of which were delivered with the same amount of enthusiasm as “I’m going to win a fitness competition!” And all of these later fizzled out to replaced by newer ambitions.
This runs in the family. When I moved to New York saying “I”m going to write for The Colbert Report!” only to move back to Los Angeles two years later Report-less, I’m sure my mom felt the same unease for me. But I knew how much effort my mom had put into this competition — into the bikini with custom embellishments, into working out every day to exhaustion, into obeying for months a strict diet in which even bananas weren’t allowed. I didn’t want to see her put in all this work just to walk away with just a glittery suit and a competition-issued spray tan.
So, I settled in next to my dad and abuela, preparing for the worst. By the way, if you ever end up going to a bodybuilding competition, I highly suggest pairing it with gin and mini-pretzels. And a sassy abuela who gives play-by-plays. I Tweeted some of them:
“’She should’ve fixed her roots’ — my abuela talking about a 35+ bikini finalist.”
“You know why their suits don’t move? They use glue on their butts.”
“My abuela just cat-called a guy named Guillermo, saying, ‘Who let the dogs out!?’ then went back to filing her nails.”
Then, still filing her nails, she nonchalantly said, “Oh, There’s Jason Alexander.”
“Yeah hita, your mom told me he was here.”
Sure enough, at least I’m 90% sure, Jason Alexander was in front of us — wearing a plaid shirt, filming a contestant he must’ve been supporting. If I had been enjoying the competition ironically, this moment made me reassess where I was.
Jason Alexander was having a great time. My grandma was having a brilliantly great time, despite — or maybe because of — the loud house music and golden half-naked bodies. Why did I need to be so removed? I closed Twitter, stopped playing Doodle Jump, and actually started watching the competition.
And where before what had been going through my head was along the lines of “Tweet Abuela’s sassy comment, blah blah blah, body dysmorphic disorder, blah blah blah, hope Mom doesn’t cry blah blah blah,” what I was now watching changed my mind about the whole thing.
Everyone on stage also seemed to be having a great time — flexing muscles, doing the moonwalk, performing personalized routines. And when they announced the winner, she’d hug the runners up, and the runners up would look genuinely happy for her. Everyone looked happy! It was like everyone was winning, like the fact that all of them were there in the first place was a team effort.
From my spot in the auditorium, it didn’t seem like Toddlers and Tiaras on steroids so much as My Little Pony, where no matter what happens it’s the friendship that’s truly the magic. And maybe some of the ponies were on steroids — who knows.
Then it was time for my mom’s division, the figure competition for women over 50. I tensed up. She walked out in her custom-made bikini and stiletto heels, and looked amazing.
My mom is an unusually attractive woman. When we’re together, people mistake us for cousins or sisters, and at a recent storytelling show where I performed, someone literally mistook her for me, which is an amazing compliment for one of us. On the flip side, I’m guilty of pointing out my mom’s stellar looks to guys I’ve dated in a, “Yep. this is what I’ll look like in 27 years or whatever no big deal” sort of way. Is that superficial and cheap? Of course.
The announcer said, “And first place goes to … our only competitor in the women’s over-50 fitness division!” My mom was the only one on stage. They gave her a trophy. She looked ecstatic. Then she came out again for the women’s over-45 division. Same thing, she was the only one who came out. She took home first place. Twice.
One might look at that and think, “How is that a competition?” But in my mind, the competition was years in the making — years of throwing herself into different things until she found her champion wheelhouse. During that cheat-meal brunch, after she’d talked about her workout routine and her diet, she said offhandedly, “It’s important to be good at something.”
My mom’s good at a lot of things. She sewed my christening gown when I was baptized, she can build an outdoor fountain from scratch. She can give you the Jungian interpretation of that dream you had where the raccoons won’t stop eating your garbage (answer: you are the raccoons, you are the garbage). And while she’s good at a lot of things, what I heard her say in that statement was that she was tired of being good. She wanted to be great. She wanted to fucking win.
A few months ago, my boyfriend came back from a trip from Disneyland and told me about this older guy he’d seen at the park. “He was alone in line for Thunder Mountain, he was wearing all this Disney stuff — Disney hat, Disney shirt, his annual Disney pass dangling from a lanyard around his neck.” This guy sounded kind of creepy to me, but my boyfriend said, “It was weird, I felt sad because this guy was at Disneyland all alone, but also it was awesome to see someone love something that much — I can’t think of anything I love that much in that way.”
I thought about that when I saw my mom. And while the muscles-and-drawstring-glued-to-the-butt look isn’t exactly up my alley, it didn’t matter. Up on stage, my mom was beaming, and I was happy for her. She was happy. She had won. I also realized there isn’t anything in my life I’m so dedicated to that I’d endure physical fatigue and virtual starvation to achieve. (Except maybe writing for The Colbert Report. I get all jacked to shit for that.)
Afterward we all went to Denny’s, my mom hiding her multiple layers of Jan Tana body glaze and sunless tanner beneath a shapeless UCB sweatshirt. Another competitor showed up with her family, including her baby daughter, and she and my mom traded elated expressions. We sat down, and my abuela described a recent painting she’d done for her Chinese brush painting class — a hobby she took up years ago that’s since become a well-honed skill. My mom put her arm around me, I opened my menu, and while reading a description for Moons Over My Hammy, I tried really hard not to cry.
Previously: “You look tired.”
Taylor Orci is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles.
Photo via Flickr