“Training was Taking Over My Life…” An Insider’s Scoop on what it’s REALLY Like to be a Fitness Model…
When I last saw Beatris Denis, we were at a birthday barbeque. She was measuring out plain turkey breasts and weighing salad while I, on the other end of the spectrum, had positioned myself by the BBQ and was intermittently burning my fingers in order to snare the choicest cuts/burnt-est sausages the second they left the grill. I felt a bit piggy next to such a controlled lady.
It turned out that Beatris was training for a bikini competition, and that under that baggy T shirt she was hiding THIS body….
The world of fitness competitions is fascinating and I have always regarded it as totally different to the modelling work I do. Fitness modelling is all about displaying how very hard you have worked to look a certain way, in a controlled number of poses. Fashion modelling, on the other hand, is all about pretending we #wokeuplikethis (despite hair and makeup taking hours, tonnes of photos taken and oodles of retouch applied afterwards to achieve that ‘effortless’ shot).
Recently amongst us fashion models there’s been a huge move towards health, nutrition and workouts (displayed on our Instagram for all to admire). You’re more likely to see us in Lycra than Lanvin. It begs the question: are fashion and fitness models that different?
I met up with Beatris on a beautiful sunny day in Green Park to find out more about her world…
R: Hey Beatris! So tell me – have you always been sporty – or was training for competitions a big departure for you?
B: I grew up in Haiti, and I was always really sporty as a kid. I played basketball, rode horses, swam…But at 16 we moved to Spain very suddenly, and my sporty life vanished. I had a long walk to and from school and loads of homework to do. Us adults have to fit sport into our day, for health as well as aesthetic purposes. When you’re a kid you’re just active for fun, and I think it’s a shame that we lose that.
R: Fitness modelling is surely the pinnacle of regimented workouts for aesthetic purposes! How on earth did you find yourself training for competitions?!
B: So I was in Manchester and working as a psychiatrist. My friend was getting married and asked me to join a gym with her, though I was into fitness already, running 5k every morning and doing an exercise DVD everyday. Renata, a trainer who works at the gym, approached me and said I have a great shape for competitions and asked if was I interested in entering. I really didn’t think I was up for it, but after seeing Renata compete I got seduced by the idea of >14% body fat!
R: Fair enough! How did you find training? It must be so intense…
B: It is! But I wasn’t enjoying my job, so I found training to be a fantastic way of de-stressing, my own personal therapy after work.
R: What does a day of training involve?
B: So there’s an hour of cardio, an hour of weights, stretching, preparing food. Taking into account showering and so on, I was in the gym for four hours a day.
R: Wow, that seems almost excessive.
B: It’s really not when you’re doing it. I was in the zone, and I had a lot of pride in my body and I felt so full of energy.
*Regrets the 3 biscuits I just ate*
But I’m 32, and I would like to get married and have kids at some point, and my (ever honest) Mum said: “How are you gonna meet someone if you’re at the gym for four hours a day?” It’s not that I’d stop going for men, but it did hit home that training was taking over my life.
R: Didn’t you want to date a fellow gym bod?
B: I don’t think it’s healthy to be so entwined. I do see couples at the gym, but I think that they can actually feed one another’s obsession for working out and eating in such a controlled way. It’s great to have a partner in crime but remember I’m a psychiatrist so I was aware that I should avoid being with someone who’s going to feed the unhealthier elements that competing can bring out.
R: So you stopped competing?
B: After a couple of competitions, yes. I decided I wanted to take a break. I’ve just moved to London and choosing between four hours a day at the gym, or making friends and settling myself into a new neighbourhood was a no-brainer. Though with all this exercise I felt like I had a healthy body, I didn’t think my mind matched. I wanted to know what it felt like to not be on a diet…I’ve been on one since I was 16! I wanted to take the guilt and the regimen out of eating and just enjoy myself.
R: So how did that go?
B: Hmmm, I went pretty wild and I didn’t feel great! You know, when training I was superlean and I was eating superclean. That can really change your gut flora, so when I started eating whatever I wanted I didn’t just feel blobby, I felt quite unwell. I’m just finding my balance once again.
R: I actually know what you’re talking about. I too have been very controlled with my eating, then gone the other way and felt like I was spiralling out of control. It’s only in the last couple of years food is no longer a source of angst, guilt and indulgence – rather just enjoyment, fuel and nutrition!
B: It’s hard to get there! There are so many ways that we can feel pressure over our bodies. I remember, aged 11, an aunt telling me that my butt was big. Moments like that can affect someone forever.
R: Yes I have modelling moments – offhand criticism I’ve received that could have been just down to someone’s offday or feeling fat themselves – that stuck with me.
Big butts are ‘in’ now though!
B: Yes but they weren’t at the time! I was so happy when J-Lo came on the scene!
Looks good to me! (But seriously Beatris pick your photo backgrounds better next time…)
I’m finding my balance now. I have this phrase I say to myself…’Don’t put the cookie on a pedestal.’ When you’re on a super-restrictive diet, you can daydream about what foods you want to eat but can’t. I’d be racked with guilt for thinking incessantly about peanut butter, then giving in and having a spoonful. Weeks of going to bed SO HUNGRY meant that as soon as I was let loose, I wanted the whole bag of those cookies I’d placed on a pedestal! But obviously that much sugar never made me feel good.
R: No! A whole bag of cookies is almost as bad as no cookies at all!
Right I have a question. I have friends who decided get get fitter and post their ‘body transformation pictures’ on social media. There’s always at least one ‘you looked better before’ comment, and I find it really snidey. How did friends react to your training?
B: I actually lost friends over this.
R: No waaaay!
B: Oh my best friends have always been supportive of everything I do. But yeah – one friend sent flowers last year saying I’d become self-obsessed and selfish. I mean yeah I’ll post pictures from training or cooking but I live alone, so it’s my way of keeping in touch with friends, plus I had a really busy job.
He’s since apologised. He explained that, actually, he was having his own battles with his weight, and seeing my pictures made him feel terrible about himself.
R: That’s why I find those comments snidey. It’s cos I know I do it when I’m feeling bad about myself. ‘Don’t get to skinny’ actually means ‘I wish I would stop comfort eating and get my fitness on track, too.’
So what about men? I would have assumed they might be put off as body building is seen as quite a masculine activity?
B: Not at all! Men were really into it. Some guy friends said they preferred me curvier, but I definitely got asked out loads by gym-types and regular guys!
R: Finally, I want to know your opinion on the whole fitness craze we’re seeing now. Instagram is full of workouts, and a lean body gained from hours of (documented) daily exercise in fancy workout gear is the new status symbol. Do you think that’s good?
B: I think it’s great that health is talked about more, and that we talk about lean rather than skinny.
But I don’t like the tone of some of the posts. Like, for example, I hate ‘No Excuses.’
I get that it’s trying to motivate people by saying you’ll never regret a workout, and that no matter how tired you are you’ll enjoy it…
…But actually I think that if someone’s feeling unhealthy, if they’re low in confidence and self-esteem, it can actually make them feel powerless and worse about themselves.
R: Are you ever going to do fitness modelling again?
B: I loved it…But probably not. I don’t enjoy putting my body under so much stress, especially when I’m under life stress! I will always love working out, but I’m trying new things like climbing walls that test my mind as well as my body.
R: Thank you Beatris!
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