On Saturday, I went to the NPC Eastern USA Championship, a massive bodybuilding and physique (they're different!) competition for both men and women, held in TriBeCa. I had never been to one of these before, but wanted to go to support my friends, Rubin and Reval (Russian twins competing in the physique category), and to shoot video for them.
While there, I figured I'd snap some photos for my blog.
As it turned out, this was way more than showing up and taking some photos. There was a morning round of competitions at 10:30 a.m. and then the awarding of trophies at 6:00 p.m., but it was such a clusterfuck, organizationally, that the first event started two hours late and ran seven frickin' hours with no break! That was followed by a break, and the next part kicked off two hours late as well. So I wound up trapped there for 12 hours. Lucky for you, if you're into that sorta thang, I took photos the whole time.
When I arrived, everyone was in a gigantic, loose line. There were actually two lines, one for ticket-holders, one for people buying tickets, but they merged 100 feet back and nobody in charge cared. So we stood around and complained to each other, total strangers whose loved ones were in a muscle cult and about to flaunt the fruits of their labors.
Never expected to hear this in line, but one woman (who'd complained that the event needed to hire people with theatrical experience to overcome the problems with getting started on time) was bitching about "the male gaze." I thought it was awfully philosophical and surprisingly feminist for the atmosphere (the whole area smelled of testosterone, steroids and Axe body wash) and told the woman so. She was annoyed that the female competitors are tarted up while the men simply show off their muscles. Remember this observation for later, because the woman was right.
We finally got herded into the auditorium, where I had VIP seats, which meant I was in the center section, not too far from the stage. Some women were in my seat and offered to just scoot down and let me sit closer to the aisle. I insisted on taking my assigned (paid-for) seat to be more central. They found this pretty hifalutin and told me so with their faces, but fuck it—I want to be dead center for photography.
We made up quickly and they told me they were rooting for #75, so I promised to hoot for her.
It took forever to start, during which time the emcee called people out one by one from the stage for sitting in the aisles. Competitors were told they needed to leave the area so paying attendees could sit, but many stubbornly stayed put. It was a madhouse, with one competitor having bought out the entire VIP row in front of me ($1,200 worth of seats right there), and yet with no one showing up to fill half the row. His poor wife had to play "Elaine" from Seinfeld and shoo people away from taking the seats, including some giant meatheads who didn't take kindly to being shooed.
The show finally kicked off with the women. I hadn't even thought about the fact that women would be competing, too, and let me tell ya...it was an education. There are many different classes and goals, but mainly, there were women competing as bodybuilders, and then women competing for physique, in bikinis.
One black bombshell, urged to take her turn center stage too early, bumped squarely into the previous contestant, eliciting a huge, "Ooooooh!" from the crowd. People were spoiling for a catfight, but it was a total accident and I could see them apologizing to each other right after. (The men were less apologetic; several of the big-time bodybuilders would competitively attempt to put their double-bicep strongman poses slightly in front of the guy next to them, so you'd see these guys straining and then suddenly tilting their elbows in front of the guy next door...who in turn would reclaim his position a second later.)
The female bodybuilder competition was a bit disturbing to me because while many of the women looked muscular and fit, many others looked desiccated and striated, like mummies in blinged-out itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenies. I don't want to denigrate them, but several of the women had alarming appearances.
Even as I was thinking this, some gross guy and his ugly kid (a boy) were sitting behind me openly scoffing at the women and picking apart their every flaw. One gorgeous black woman with a full (but fit) ass was brutally taken down by a little, muscled-up weasel (like Joe Pesci but uglier) who joined them, and who said, "She's goin' nowhere with that fat ass. Carrying too much water. She'll catch gunshots in that ass in the 'hood." I was there for my buddies and didn't want to get into a 'roid rage situation, but it was hard as hell for me not to turn around and tell him off.
What was really weird was when the women came out for the bikini competition. It was surreal! They all (even the ones who were quite muscled up and masculine) had to girlishly swish around for the judges, who would ask them to, "Turn and face the curtain, take three steps and pose." And the pose that was required in that situation consisted of the women arching their backs and presenting their spread legs and asses. It looked like what you'd see at a dog show, and of course there was no equivalent requirement for the males.
In fact, the male physique contest (the one my friends competed in) called for the guys to wear demure board shorts! I couldn't get my head around why they'd hide the guys' legs (when that is a part of the body so many muscular guys who work out will look down on in others when they're not developed), so I asked my friends later to explain. Turns out the concept is that a physique contender should look like a ripped guy on the beach, and of course guys wear board shorts.
My buddies did very well. They have unbelievable bodies—tiny waists, abs to spare, posh pecs. Both are also strikingly handsome, which helps. One, Reval, has a Hollywood rockstar kind of charisma on stage; he is the picture of confidence. He was asked to move around within his lineup, which was a sign the judges were comparing him to others, and therefore a sign he might place.
Rubin's demeanor onstage is more aloof, regal. But he was equally eye-popping. "Damn!" someone muttered behind me when he hit his poses.
I was so proud to see them strutting across the stage. As hungry as I was, I kept staring and thinking, "No." (Ironically, the only food sold on site was candy and other junk food. I was told it was because as soon as their events were over, the fitness freaks would gorge on forbidden items, as happens with beauty-pageant contenders.)
I had so many favorite guys throughout the night. There was a teen guy with a million-dollar smile, another who looked like what a Ken doll wishes he looked like, this grinning Jewish (his last name gave it away, I didn't have to peek in his board shorts) prince with dreamy hair, and several blond studs who didn't do well in the competition but would have placed if my peter meter had been taken into account.
I was definitely captivated by parts of the contest due to the outpouring of great-looking guys, even though too many of the truly muscular guys have no butts (they, like facial cheeks, are hard to come by with all the fat-burning powders), and even though overall, it can be like watching the paint dry on a masterful work of art.
The teen category was eye-popping! The boys were beautiful, looking in no way like adolescents. I have to believe they were all at least 18. Incredible to think that they must have worked out from the time they were 12 or something.
We were then treated to the hardcore female bodybuilders, including the masters (over 40), and finally to the massive male bodybuilders. These guys, able to expand their chests and backs to house-sized spans, were just mind-blowing specimens. I can't say I am attracted to massive muscle, but I also couldn't look away.
The oddest part about the huge bodybuilders is that they're the ones most likely to slather their faces and bodies with excessive amounts of bronzer. It was like a fuckin' minstrel show at times. Though the best part of the night later, when we were parading back into the auditorium after the break, was when I spotted two of the cutest boys of the whole night shyly spreading bronzer on each other's perfect bodies. (Yes, the "backstage" area was clearly visible through the window out front.)
Throughout the competition, the competitors' families and friends would shout out words of...encouragement?...such as, "Widen that stance!" "Show your back!" (for women with long hair, who needed to always flip their hair over their shoulders when showing their backs) and even, "That's it, baby! Game over!" People especially loved just shouting out their loved ones' numbers. It was like an otherworldly game of bingo.
Things got particularly unruly when a bizarrely out of place man appeared alongside the musclemen..."Steve," as some in the crowd called him, was not particularly in shape, seemed to have no idea what the poses were when asked to do them and wound up refusing to do a couple of them altogether. One of the most common requests was for participants to do their "favorite most muscular" pose, which you'd think would be the easiest thing in the world, yet Steve shook his head to that. I am still trying to figure out what was going on with him, and if I thought his presence there was uplifting, insulting to the other competitors or something else entirely.
Finally, the first part of the show ended, giving me some time to scarf down some pizza down the block before returning just in time for the awards portion to begin. The air was more festive at this point; most of us there had stayed because we suspected the people we were supporting could win prizes, so that helped.
Reval took fourth place in his division, which impressed me considering it was a huge group of maybe two dozen guys.
But once it was clear that was the extent of their wins, I met up with them for a photo and then took off. And yes, I ate peanut M&Ms before leaving, because that's a lot easier than doubling my body size and flexing for hours in pursuit of a trophy!
It was grueling, but it was a real experience...and I did feed off of the irrepressible energy in the room, the excitement of people achieving and showing off their results. Would I go again? Only by popular demand...so, maybe.