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What I Watched Last Night

What in the world would possess an otherwise normal 15-year-old British girl to intentionally end up looking like the Awful-Looking Drag Queens section of a Body Worlds exhibit? That's what last night's airing of Supersize She on The Learning Channel might have set out to answer by following Joanna Thomas in her unsuccessful quest to win the 2004 Ms. Olympia bodybuilding competition.

People like Joanna Thomas are seriously competitive women into serious weightlifting and looking seriously like, uh, shit. Sure, you get huge vein-popping muscles, but you lose your tits, your ass turns into one huge steely tendon, and your zit-ridden face takes on the consistency of 40-grit sandpaper. As crazy as it may sound, all that muscle is for show; by the time they're done training and crash dieting and dehydrating themselves half to death, they've weakened their bodies to the point where holding those poses onstage is exhausting.

On the other hand, when your fat percentage falls to roughly that of an anorexic, you lose your period. So perhaps that in itself might be some sort of incentive for most any woman. "She looks fantastic," says Joanna's nutritionist after measuring her fat content to be, oh I dunno, somewhere in double negative numbers. "But if she does that for too long, she'll pay the price."

You mean other than Joanna's complaint of a huge lump and torn tendons in her wrists from lifting the equivalent of the John Hancock Building? Of course, because you also apparently lose all your hormones, you end up looking and sounding like a man, baby. This looks even more disturbing if, like Joanna, you get breast implants at some point. Either way though, backstage at these bodybuilding competitions become something akin to a mass convention of really huge drag queens. But it's even more disturbing when it dawns on you that between the two groups, the drag queens are much more attractive.

Supersize She follows Thomas as she moves to Los Angeles for four months of training for the GNC Show of Strength in Atlanta, which was the qualifying event for that year's Ms. Olympia competition in Las Vegas. The purse for the winner of this ultimate woman's bodybuilding competition is - get this - ten grand. Comparably, the winner of the Mr. Olympia competition takes home $100,000. And to think Suzanne Somers made a bazillion times more than that looking great with just a Thighmaster.

I found it rather odd that a company in the nutrition business would sponsor an activity that pushes women to subsist on protein powder and dried meat during their training regimen and then do a balls-out feeding frenzy of Skittles and frosting-laden cupcakes immediately before hitting the competition stage to make those veins pop. I suppose the world needs all sorts of odd things to keep spinning.

Since serious bodybuilders spend an inordinate time lifting stuff, they find working normal jobs and making a normal paycheck something of a difficulty because it's just not easy for a girl to shoehorn such a rippling mountain of muscle into a dress and then balance it all on three-inch heels. So Thomas squeaks by on the income she gets from her subscription website, living a spartan lifestyle in an apartment that doesn't have a stick of furniture.

In the end it was all for naught for Joanna, as she placed a disappointing seventh place in Ms. Olympia after taking second in the GNC qualifier. Her main drawback, said one judge, is that she lacked the huge meaty thighs of her opponents, and that doesn't make for good symmetry.

So it was back to finding even more blood to squeeze out of the feminine qualities turnip for Joanna, who made it clear that it didn't occur to her to pack it in after her Olympian loss. "Why do you think I've made my life disposable?" she asks. "It's because when you want something bad enough, you do it."

Sometimes it's just impossible to keep a good man down.

*

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Posted on March 22, 2007


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