This article originally appeared on VICE France
Prior to shooting this series, we thought that natural bodybuilding was just another one of those steroid-fuelled pantomimes you see on late-night television. Witnessing the spectacle first-hand, however, quickly put us in our place. Turns out, the sport's entire shtick is that it's free from the "get-ripped-quick" drugs that people generally associate with bodybuilding.
We visited the Paris regional qualifier in Mantes-la-Joile and the French National Championship final in Lormont. People at both events were welcoming and humble – something you probably wouldn't expect from what's essentially a spray-tanned pissing contest. Upon arriving, the first thing we noticed was the size of the athletes. We'd never seen muscles like that. Still, their chiselled bodies seemed like a measly reward for all the exercise they punished themselves with.
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For such a vain form of recreation – and one that demands so much sacrifice – the athletes don't seem to get much recognition, either. Many of the "less natural" circuits are dominated by huge financial sponsors, whereas this natural league appears to be driven purely by passion. There are no prizes and no brand endorsements.
The contests themselves are pretty easy to explain: the competitors – divided by weight, category, age and gender – perform a bunch of group exercises in front of a jury. For their grand finale, they are individually called to the stage to strike their signature pose. It all seems very down to earth and completely free from the pretentiousness of modern-day sporting events. Contrary to what we'd originally thought, natural bodybuilding showed itself to be a world full of dedicated, passionate and genuine individuals – all united in their love of muscle.
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