In a world that often defines femininity by conventional standards, where beauty is measured by a very narrow criteria, there’s a group of women who are challenging stereotypes and defying expectations. These women are bodybuilders; individuals who have not only built impressive physiques but have also shattered the misconceptions and biases that have long surrounded the world of female bodybuilding.
The journey of a natural female bodybuilder is not just about gaining muscle or achieving a certain aesthetic; it’s a testament to resilience, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of strength and health. It’s about rewriting the narratives that have confined women to limited roles and appearances.
I’m going to dig deeper into the world of female natural bodybuilding. I want to debunk the myths and stereotypes that have clouded the understanding of this most empowering of sports that I have embraced in my life.
Female bodybuilders look masculine: This is one of the most common misconceptions that drives me crazy. Yes, female bodybuilders do build significant muscle mass, but the perception that they all look overly masculine is inaccurate. Many female bodybuilders (especially naturals like me) maintain a balance between muscle development and maintaining their femininity.
Bodybuilding is unhealthy: I feel the general population sometimes assumes that the extreme dedication to training and dieting in bodybuilding is unhealthy and can be misdiagnosed as an obsession. As a bodybuilder, I prioritise my health through proper nutrition, supplementation, strength training, cardio exercise, and regular medical check-ups. In addition to this, I have an interest in alternative holistic approaches such as cold-water therapy, hot yoga, grounding, and reducing stress levels in my body and mind.
All female bodybuilders use steroids or other enhancements: While some female bodybuilders may use performance-enhancing substances, the majority compete naturally without the use of steroids or other banned substances. Natural bodybuilding organisations such as UKDFBA, Natural Physique Association, BNBF, WNBF enforce strict drug testing to maintain a level playing field.
To be a bodybuilder you must be obsessed with appearance: Aesthetics are undeniably important in bodybuilding, but many women in the sport are much more passionate about strength, fitness, and overall health. The pride in one’s appearance is strong and can help to stay motivated to push on, but bodybuilding for me is also about personal growth, achievement and remaining confident. I have more confidence as a bodybuilder in my 30s than I had when I was a young woman in my teens and 20s.
It has a narrow range of body types: Bodybuilding now celebrates diversity in body types, and there’s no single ideal physique. Female bodybuilders come in various shapes and sizes, challenging the notion that they all conform to a particular standard. In the competitive world, this includes the least muscular at bikini level to figure, physique, and women’s bodybuilding (the most muscular), which I compete in.
Woman that aspire to build muscle and improve their overall health are leading the way in the surge in popularity on social media for health and fitness fanatics, which in turn inspires other women. Seeing these publicly proud bodybuilders is encouraging for women who aspire to build muscle and improve their health. The fitness community online is now strong and a very positive & supportive place, and it’s growing.
Female bodybuilders are not feminine: This misconception assumes that being muscular and strong contradicts femininity, and we shouldn’t be frightened to say it’s a result of centuries of patriarchal conditioning. It’s 2023 and we are free to own our femininity however we see fit. Femininity can be expressed in many ways, and female bodybuilders often embrace their unique definitions of femininity.
Is confidence feminine? Being sure of who you are without a label attached of mum, wife, partner, or your job? Not really caring about what others think? I think so! There’s a power within you and a fulfilment when you know who you are and where you’re going.
Bodybuilders are only focused on competing: Competing is important to many bodybuilders, but it is also just a part of the whole package. Many women in the sport also use their knowledge and experience to help others as influencers, coaches, trainers, and mentors.
I’m personally using my bodybuilding platforms on social media, through delivering seminars, appearing on podcasts to inspire others through motivational, inspiring stories and passing on my knowledge as an athlete, nutritionist, and content creator. I deliver talks to inspire at colleges, schools, at events. I also work with brands as part of commercial partnerships.
Female bodybuilders are all super strict with their diets: While nutrition is crucial in bodybuilding, it doesn’t mean that female bodybuilders are always on restrictive diets. Many follow flexible dieting approaches to maintain a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
Tracking through apps like MyFitnessPal really helps. Personally, I prefer to set my own meal plan using this approach and eating foods I enjoy, especially in my offseason when my body fat is higher and I’m gaining muscle.
When I’m preparing for a show, I do eliminate some food groups such as dairy, some foods that are higher in natural sugars and contain more carbs.
As I get closer to competition at around eight weeks out, I will stick to the same meal plan, which allows me to avoid fluctuations as this allows me to assess things if progress or fat loss halts.
When preparing for a competition, you’re ‘in training’ or building muscle: Bodybuilding never stops and isn’t ever simply about training at a certain time to prepare. You must be a little obsessed (I prefer the term ‘passionate’) to live this lifestyle. It’s a 24/7 sport. You build the most amount of muscle generally in your ‘off season’ when you’re either eating enough or in a surplus.
When I’m ‘on prep,’ my main goal is to maintain muscle and lose body fat to reveal my hard work in the gym. This is achieved mainly through increased output via cardio & a calorie deficit via my nutrition. I still prioritise training and lifting as heavy as possible in this period while it’s safe to do so. As my body fat gets lower, weights in the gym do decrease, but I increase volume to protect my joints and longevity in the sport/health.
Female bodybuilders are not approachable: Some may assume that female bodybuilders are intimidating or unapproachable, which is not the case. Many are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and experiences and are open to engaging with others in the fitness community, either in the gym or online.
Female bodybuilders don’t face challenges like men: Women in bodybuilding face unique challenges related to gender bias, stereotypes, and unequal representation in the sport. They work just as hard as men to succeed in a male-dominated field. Think about hormone changes and a naturally lower testosterone & higher oestrogen; it’s harder for women to gain muscle & lose fat (especially on their lower half).
Bodybuilding is a science, and for me, it’s interesting. I love collecting and logging changes then using this as data to make informed decisions to progress my physique.
Ultimately, it’s 2023. It shouldn’t be necessary for me to write an article like this, but as a woman in what remains a very male-dominated form of sport, I wanted to say my piece and try to dispel the preconceptions that some people have about female bodybuilders, to give a voice to our corner of health and fitness.
I will continue to train as hard as my body will allow, and aim to add more titles to my name, and who knows? With the changing of the tide in sport, as women are seen and heard much more than ever before, hopefully I’ll inspire other women to begin their own journey to personal achievement and success.