This is me under the stage lights (dark) and backstage later the same night under fluorescent lights.

This is me under the stage lights (dark) and backstage later the same night (much much darker) under fluorescent lights.

Every time our bodybuilding team comes back from a competition, I get asked the same question.

“Why do the competitors paint themselves so tan?”

That is a good question! I thought I’d write a blog post to address the situation.

(But before I explain the tanning issue, questions about these things are good. Ask away! I’d much rather answer a question than hear the following statements, which also erupt whenever the team comes back from a competition. “No offense, but that tan looks ridiculous.” Or: “Don’t they know that tan is too dark?” Or, something kinda mean.)

People who compete in physique contests — bodybuilding, figure, bikini, etc., — use tanning products to help enhance muscle definition. Stage lights are really bright and that washes out the skin and, yes, the muscle definition. So to combat that, competitors darken their skin using tanning products. People with already dark skin generally also use products to help with their skin tone.

It’s not a real tan. They do not bake in a tanning bed to get that dark.

There are several different methods and numerous products you can use to get a competition tan but they are different than the normal self-tanner products you get at a tanning salon. The solutions can be applied through spraying the body or by “painting” them on the body.

It’s quite a process — yes, you have to remove all your body hair and no you can’t wear deodorant or moisturizer for a few days before the tanning solution is applied. I know: ick. In fact, it’s such a process that a lot of competitors hire professionals to take care of their tans for them. And yes, having that tan applied by someone else often means that you spend some up close and personal time with strangers (who aren’t strangers after the show).

But competitors accept this as part of the process.

Some of the the tanning solutions can be kind of hard on the skin, too, drying it out.

A good tan can help you place higher in a competition and, perhaps even more so, a bad tan can negatively affect your placing. Tanning your skin isn’t cheating. In fact, judges often comment on the tan quality when they offer competitors feedback, so it’s a legitimate part of the competition process.

And yes, as soon as the competition is finished, most competitors can’t wait to hit the shower to get at least a layer of the tanning products off their skin.

Maybe even before they have their celebration meal!