Women are important, but they are also second-rung. They can do anything, as long as they know their station in life. Before you go ahead and label us anti-feminists, let us tell you that these thought-provoking words are actually the sentiment of Indian society at large. Because let’s face it: no matter how successful you are, we are sure you have been subjected to these stereotypes.
But today, we want to smash our way out of these boxes meant to define us. Let’s break away from the idea of femininity that evokes images of delicate and demure women. Rather, let’s celebrate women who kick ass, are audacious, and fearless. Let’s meet India’s female bodybuilders who are changing the way we look at the sport.
1. Bani J
In a world where society consistently instructs what an ideal female body looks like, Bani courageously chose to deviate from these body standards and be her own fabulous self.
When everyone labelled her “manly” because of her muscles, she said: “I have drool-worthy abs and a muscular body by choice, and that has put me at the receiving end of so much body shaming, it’s unbelievable. India puts too much emphasis on a certain kind of a body.”
And yet, she has tightly held onto the baton of being a bodybuilder. Even in the face of blatant criticism about her muscles and the way she dresses herself, she refuses to trade her authentic self for the perceived acceptance of the trolls. This courage to always choose herself first is what makes her our hero.
2. Shweta Rathore
Confidently proving that women are as iron-casted as men is Shweta Rathore. She is the first Indian female bodybuilder to win a medal at the WBPF World Championship.
In fact, her fitness journey started during her schooling years. And her endeavours at international events have always been to promote a fit way to life.
“My dad was completely against it, so I used to go secretly, during my tuition hours, but after seeing my muscles grow on a daily basis, he realized I was going to the gym. Since then he has supported me. That being said, my mother and brother have always supported me,” she told a sports website
3. Karuna Waghmare
After dedicatedly pursuing two decades of fitness training, Karuna Waghmare holds the baton for female bodybuilders in India.
Her inspiring laurels include coming sixth in the Female Physique Fitness category at the 2015 Amateur Olympia–becoming the first Indian woman to receive a medal at the event. In 2015, she went on to win the Miss India title at the sporting event.
“There are gymnasiums and fitness centers in India which help people achieve a certain basic degree of fitness, but fitness modelling is a few steps ahead,” she told a media outlet. “There are hardly any Indian trainers who are adequately qualified and experienced to train enthusiasts in the competitive sport.”
After taking on the mammoth challenge of being an exemplary woman in a male-dominated world, she has truly become an icon with an iron body and a steel heart.
4. Sonali Swami
Whenever we begin to imagine a bodybuilder, we often assume that they must have always been pretty fit. But that’s not the case with Sonali Swami–who became a professional bodybuilder at 41.
Redefining the way we perceive ageing, this Bengaluru-based bodybuilder started her training only after becoming a mother. “For several years, I was not sure what I wanted in life. However, I knew it would be a waste to never discover myself!” Sonali wrote about her journey on Instagram.
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She truly exemplifies the statement: Age is truly a concept of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
5. Yashmeen Chauhan
With a solid following on Instagram, Yashmeen is perhaps one of the few women who train men. Winner of the Miss Olympia Amateur title in 2018, Yashmeen has been trolled for her looks and her muscles–often called “manly” or “transgender”.
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But, she hasn’t let any of this come in her way. In fact, in an interview with Hindustan Times, she said “I do not care about what people say.” Interestingly enough, she was the first woman to open a gym in Gurgaon. “Initially clients would come in to check the gym out. They would ask me: ‘really, are you going to train us.’ But when I would train them, their perception would really change,” she says.
Not one to be undermined when questioned about being a man’s world, Yashmeen’s journey–much like that of the rest of the women–is exemplary.