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So I actually wrote a blog on this 2 years ago but it seems like yesterday. As it’s the time of year the expo comes around I thought I’d do this blog to re-cap and add some new thoughts. Obviously this year the event has been postponed until I think October when hopefully the world is back to some sort of normality.
Bodypower is one of the UK’s largest fitness exhibitions which is hosted at the NEC in Birmingham.
I first went to the expo in 2014 and after that was involved for many years working my way up from being an ‘athlete’ on a stand through to being a speaker in 2017 which was the last time I attended.
I can’t lie, I absolutely loved those first few years. The expo was vibrant and alive with energy, and because female fitness wasn’t as popular as it is today, I was made to feel really special. I quickly realised my reach on Instagram was far greater than I’d imagined and it was pretty cool.
At the time, being super shredded and bright orange seemed to be the only category of fitness available so I accepted this to be the norm and this reinforced the idea for me that fitness was about having a tiny waist, large bum and an overall toned body. This was the beginning of fitspo. It completely took charge of how I exercised and ate and this fitspo lifestyle really caused the peak of my orthorexia, and it was almost like Bodypower was an annual celebration of it where all sufferers came together in some strange ritual.
Over time, other fitness trends emerged such as wellbeing which helped me to realise how toxic this fitspo community really was, and now I look back, I see just how crazy the entire Bodypower event is.
Firstly, there’s the bullshit products.
Probably 90% of the exhibition is made up of supplement brands giving out samples of protein bars and sachets of pre-workout which people will literally queue and fight for. They’re also selling various concoxions of BCAA’s, fat burners and detox tea. One year there was even a guy selling oxygen in a can which you were supposed to inhale in before every set in the gym. The oxygen was also sponsored by this huge bodybuilder who quite clearly didn’t use the product but was plastered all over their stand, he was also sat there one day eating a box of chicken and not speaking to any passers by. Nowadays, brands trying to take advantage of people by selling unnecessary supplements and preying on lack of knowledge are being called out on the daily. Sure, protein supplements can be useful but the majority of products are just a marketing ploy and completely unnecessary and in some cases, unhealthy.
The Orthorexia Gathering.
Something happened one year which really stuck with me. I was working on a clothing stand and opposite was the huge Musclefood stand where a friend of mine was working. This friend who had over 100k followers on Instagram was stood with his stop off holding a tray of protein popcorn and every 10 minutes was dipping behind the stand to do pushups to get a pump. I walked over and asked normally ‘hi, how are you’… he proceeded to tell me how stressed out he was with the whole experience. He talked about the toll it was taking on his body and mind and quite honestly, I was taken aback. I had not expected that answer from someone who portrayed the complete opposite message on his social media, nor did I know how to deal with it at the time. It was probably one of the first conversations I had which made me realise how much others were struggling too, and I think, sadly, I was even more surprised to hear it from a man. I had starved myself running up to the event and would eat very little during the day to keep my stomach as flat as possible – most other women at the event did this too. I was exhausted and malnourished, and so were a lot of other people in that room.
Having people queue up to say hello to you feels so weird. I had no idea really why people wanted to say hello to me and it was quite a humbling experience. But I can’t deny that it gave me a huge ego – and I wasn’t alone. The entire event was one massive flex. Who has the biggest biceps? Who has the most defined abs? Which girl has the biggest bum? Toxic AF. None of those things are a definite sign that a person is healthy, nor should they have been worshipped in the way that they were. It was like everybody was silently competing with each other – like a real life instagram.
So not only is the entire event not great for mental health, it’s also full of steroid users and eating disorders. A lot of the male athletes at the event were on steroids – some of them were open about it and others you could see from the tell tale signs.
And the extreme exercise regimes and diets adopted are not healthy either. Achieving a body fat percentage that challenges our biological functions and can cause damage to many essential systems is dangerous. If you knew that achieving a low body fat % could potentially cause dysfunction within these systems, would you stay on course with achieving it? Would you also encourage others to do the same at an event such as Bodypower?
In 2017 the organisers of the event obviously sensed an opportunity, and created an additional ‘Bodypower Active’ area at the event which was supposed to be a more wellness focussed area where myself and Alice Liveing (along with others) would do some talks. Unfortunately the Bodypower Active area was almost completely deserted and there were a small handful of timid women who emerged from the crowd and attended the talks in this area. This feature was not brought back and I think the idea has died – I think it’d be great for Bodypower to try it again, however, I think the voices in that space would clash too much with their existing exhibition.
Now don’t get me wrong, the entire event isn’t a pile of rubbish. There are lots of competitions beyond bodybuilding including gymnastics, martial arts and strongman. There are also stands selling gym equipment and clothing which are pretty cool. There’s also some informative talks by people who really do know their stuff.
But to put it simply; the core values promoted at Bodypower simply do not match mine anymore. Bodypower is about ‘celebrating the power of the human body’, and granted, a lot of the people there have achieved unique physiques, but at what cost? I’m all for celebrating the power of the human body, until it means compromising on your health.
Yet, on the Bodypower Instagram page one of their most recent posts states “health is wealth”.
We’re all being pressured to become obsessed with how we look to the point that people are calculating their self-worth based on how many likes their IG picture gets, I can’t help but feel as though Bodypower is fuelling this frenzy. I believe that there is a more educational, ethical, evidence based and mentally healthy approach to fitness than what is being promoted at Bodypower.