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Answer by Dylan Hafertepen:
I’m a hobbyist bodybuilder, and while I don’t consider myself very large (please see: What does it feel like to have body dysmorphic disorder?), that’s how most people describe me. I started bodybuilding at 140 pounds and have been as big as 260 pounds:
Finding things that fit is very difficult.
An XXL dress shirt will almost fit me. The arms are always too tight, shoulders too close, the collar will barely fit my 21-inch neck … and at this size, the shirt is designed for someone with a 50-inch waist, not my 32-inch one. I either have to get my dress clothes taken in by my tailor or custom made.
Casual clothes are much easier, though I hate this trend of “skinny pants.” My selection is limited to cargo, baggy, loose fit, and anything with 3 percent lycra in the fabric blend.
Bathrooms and airplane seats
I always opt for the disabled person stall. Going into anything smaller is like funneling a bull into a kennel. My shoulders graze the stall walls, I turn to sit and my thighs fight for room with the toilet paper dispenser; the ordeal leaves me winded and frustrated.
Airplane seats are no better. Not that I’ve ever heard anyone say they enjoy sitting in an airplane seat, but watching the pained expressions of people as I explain I’m sitting beside them. Thats rough. I might as well be telling them we’re sharing a seat for a trans-continental flight. I tuck my arms in and try to make myself as small as possible, not because I want to, but I sympathize with the other passengers. Nobody wants my arm taking up both arm rests and half their seat.
When I can afford it, I fly first class.
Being a bodybuilder is an expensive hobby.
To gain weight, I have to consume 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day. Enough to comfortably feed a family of four. I have a gross amount of supplements and vitamins I’m convinced I need to take daily to grow. I have a collection at home and one at work, which has grown so large it has started to encroach my co-worker’s desk.
Unless I’m bulking (a four- to six-month phase where my diet allows for carbs so I can gain more weight), eating out is prohibitively difficult. Most meals come with carbs, ask for something without carbs and you get half a meal, then double the price for extra meat. I prepare my meals for the week on Sunday, bulk-cooking dozens of chicken breasts, steaks, and carb-neutral sides so that I don’t have to guess what I eat.
I’m usually able to travel with my protein powder, but recently ran into issues while visiting Singapore. Protein prices are much higher outside America; I paid nearly $200 for a two-week supply of whey protein.
At the time of writing, I have three gym memberships; I joke that I collect them, but some gyms just have better equipment for different things. Equinox has the best pool, 24-Hour Fitness has locations everywhere (great when I travel), Golds has better leg equipment … each membership has a purpose.
Monetary expenses aside, bodybuilding is a huge time commitment. I eat every two hours, workout for my lunch break, and sleep promptly at 10 p.m. to ensure adequate recovery time. I don’t go out to bars or stay out late because I worry it will derail my training regime and hinder progress. As a result, I rarely socialize with co-workers and have few friends … but, that might also be because I’m an introvert.
Bodybuilders are treated differently.
I’ve had mixed reactions to my physique at work. While some people have been (apparently) intimidated by me, most of my co-workers ask me for fitness or diet advice (like my body is a resume to my success). Water-cooler discussions quickly devolve into the best technique for getting abs, what to eat to gain muscle, etc. When my answers seem too mundane, I’ve had co-workers escalate the conversation, suddenly asking me if I take growth hormone or steroids. This is immensely flattering, as I’m nowhere near that big, but disturbing they think I would succumb to such an unhealthy shortcut.
At least once a week, I’ll be stopped on the street by a complete stranger who will ask me how much I bench or squat or something. Some people are more aggressive. I was shopping at a hardware store with a friend when a random fella ran up and groped my bicep, asking me if I’ve ever done MMA.
I seem to get a much more dramatic response when I’m traveling outside America. I’ve been called everything from the Hulk to Mr T by street vendors. While in Hong Kong, I made a store clerk gasp at me when I walked in, she struggled to explain how very large I was, it was adorably flattering. I’ve had foreigners ask to take their photo with me; it’s weird, I feel like an animal on display.
Acquaintances (not even friends) have asked me to help them move; I appreciate the thought, but I am more than how much I can lift.
I’ve highlighted a lot of negatives to being a bodybuilder, and you might be wondering why I even bother with it.
Being bigger makes me happy.
I don’t think this is the reason why most people bodybuild, but for me it’s very simple: I was miserable when I was smaller. I felt so weak, tiny, and undesirable that I once attempted suicide over my perceived inadequacies. I still have a long ways to grow before I’m happy with my body, but I feel better about myself now than when I was skinnier, and my depressive episodes aren’t triggered as easily.
With my size, I’ve gained confidence, and (I’ve been told) a very powerful presence. I stand out in a crowd and people listen when I speak, it’s nice.
I was bullied a lot when I was smaller, but nobody bothers me now. I used to worry about being gay bashed walking alone, and while I still brandish my rape whistle after sunset, I’ve never had problems. Though, people will walk very fast to get away from me when I lumber down the sidewalk at night … I must look scary to people who don’t know me.
Answer by Jim Davis, 59 year old Masters-level competitive bodybuilder:
At my age, I’m lucky to be mostly retired and/or working from home. I’m currently 245 pounds, up from 207 at my last competition last October. I’m hoping to be on stage in November, at 225 or so, and maybe even a bit larger for the 60+ class at the Masters Nationals next July.
Clothes are definitely an issue. I’m certainly not proportioned like most guys my age. 50-inch chest, 18-inch arms (at the moment), 19-inch neck and calves, but my quads are only about 24 inches due to old injuries. (Tore the right quad off at the knee in 2004, and the back surgery only partially repaired the nerve damage). Mostly, I confess, I live in gym clothes, or occasionally polo shirts and khakis or jeans. I have a blazer and sport coat that fit OK, but no suits anymore. I have several waist sizes of trousers, since my weight does go up and down.
Airline travel has been a pain since I hit my adult height (6-foot-1). My shoulders are the big issue these days, whether flying or driving; I cannot drive a “compact” car comfortably. Period.
Since my schedule is my own, eating meals and even preparing them isn’t an issue most of the time. The only conflicts I have are the main evening meal, which I prepare, because my wife likes a lot more carbs than I do, in general, and doesn’t like cooked veggies at all. She loves raw veggies, but I’m limited on those due to diverticulitis, which I’ve had for years. I know she gets real tired of the monotony of meals when I’m in contest prep. After two shows last year (one just a month before our wedding), I’ve promised her no contest prep till after our first anniversary this year, in a couple of weeks. I actually probably won’t start serious prep for the November shows till August.
I love the time I spend in the gym. I’m even taking classes to become a certified personal trainer, so I can help others make the changes I did. Six years ago, before my back surgery, I weighed 327, was pre-diabetic, obese (48-inch waist), with high blood pressure and cholesterol. Now, I’m so healthy the VA doctors show me off to other vets. Mind you, I have problems: Thanks to the nerve damage in the spine, the bottoms of my feet are numb, and I have serious balance issues, so free squats are out of the question. I can leg press 10 plates on a side, though. I just can’t go for long walks in the woods with my nature-loving wife, because I don’t have the balance for the uneven ground.
Yeah, there are issues with being “larger than average,” but actually, except for the plane rides, I enjoy most of them. I love to cook, I couldn’t care less about fashion, so I wear what’s comfortable, and my wife supports my efforts. At 59, my grandson calls me “Superman,” and I’m living a lifelong dream.
… I thought I’d add a picture of what I looked like at the show in October:
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