06/05/2014 08:24 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

We're Not So Vain

Working out had always been my hobby, a nice escape from the chaos of daily responsibilities. I focused on fashion and marketing and never thought of pursuing a career in fitness. But sure enough, my passion grew and I started to recognize where I felt truly happy and what I was doing when I felt that way. It was in the gym.

As I started to get more interested in all of the career possibilities within the fitness industry, I decided to enter my first bikini bodybuilding competition. I wanted to catapult myself directly into fitness in the most extreme way possible: by transforming my body and dedicating 100-percent of my time to training and nutrition. I had always looked up to bikini athletes and bodybuilding pros but never thought I had the ability to live the way they did.

I finally bit the bullet and started my 12-week show prep the day after my 22nd birthday. Ever since then, I have sacrificed and worked harder than ever before to ensure that my mind and body are ready for the NPC Atlantic States Championship stage on June 21, 2014.

In addition to my own personal prep, I made it a point to learn as much about the bodybuilding industry as possible. I don't do anything halfway and this competition is no exception. I've always had a good understanding of fitness, but bodybuilding was a whole different ball game. From watching interviews to reading articles, I soaked up every bit of information I could in order to make the best decisions for my body and my goals.

As I learned more, I also gained more respect for bodybuilding athletes. It's quite a mission to look after yourself and train every day and I admire every single person who decides to compete and chooses to live this lifestyle. Bodybuilders are some of the most focused and disciplined people on the planet and with that comes a plethora of stereotypes. For one: that it's all about vanity.

Often times when I post a progress photo, the comments I receive are all about how I look hot or that my body looks incredible. It's all about how I look, rather than the amount of time and effort I've put in. While I appreciate that my body is a representation of my hard work, many often forget that the dedication and training is far more important than the final product.

Female bodybuilders, specifically bikini competitors, must deal with many judgments about their lifestyle, perhaps even more than males. The female body is beautiful to begin with so when a woman decides to dedicate 24 hours of every day to building her body into an even better one, there is obviously some backlash. Our culture is so body-obsessed that it only makes sense for a negative tone to fall upon such a positive industry and lifestyle choice. But, the truth of the matter is that all bodybuilders, both male and female, compete for the same reason. Not to look good but to prove to themselves that they can achieve the extraordinary.

The misconception of why bodybuilders choose to do what they do is certainly a common one. Yes, we are crafting an impressive physique and molding our bodies to look a certain way but the true incentive lies deeper than that. The focus is much more on how far we can push our minds rather than our bodies.

Interestingly enough this is the heart of the rivalry between bodybuilding and other types of training styles, such as CrossFit or powerlifting. Some believe that these methods are more intense because no one cares about how shredded they are or if their bicep got a good pump. But in actuality, bodybuilders are just as committed as the rest, and in some ways more disciplined. Bodybuilding is not just about lifting weights or completing cardio, but also proper nutrition to fuel and adequate rest to repair.

The dedication that bodybuilding requires is something most people would never do. Anyone can do it, but only a few choose to do it.

I am in no way belittling any other type of training. Everyone in fitness is a dedicated athlete and works hard every day to achieve certain goals. My goal is to simply shed light on the stereotype that bodybuilding is only about aesthetics and not about performance. Our competitions are certainly focused on how we present ourselves, but the athletic performance has taken place long beforehand. Weeks, months and years of hard work go into crafting the tanned bodies that step on stage at bodybuilding shows.

So, regardless of what fitness title we define ourselves as -- CrossFitter, bodybuilder, fitness model or trainer -- at the end of the day we are all, first and foremost, athletes.