NPC Figure competitor Kassandre Harper-Cotton journals her first figure contest and provides an inside look into the sights, sounds and backstage jitters.

The following is my actual journal entry written hours after competing in my first figure competition last year. After revisiting this entry, I reminded of many lessons that I learned about myself, competing, and balancing family while pursing this newfound interest. This will be a multi-part article sharing those lessons along with some practical tips to for beginning competitors.

On October 2008, I became a figure athlete and I have the trophy to prove it! As I sit here with grapes, a bottle of root beer, and a bag of Pirate’s Booty, I have a smile on my face. It’s not because of the ‘forbidden fare’, but because I competed! I saw this to the end and actually did it! The day is really one carb depleted, dehydrated blur. But I will try to recall it the best that I can:

The day started at around 6:30 a.m. A friend from work came over and did my make-up for me. Once we were finished, we hit the road. While driving I was hit with all of these feelings of dread. What if I forget to pack something important? Where is my cell phone? It keeps ringing and I can’t find it. Do I have enough cash on me? Did I eat enough? Am I going to fill out? Did I miss my exit? What if I hit traffic? My friend was following me so I began to worry. Am I driving too fast? I have to make sure we don’t miss the exit.

Click to enlarge image.

Kassandre Harper Cotton NPC Figure Competitor

I had to slow down and breathe. I had everything that I needed. I did a dry run and knew where I was going. I got off at the exit and drove into the parking lot of the venue. I was unsure of where to go or if I was in the right place until I saw the tale tell signs of competition – oddly hued people carrying luggage and wearing black. We were definitely in the right place. We paid for parking and starting following people to the auditorium. There were more people waiting in front of the door. This is where I got a chance to see my ‘competition’. It was cold so everyone was wearing their baggy black sweat suits and baggy, black jackets. People looked so small and sunken, the women especially. They looked two-dimensional. Dear God, is that how I look? It must be. I am so glad that I read as much as I could and asked lots of questions. I was very glad that I did my make-up before I got there. It was clear that people thought the same thing. So, I felt good about that. My friend, was also (and as she should have been) was very pleased with the job that she did. My make-up looked right on–vibrant and dramatic. Even though I had never been there before, I began to feel like I fit in. I had my black yoga pants and blue, zip-up fleece on. I was carrying my cooler and had my rolling luggage. I was an athlete, too! Finally, someone tells us to go to a side entrance. This is where my friend and I say goodbye and where the butterflies start to reproduce in my stomach.

We are led to a large room with about 100 chairs for late registration and to sign up for our registration cards. I had pre-registered on-line, so I only had to get my NPC card. I think I got a lump in my throat at this point. I am a card-carrying member. I’m in! I find a seat in the front so that I can elevate my feet and not miss a single word. The show staff were as big as the competitors, a clear testament that everyone is somehow engulfed in this lifestyle.

My mind is reeling. I just want to know where to go, how to get there, and what to do once I am there. The ‘Figure Girls’ are led to a small changing room that couldn’t have been more that 25’x25’ and I think I am being generous, because it was more rectangular that square. There had to be about 20-30 of us in there at any given time. Women quickly claimed the mirrored walled with the stools. I found a place on the opposite wall. I did not need space for hair or make-up. My hair was twisted. I simply had to untwist and fluff. And my make-up was done. I was comfortable with my space.

Kassandre Harper-CottonWe were measured for our height class and some women had to do last minute registration. We were coached and taken care of by a character! She was statuesque and a cross between Chyna and Xena the Warrior Princess. She was loud, had a brash sense of humor, but her love of the sport and caring for women in the sport was clear. You have to love it when you are willing to be face to face with a stranger’s behind and roll Bikini Bite on them. As we waited, women began to tell their stories. A large number of the competitors were first-timers, like myself. There were novice competitors who decided to compete, again, and wanted to make improvements. It was real backstage. You saw the clear badges of motherhood: stretch marks and loose skin. These were things that I was so concerned about on my own body. I also saw that the stage look is such an illusion. Women were strange colors because of their tans—orange, brown, and yellows - kind of like fall leaves. Tans were streaking and running. Tattoos were being covered. Women hadn’t bathed in days because of multiple tan applications. Hair was greasy. Feet, while manicured, looked dirty as tan had settled in the nailbeds and on the bottom of their feet. Women were at various stages of conditioning. Some clearly had a lot of muscle development some were at the beginning of their journey. I learned that glutes really are illusive and something that everyone is concerned about.

There was a lot of waiting around. The bodybuilders, men and women, went first. People were speculating why. The most common reason being that Figure brings in the people and they want people to stay until the end.

In this small room was a TV and you could watch a live feed of the show, that was great. You could see how you would look once you are on stage. Then, the tone and pace of the room changed once we were asked to begin getting ready. We started putting on our one-pieces. I open up my luggage to get the computer bag that I am using as a suit bag to discover that my suits are damp. Somehow the locked spray bottle that I had must have leaked. My eyes welled up, but I quickly snapped out of it - they are damp and not wet, you have both of your suits, get your butt in them and keep movin’. I put my purple one-piece suit on carefully. I was having issues with the stones that I had applied popping off and a few did. But overall, it didn’t matter. Up close you saw women with many stones missing and straps held together with safety pins. I am sure at the national level, this wouldn’t be the case, tans and suits are probably more polished. I didn’t bother gluing them on, like I had originally planned.

I followed our den mother out outside where she was tanning and glazing up athletes. The horse spray that my tanner had recommended worked really well. She sprayed me up. I toned it down by blotting it with a towel. It really brought out the tan and looked great. I went back inside and waited for my class, class D to be called to the pump up room. Tracy also ‘bit’ us all. She squats down and is face to face with your backside and glues your suit to your butt. Then you hold your butt for a few second. All modesty goes out of the window—women are holding their butts, squeezing their breasts, squeezing other people’s breasts, tucking, pulling - you name it - anything to get that suit fitting right. Then crunch time! It was time to go. I bought fake nails and decided not to wear them. But then I compared those who had decided to wear them and those that didn’t - it looked more finished to have them on - so I hurriedly glued them on my fingers. It was so hard. My hands were shaking and I didn’t have time to figure out with nails went on which finger. I got the glue, made them fit the best way that I could. No one would know from the audience and it would probably look better in pictures.

As the bodybuilding category came to a close, my time was getting near. There were some mismatched weights - a few dumbbells and some barbells. Weights were strewn about. You just grabbed what you could and pumped out whatever you could. It is hard to pump up with little food and you. I had my bands and I tried to use those. You really can’t go all out because your butt could come unglued. They called the Masters Figure first (50+, 40+, and 35+). Then everything began to move quickly.

It was neat to be able to look at the backstage footage while people you were getting to know were on stage. I began to visualize what I had been practicing and tried to stay focused.  Then the classes were called: A Class, the shortest class. I was in the D class—it wouldn’t be too long now. I began to feel light-headed. Was it nerves or hunger? I nibbled on a rice cake and honey to make sure I didn’t pass out of stage - THAT would be devastating. While the C class, the largest class, was doing their thing we were called to line up and get ready. Here we go. All I could hear was my own heartbeat. It was hard to swallow and my breaths got short. My knees felt like rubber and began to quiver - get it together. You trained and this is it.

We were led backstage where the C Class was just finishing their comparisons. What a great view! Oh no, I still have on my glasses!  No wonder the view is great. THAT won’t catch on in the world of Figure. Luckily, there was a table in the back that I used to put my glasses on every time I went on stage. By the way, my Christmas present to myself will be contact lenses. C Class stepped off...

Kassandre Harper-CottonWe were told to make a single line for comparisons and then step to the side for our individual posing. Everything was in slow motion. Front pose. I tried to remember everything. Lats and arms tight. Feet together. Flare quads out because that makes my hip flexors pop. Smile. I couldn’t see, but I could hear my family and friends cheering for me. That just gave me more confidence! I smiled harder. And I think I laughed, too. “Arms to your side. Arms to your side.”, the judge demanded. At least he wasn’t talking to me. I was just going to enjoy this. Quarter turn to your right. My head was up and I popped it. Quarter turn to your right. The lats. Flare them and lock them. Don’t squeeze my glutes, that makes them square. Flex my quads. I can’t believe my butt is facing my mom, my dad, my co-workers, and my boss. I hear - looking good, girl! Yea! Number 125! I try not to get emotional and its hard. I am actually doing this! Quarter turn to your right. This is my better side—Ugh! We are at the front pose again. I do my curtsy and walk to the side for the individuals.

I try to smile and it’s so hard. My mouth feels like I am gargling a lawn mower. It would not stop shaking. Some of the pictures are going to get quite odd for sure.


I walk up with all of the confidence that I can muster. Don’t worry about the glutes that you need to work on. Don’t worry about who is watching. Just imagine you are in the gym and pose! For the first pose, I do the leg open hand on the hip pose. My family and friends go nuts! Then a slow model pose. Smile. Be cool - your mouth is trembling. Turn it around and check out the back. Uh-huh. Don’t clench. What? You want more? Model pose, again. One more time. Front pose. #125! Curtsy and stride to the side!

I may not have done everything that I wanted. I know I didn’t flex hard enough. But I felt great about what I did. The shy girl, got on stage in a bath suit and was a contender. When we walked off stage we had to run to the back and put on the two-piece. Next thing, I know I am buck naked. You really don’t care! You just get dressed, re-oil if you have time. Check you make-up and hair. Then run back to the back stage area and get ready for your number and/or class to be called. I now understand, why some women look woozy or wobbly, you are beyond hunger, depleted, and tired.

By this time, I feel more relaxed. I put on the two piece. I feel like I looked better the day before, but it doesn’t matter at this point.

Once again, we line up and get ready to go on stage. Even though I am wearing a lot less clothing - I get up and do my individual posing and we do comparisons. I feel elated, joyful, and just try to treasure the moment. I listen for my family and hold every second like it’s a butterfly in my palm. It’s my moment. That is what it comes down to. You train through discomfort, you diet, towards the end of prep so much goes to the back burner, including some time with family and friends. But in the end they are there to cheer you on and you are on stage and you get to revel in a moment that is the result of hours and hours of hard work. It is so satisfying and rewarding.

There are callouts, but I am unaware of the order. I just know that this means that after hours of waiting I can leave - or so I think. It turns out that I only have around 3 hours between shows, and going home would be a bad idea. One of my friends stays with me for a few hours and we catch up and study for our classes in my car.

When I come back to the dressing room I am already getting phone calls! The first is from Billy—who is SO proud. Oh, my God, Kassandre! You nailed it! I’ve never seen you like that. I was bawling like a baby. I am just so proud! You know I’m going to tell everybody right. It just shows where hard work is gets you. Man, I’m pumped! I’m getting all choked up, now.

The first person I saw was Sasha, my figure mentor. She met me with a snack bag and helped me with my bags. In front of the auditorium my family and friends were waiting. It was so great to see them. My mom was in shock and my dad was beaming. I got lots of hugs and took pictures.

The evening show was easy. We only had to wear one suit, the two-piece. We did comparisons and were given our trophies. Here was the best part. There were five of us, so we would all get trophies. It was just about where I would place.

5th place was called. Okay, I am not last.

4th place was called. They didn’t call my name. Am I getting 3rd?

3rd place was called. Oh my, goodness! I just got second place!

2nd place, Kassandre Harper-Cotton! That’s me!

First place was well-deserved.

Everything ended at around 10 p.m. The first phone call I made was to my trainer. He was juiced and the first thing he asked me was what I thought I needed to work on. Will I do it, again? Absolutely. My plans for May still stand. I am going to lift hard for the next 3 months or a little less. Then, I want to allow 16-18 weeks for prep. I am going to continue to do 2 cardio sessions at least twice per week and/or following up my weekend workouts with 30 minutes of HIIT, because I have to get these legs leaner, yet fuller. Additionally, I need to work on my abs and get the ‘squares’ as my daughter calls them. I am happy with the way that my upper body is progressing, so I know that they will just improve with training. I also think I will continue to do my own diet this time around. And will be keeping better notes, as well. Legs will be getting hit 2-3 times per week. I’ll have to come up with a split like: a plyo day, quads and hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes. I’ll be making a conscious effort of incorporate my abs with every exercise and then devote 3-4 days to them.

My post competition meal of Pirate’s Booty, Ritz crackers, grapes, and a bottle of root beer were delicious and just enough. I didn’t feel like a big splurge, so I didn’t do it. If you need it, go for it. I didn’t feel like I did. Maybe it was because it was late and I was so tired. Or maybe it was because I just want to get straight to my training, again.

It seems like the snacks that I had were what I needed - carbs and sugar for energy. I am back to my post-competition diet. I will be carb cycling 3 days low one day high. I will be resuming my workouts tomorrow. I will slowly increase back up to around 1800-1900 calories. But for the next 3 weeks, still clean and lean - lots of veggies and all of my vitamins - glutamine, glucosamine, b-complex, multivitamin, and flax seed oil. That alone will bump me up a little over 100 calories per day.

I now need to unpack and clean my suits. I also need to exfoliate and oil up. I will always treasure this day. I am an NPC Figure Competitor!

Posted on: Wed, 03/27/2013 - 09:54

Great journal entry! And very informative to those of us going into this for the first time. Thank you VERY much for taking the time to do it, it's VERY much appreciated! I am trying to read first is in 17 days! :)

Posted on: Sun, 04/29/2012 - 15:29


Wow! Your story is so inspiring. I am starting to train for my first figure competition this July and you are very inspiring. I feel like my feelings will mirror yours on the day, but I cant wait to have the satisfaction of completion!

Thank you!!

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Posted on: Thu, 02/24/2011 - 21:02

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For taking the time to remember all these important details so few competitors share. I'm a first time figure competitor, 3 weeks out, and have been scouring the internet for just what I found in your journal entry. You have been a great source of insight. You've given the strength to know that I too can do it!

Posted on: Wed, 07/21/2010 - 12:39

Kassandre, thanks so much for sharing your journal entry. I found it really inspiring and appreciated getting some insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a figure comp. You look incredible and deserve every success. Thanks for the motivation.

Posted on: Tue, 04/27/2010 - 16:42

HI YA your story is very good,
what did you have in your diet.
I am trying to build muscle but do not no what kind of food to eat. can you help me please.

Lynn Winters
Posted on: Sun, 01/17/2010 - 16:03

Hi.. Kassandra,

Needless to say, your transformation is absolutely inspiring. I am presently on my way to my first figure competition. The show takes place in May. I am working hard and I am extremely disciplined with my eating. I see slight changes in my body but no changes on the scale. I know I should not pay attention to the scale..BUT it does get rather difficult to ignore the numbers. When I saw you and saw your metamorphosis, it helped me to know that I must remain focused. Thanks.