What it Means to be a Female Bodybuilder
By Dr. Lisa Aukland, IFBB Professional Bodybuilder
Just as the artist “Pink” declares on her new CD- “It’s not that complicated, I was misunderstood”, I feel similarly misunderstood as a professional female bodybuilder. It really is not that complicated to figure out why. We are judged by our appearance, thought to be rollin’ in the dough, and sorely underrepresented in our sport. Hopefully this writing will further your understanding of our sport and why we carry on.
Are we really all that different from other members of our gender? Certainly not! I understand the fact that it is second nature to judge a person by their appearance. You know how it goes – fat people are lazy and blondes are dumb. Likewise, female bodybuilders are judged by their physical shell. We are considered odd by many who judge us only by the body we possess
However, outside of the competitive world we have the same goals in life as regular people. We are still mothers, wives, sisters, and professionals in other fields. We enjoy time with family, we spend time socializing, and we go on an occasional vacation that does not revolve around a competition. We even take pleasure in a variety of hobbies and attend the same movies. Maybe we don’t include the popcorn and Goobers® but you get the idea. Female bodybuilders are more alike than different from other members of our gender.
Furthermore, popular belief holds that once you are an IFBB Pro, you’ve got it made in the shade financially. Yes, the money just rolls in and you can start your new collection of sports cars- NOT! At least not for the women involved in this sport. Male bodybuilders have a whole different story to tell. I can’t begin to count how many people thought that I would actually quit my day job after I turned “Pro”.
The truth is my job is what pays for this bodybuilding pastime of mine. Supplement companies do NOT come knocking at your door with a wad of cash, magazines do NOT hound you for pictures and personal data, and there IS no legitimate money for women in this sport.
We put thousands into preparing for a competition. The receipts add up quickly: posing suits, hair, makeup, music compilation, tanning products, six meals a day, supplements, airfare, hotel, time out of work, and kennels for the dogs. All of this with only the possibility of winning a very small pot of prize money. Outside of the top winners, everybody else goes home with empty (or emptier) pockets. I am one of the fortunate few that have a sponsor to help bear some of the expenses. Not all Pros are as fortunate. In a nutshell, this is not a financially rewarding sport. My whole goal here is not to retire in wealth, but to merely break even. Any amount over that would be considered as icing on the cake.
To make matters worse, female bodybuilders are not fairly represented in the sport’s many publications. I can hardly blame the public for misunderstanding us when our own sport fails to properly recognize our value as athletes and as people. We cannot expect the public to support us when our own organization chooses to ignore us.
I understand the economics of muscle touting publications. Their readership is primarily male so obviously they cater to men. However, they certainly do not give women any reason to support their magazines. A page count in several prominent muscle magazines revealed female bodybuilders on a mere 5 to 9 pages out of 300 to 400 pages of magazine. I am not talking about female “profiles”- just a tiny picture, and I included advertisements.
The whole reason I even started to exercise was because I saw bodybuilders such as Cory Everson and Rachel McLish in magazines and loved the way they looked. After seeing they lifted weights to look that way, I was drawn into the gym. That was many years ago. At the time, magazines portrayed female bodybuilders in a positive light, seducing many women desiring a firm physique into the gym. We are no longer supported in the sport’s premier publications and that is such a shame to miss out on an opportunity to be role models for other women.
Why continue in a sport that is so unrewarding professionally and financially? My heartfelt response is for the love of it. You’ll get that same reply from most IFBB Pro women and amateurs alike. We love the sport even without the professional, financial, and public support. While it gets tiring to be judged by appearance alone, we love the look and feel of having muscle. The self confidence and empowerment of feeling strong is immeasurable. It may be financially draining at times, but we put together other resources to continue on.
The media may choose to ignore us, but we are slowly realizing other ways to promote ourselves. If given the chance, we have much to contribute to society, even if it is just inspiration to look strong and feel healthy. It really is not that complicated -with a little understanding. oxoxox Lisa