An Open Letter To The IFBB On Their Children’s Fitness Division: Please Stop

I am not just some chick who is unhappy that you have kids competing in fitness competitions. I am a former competitor myself.
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To Whom It May Concern,

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I stumbled across photos from one of your recent competitions that took place in mid-June. The picture looked oddly familiar to me, of the typical front pose that is done during quarter turns at your competitions. I am all too familiar with the stance: upright, lats flared, abs engaged, and feet together. I recognized the federation immediately, but something was different in this photo.

It was a photo of young children.

It was a lineup of young girls.

My throat immediately sank in my stomach, and I begged that it wasn’t true. I was hoping that by clicking the link it was some sort of prank or joke, but to no avail I came to find out that there is indeed a Children’s Fitness Division in your federation now.

Before I go on to give you my plea to shut this division down for the safety of the young children involved, let me give you a little background on why I found this so incredibly disturbing.

I am not just some chick who is unhappy that you have kids competing in fitness competitions. I am a former competitor myself. I have roughly six competitions under my belt, including Nationals at Jr. USAs and the Arnold Amateur Classic. Let’s just say that I am not unfamiliar with what goes on prior, during, and after a competition.

“I am not just some chick who is unhappy that you have kids competing in fitness competitions.”

My competition heels are proudly in the trash now, because after years of wearing them I developed an eating disorder that was amplified and exacerbated by what goes on in order to compete.

This isn’t about me, though. I am fully recovered, actively speak out against bodybuilding competitions, and help women all over the world break away from food and body woes.

No, this is far greater than myself.

I am writing this to shed light onto the dangers that your division has on the young children involved.

“My competition heels are proudly in the trash now, because after years of wearing them I developed an eating disorder that was amplified and exacerbated by what goes on in order to compete in your federation.”

From the information on your site I have gathered that these competitions are ranging from ages as young as 6 years of age to 15. An age in which children are still in the process of developing their brain and going through the normal changes of puberty.

This is the age in which children are the most impressionable, and what impression are you allowing to be imprinted on them for these competitions?

Part of the judging criteria in these competitions is their athletic ability and performance – which is its own beast to talk about. However, the scariest part of your division is that the other portion being judged is that on these children’s bodies.

“In the quarter turns round judges assess the overall appearance of the physique, taking the whole physique into account. The assessment should take into consideration the overall development of the body; the presentation of a balanced, symmetrically developed physique; the condition of the skin and the skin tone. At all times the children competitor must be viewed with the emphasis on a ‘healthy, fit, good-looking physique.’”

I am not even going to get into the fact that health has nothing to do with how someone LOOKS, and that we are not put on this earth for others’ visual pleasure.

What I am going to tell you is that you are potentially contributing to these young developing minds and bodies to slip into eating disorder behavior.

Do you know what the LEADING cause is of someone developing an eating disorder? Dieting.

Dieting can be a gateway drug to eating disorders.

Do you know what often leads to dieting? Dissatisfaction with one’s body and the desire to change their body.

“I am not even going to get into the fact that health has nothing to do with how someone LOOKS, and that we are not put on this earth for others' visual pleasure.”

Eating disorder development is running rampant in our world, and it is getting younger and younger with who it affects. As a matter of fact, bulimia has TRIPLED.

Hospitalizations for children under 12 with eating disorders have increased by 119 percent between years 1999-2006, and they sure as hell don’t appear to be slowing down.

These are facts that you cannot deny.

You are taking young children and putting pressures on them to meet this standard of perfection and creating a hyperawareness around what their bodies look like ― at a time in which their bodies are trying to develop into young women.

By age 6 girls start to develop concerns about their weight and shape, and that is without the pressures of meeting a “balanced and symmetrically develop physique.”

Aside from the obvious issue that these competitions could contribute to the development of eating disorders or disordered eating into every single competitor despite their age, there is also the reality that this sport is often times hyper-sexualized and perpetuates the objectification of females.

You are teaching young children that the most important part about them is their bodies. That their body is something to be judged by, and that the opinion of strangers should weigh in on importance with how they feel about themselves. Their brains are still growing; they cannot decipher or distinguish between knowing that who they are outweighs what their body looks like. Especially given the culture we live in.

The issues of poor self-esteem and body image are embedded in one’s mind as a child.

Please reconsider having this division in your competition. This isn’t about me, and this isn’t even about you. This is about children who are just trying to be kids in a world that is already placing to much pressure on them to get the As and do everything else “right.” The last thing they need is more pressure on their appearance.

“You are teaching young children that the most important part about them is their bodies. That their body is something to be judged by, and that the opinion of strangers should weigh in on importance with how they feel about themselves.”

And let’s be honest here: the only reason this division is here is on the basis of money, and the dangers involved with this division is greater than any dollar. People die from eating disorders every single day, and there is no amount of money that can replace a life.

Let children be children. You have plenty of adults who are willingly supporting your federation.

From the conversations that have occurred on my Facebook or Instagram, there are many people who also support the idea of putting an end to this division.

Your children ARE watching. You ARE the example. They pick up on your language and interactions with your food choices, what you say about your own body and other’s, and how you treat exercise. I will not hinder you from choosing a “healthy lifestyle” ― however that is defined for you ― but perhaps look at your own healthy lifestyle and ask if is one that is absent of shame, guilt, and punishment. Is it coming from a place of love, compassion, and respect for your whole self? Are you overemphasizing your appearance vs. how you feel?

All of those things matter.

If you are reading this and want to let go of your body image woes for yourself, and/or set an example for your own children then grab my free guide Five Mindshifts to Embrace Your Body and Have Food Freedom.

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Need help? If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.