Train like a beast, look like a beauty: Janelle Smith
On August 25th, 25-year old Janelle Smith competes in her first bodybuilding competition. The road to get to the stage where the competition takes place has been a long and devoted one, filled with countless new choices, many supporters, and fierce determination. Recently we sat down to talk about her journey. What we didn't cover in this interview is the rigorous training regimen she's followed, combining cardio, walking, and lots and lots of weight lifting. Also, "Train like a beast, look like a beauty" is the line on Janelle's water bottle!
How did entering a bodybuilding competition become your goal?
I was a huge fan of professional wrestling as a kid. I’ve always loved it, and I still do. In particular I loved women wrestlers because, back in the day, they were bigger, they were a lot stronger, and a lot more muscular. That was the type of women I looked up to growing up. It wasn’t until I was maybe 12 or 13 that I really started to take an interest in bodybuilding the sport specifically, just because a lot of the wrestlers that I was watching on TV were also really heavy into bodybuilding, so it’s been a part of my life for a long time.
I didn’t commit to the idea of actually competing in the future until I was maybe 18 or 19. And then once I decided to lose the weight, it was time to start to take it seriously, and to move forward into actually competing.
Tell me about losing weight.
I’ve had a long history with my weight, and I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. The highest I had gotten to was 273 lbs and I was 18 years old, and I was absolutely mortified. Like I said, it’s just been a struggle, not just with my weight, but with eating and not eating, incidentally.
So for me, the start of weight loss was me learning how to take care of myself and learning how to love myself. Back when I was in high school, I wanted to lose weight because I wanted some guy to notice me. But the older I got, the more I realized I needed to take care of myself because I didn’t know how. I just started doing simple things - walking more, paying more attention to what I ate. It wasn’t until about a year and a half year ago that I committed myself to have weight loss be the goal, not just self-care, and after that, I’ve been pretty steady in accomplishing my goal to lose the weight.
As far as weight loss is concerned, I’ve pretty much accomplished that goal. I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve done so far.
How much have you lost in total?
To date, since I started my weight loss journey, as far as the day I took my “before” pix, I’ve lost 80 lbs. From my highest weight, I’ve lost a bit over 100 lbs.
Congratulations! What changed?
I did. I had to change not only the way that I ate but I had to change the way that I thought. And I think that is one of the biggest things for me - I had to change the way that I talked to myself. Instead of me saying “I’m a failure, and I can never do anything,” I had to learn how to be more compassionate with myself. I just started telling myself that “I’m beautiful.” I would put it on little sticky notes everywhere. I had to have that positive thinking in order for me to really begin to take care of myself and one of the major things was having more positive self-talk.
What are some of the kinds of support you’ve leaned on along the way?
I had reached the point where I thought I was trying everything to lose the weight and it just wasn’t happening. I’d gone to my doctor, because I have to get checkups every six months after getting my thyroid removed for medical reasons. I was struggling to get my health back on track, and found that I was having a hard time losing the weight. I had gone to the doctor who referred me to a dietitian who was having a weight loss class. I was like “oh, alright, well I don’t think she’s gonna tell me too much I don’t know, but I’ll go to it.” So I ended up going and learning a lot. I mean, some stuff, you know, is just common sense, but hearing it from somebody else, you start to get it.
That was pretty much the jump start into my weight loss because I had to go every 2 weeks for the first 3 months to get checked in and weighed in, so I had that accountability. Also, I was learning from her how to be more mindful of what I’m eating, how to pay attention to what I’m eating, how to track it, and what to do in my specific situation. So I learned a lot from the dietitian and I’ve also had support from my friends who were embarking on their own health journeys, who had been doing it before I started, and they were talking me through it, and telling me things that worked with them. I’ve had a lot of support, and I think that’s really really important.
Soon, you stand on a stage under bright lights and what happens?
What I’m doing is “figure.” What they look for in a figure competition is what’s called an “X-frame.” So you want to have built shoulders, and wide lats or a wide back, a small waist, and wide quads. You do a series of poses and quarter turns to show off your physique and to show off that X-frame. The bikini we wear is because it looks nice. That’s basically what it is - just posing in very specific shapes and movements and having very specific turns to accentuate the X-frame.
For different categories they look for different things. For “bikini” it would be a nice shapely physique with a tiny waist and round glutes. For “physique” which is a step up from figure it is more on the muscularity, so they are a little bit bigger, their muscles are more striated, and they’re doing harder poses to show off muscles and cuts. Figure is sort of the meeting between the two.
Regardless of how you actually rank at the competition, as someone who has been watching your journey, I am assuming that when you stand up on that stage, that’s a bit like you standing on top of Mt. Everest - you’ve made it , you’ve got to your goal. So let’s imagine you get a gold medal for making your goal . . what does that mean to you?
All the hard work I’ve put into this is worth it. That I’m doing something right, I guess. I’ve worked really really hard for this and a medal or a trophy would be nice, but at the end of the day, just me being on the stage is really what I want and really what I’ve worked for. The trophy would just mean everything I’ve worked for and gone through is worth it, and that I really do have a place in this very elite bodybuilding world.
What do you want to say to others who look at you or hear your story and think “oh my gosh I could never do anything like that”?
You absolutely can. It does all start with you changing the way that you think, and changing the way you see yourself. You can absolutely do anything. For a long time, I never thought I would do anything like this. Even a year ago, I didn’t think I’d be competing this soon. If you work hard and you’re willing to put in the work and make the sacrifices, you can do absolutely anything.
Finding some sort of normalcy. Learning how to feed this new body. I’ve never been this small in my life so this is going to be an experience. Continuing to find a really healthy balance with eating and with the way I see myself and with what I want to change. I do want to continue to compete, but it won’t be for like another year. I really want to get to a really healthy space nutritionally, physically, and mentally before I compete again.
And pancakes. All the pancakes. I just want pancakes!
How can people see the show?
It’s Saturday, August 25th, at Gadsden City High School. Pre-judging begins at 9 am, and the finals start at 6 pm. You can find ticket info, directions, hotel, and other information on NPC Alabama’s website.