Why do we do it? What drives a woman to train rigorously, plan and prepare strict meals, take supplements religiously, and strive to “be the best”? To be so misunderstood by the general public – to be looked at with awe by some and disdain by others? To be unable to wear a simle tank top and shorts in public without being gawked at?
It is somewhat different for male bodybuilders, although they take more than their share of the stares and criticism. It is simply more acceptable for men to be muscular than women. Once a man reaches huge preportions however, the acceptability changes just as it does for a woman.
So what makes us do it? Each of us arrived at bodybuilding somehow. For me, I was always athletic; in high school and college, I played almost every sport a girl from Long Island could play including interstate field hockey. But it wasn’t until I had a baby and tried to “regain my figure” that I started exercising with weights. I joined a gym and was instructed to follow a Nautilus circuit, which I did and I liked it. But I didn’t know what else to do so I hired a trainer. He was a competitive bodybuilder and was very motivating and apparently recognized some potential in me. He trained me, and we “pretended” like I was going to compete one day. He and his wife took me to bodybuilding contests and kept comparing me to the women on stage, telling me how I could easily compete against them and win. Before I knew it, I was in my first show! I loved it and from then on the drive to present my best physique ever has never stopped.
Many women start bodybuilding just to get into better shape and find themselves liking the improvements. I was fortunate to be encouraged by my trainer and friends. Many women, when they start to gain some size, are discouraged to continue, even if they themselves are enjoying it. Why would anyone do this? First, women have been stereotyped for generations as having a certain look. Many men and many women feel that a woman should be soft and curvy and thin. Strangely enough, elite class athletes, like Olympians and other female athletes, are not thought to be “less feminine” because they are strong and competitive. But female bodybuilders are in a whole different class. I am very happy to have a supportive husband and family, in addition to a lot of fans who regularly encourage my efforts. But many women go through this without that support, and unfortunately, give up because they don’t fit in with society’s view of what they should look like. Men I know are not intimidated by me (at least I don’t think they are!) but let’s face it, some men could have a problem with a woman who has bigger biceps than they do! I am afraid this may be common. In my gym, the guys training near me are usually asking me advice or telling me I look good, not treating me like I am competing with them. But again, I believe many women are being treated this way, even in the gym where the playing field should be even. All of us are there to do the same thing, right?
I do not dress to draw attention to myself intentionally. However, most female bodybuilders, unless they wear baggy long sleeves and loose pants are going to be drawing attention no matter what they wear. I am 5’11” and weigh 200 lbs, and believe me when I tell you that I am not comfortable walking around the mall alone. I feel the stares and try not to pay attention to gawkers, but find it easier to do so when my 6’5” 270 lb husband is with me! So yes, I admit to wanting to be protected! What about the woman trying to go to the grocery store alone, or just go to her day job? We should be applauded for our dedication and our physiques being so muscular, not made to feel embarrassed about being in public!
Buying clothes for female bodybuilders is especially challenging. Isn’t it true when I say most of us live in Spandex? I can’t even find clothes in Sports Authority – no offense to the company but let’s face it – who is catering to us as a market? And by the way, where are all the supplement companies begging female bodybuilders to represent their products? And why is it that many NPC local shows often no longer even offer female bodybuilding in their bodybuilding contests? What is going on here?
I was recently asked how a woman should train to become a bodybuilder, and I had to quote Arnold who quite succintly noted that muscles are muscles and they respond to the same stimulus to grow whether you are male or female. You have to give the muscle a reason to grow, and that would be by lifting heavy weights. And you have to eat. You have to eat a lot. And you have to work hard, just like male bodybuilders do. We are no different in this regard.
What is a problem is the stigma associated with being a muscular woman. Many people as I have said are extremely supportive and love what we do. They are excited by it and can’t get enough of it. But there are a lot who dislike the look (I’ve noticed inparticular the distasteful looks from fat, out of shape males and females!). Female bodybuilders are often thought of as being mean and able to “kick someone’s ass”. While we may in fact be strong, what is it about musculature that makes someone think we are mean? And then there is the lesbian thing. This is not unique to bodybuilding; isn’t it true that almost all female athletes are thought to be gay? Whether we are or we aren’t doesn’t matter, it’s the prevailing thought that female athletes are that is disturbing. I don’t think this is as much an issue for our male counterparts, (I don’t think most male bodybuilders are automatically thought to be gay) but really, our sexuality should not be of such interest to the public. I think it is simply that they just don’t know what to make of us. So how should we deal with this?
Number one – do not give in to negativity surrounding our sport! Do what you do and be the best you can be! Encourage other women to get bigger and stronger and support their efforts. Go to local bodybuilding shows and be loudly supportive of all the athletes on stage, especially the women, who you already know need more encouragement . If you hear of a local show planning to exclude female bodybuilding, do whatever you can to keep it alive! There is as many know a move to make female bodybuilders smaller. The IFBB 20% size reduction is the most glaring of all such measures. Do not fall into any traps of trying to look like anything but a bodybuilder! If you want to be a figure, fitness or bikini competitor, then do what makes you happy. But if you are a bodybuilder, get big, be proud, work hard and grow and be what you are best at. Your actions will encourage others to do the same. Keep this sport alive and surround yourself with men and women who believe in you and are supportive of your goals.
At the end of the day, be true to yourself and listen to your own voice. Let it be the loudest of all you hear. Exude the confidence you possess and it will positively affect the thinking of those around you. Muscular women are sexy and feminine, and be proud of what you do and who you are.