BODYBUILDING & THE WEIGHT OF GENDER:
THE STIGMA OF FEMALE BODYBUILDERS – PART ONE
BY BINTOU MARONG, RN WITH JENNIE LAURENT, RN/BSN, WNBF FIGURE/FIT BODY/BODYBUILDING PRO
THIS INTERVIEW with WNBF Figure, Fit Body, and Bodybuilding Pro Jennie Laurent addresses some gender biases and misconceptions about the sport of Bodybuilding as it pertains to females in particular.
With Natural Bodybuilding being a male-dominant sport, some stigmas and stereotypes are addressed to help shed light on what the sport is all about and help the community to better understand the female perspective. The interviews below, featuring Jennie Laurent as well as fellow friend and competitor Rafael Vazquez, DFAC/NGA/WNBF Bodybuilding Pro, were used as part of a senior nursing school project and were transcribed by Bintou Marong so that they could be shared. The interviews took place in November and December 2014.
“A FRIEND OF MINE APPROACHED ME IN THE GYM ONE DAY AND ASKED ME IF I COMPETED. I SAID NO AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT…”
Jennie: I’ve always been an athlete. I’ve always just naturally had an in-shape body, always wanted to stay healthy and strong. A friend of mine approached me in the gym one day and asked me if I competed. I said no and I didn’t even know what it was all about, but she thought I could do it. So, I said okay and from there, I got in contact with her trainer who gave me a specialized diet and training plan. I said alright, this is something I can do. I’ll give it a shot and plus I always wanted to do modeling. I attended a conference to check out these shows, and so I thought it’d be a good segueway into modeling.
I did my first competition two years ago in 2012…came in a little over-dieted in Figure, but I did a photo shoot the week before and the week after, and that was like the gateway to my modeling career. Since then, I’ve pursued modeling, and then I recently got back into competing, and I wanted to do Bikini this time and not have to get as lean but my coaches said “you’re still a Figure girl.” So I did another show in June 2014, and that one went with mixed success. I was a little under dieted. And with my most recent show, I received my Pro Cards (Figure in October and Fit Body in November 2014). So, now that I have that and see that I have the potential to keep going forward, I’m going to try and go to the World Championships and take it as far as I can.
“…SOME PEOPLE WANT TO DO BODYBUILDING BUT THEY JUST DON’T HAVE THE GENETICS; SOME PEOPLE WANT TO DO BIKINI BUT THEY’RE TOO MUSCULAR…”
Jennie: When I first consulted with the trainer my friend told me about, the trainer told me that Figure was what I was built for just because of the shape of my body. They look at your waist-to-hip ratio, your shoulders, if you can pose, legs etc. So with Figure, they want muscularity, tone, symmetry, poise, someone who can pose, nice rounded delts, nice set of abs, and good conditioning from head-to-toe.
They don’t want you overly shredded or muscular because then you start going into Fit Body and Bodybuilding. I don’t think I want to be a Bodybuilder because I don’t want to get that big. I enjoy Figure and doing Bikini because Bikini is more fun, relaxed, spirited, and bubbly but Figure is more of a muscular, shapely look. I think you have to go more with what your body type fits. Like some people want to do Bodybuilding but they just don’t have the genetics; some people want to do Bikini but they’re too muscular, like me but I can still do it, you know, and have fun with it.
If I’m not as lean like during an off-season, I can jump into Bikini but, that’s kind of what made me go with Figure because I think that’s where everybody seems to think my body fits best based on the shape I have and how I present myself…I think Figure is where I belong.
Bintou: You mention you don’t want to get too big?
Jennie: Yeah, I think for me, I grew up with a phobia of having overly disproportioned legs, and I tend to like balance when it comes to my body. I can handle getting big in my upper body, but I can’t handle having big legs, and when you’re a Bodybuilder you need size and it does take a lot of work, and it’s very hard on your body. It’s a great thing to do. I do a form of Bodybuilding, Fit Body which is one step below Bodybuilding so they want you to have some size, but they want you to be really, really lean.
“…WHEN I TRAIN, I DON’T EVER SAY ‘OKAY I’M GETTING TOO BIG.’ I DON’T PUT LIMITS ON MYSELF.”
But, I have certain health issues with my thyroid and getting that much leaner is I think getting into a danger zone for me. If I could do it, I totally would and I’ll keep that door open, but I just find that what I have for my body, I don’t want to look a certain way just for the stage. I want to look the way I want to look and healthy off stage and the rest of my life.
What I find is that some women can be on the verge of being too muscular but if they like their body, like Dana Linn Bailey, more power to her. If someone says she looks manly then that’s their opinion, whatever. But, I enjoy having balance and I don’t want to push myself too hard with health issues so I think…that’s why Figure/Fitbody/Bikini are a happy medium for me and it fits my goals in the stage arena and also in real life.
Bintou: Has anyone ever approached you and said you have too much muscle for a woman?
Jennie: I think some people don’t understand that when you shred down, you don’t look that way year round. And as you lean down you look bigger and they call it the “smoke and mirrors” effect. I’ve had some people say I’ve gone too far like in my first show when I came in over dieted. Most people think I look like the ideal now, and that’s kind of what I want. Fit, toned, proportioned, not overly manly and too muscular for ME. My muscles are feminine but shapely and proportional to my body. Yeah, most people have nice things to say which is pleasant.
Bintou: What’s considered going too far or even too manly?
Jennie: I guess it’s subjective. I sometimes see some competitors, and I say to myself that I don’t want to go that far, but that’s just me. Like I said, it’s really everybody’s preference. I mean, when I train, I don’t ever say “Okay I’m getting too big.” I don’t put limits on myself. It takes a lot of work to get that big but even then women don’t really have—Natural Bodybuilders, I’m talking about, unlike women who take steroids—they don’t really have the capacity to get super big. It’s more you get to a certain size and when you lean down it’s about posing and bringing it out. You look so much bigger on stage when you can maximize your physique. It’s not all about how heavy you really are, but that’s pretty much what I would say if someone said someone was too muscular…it’s all subjective.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE’S PERCEPTION OF WHERE THEY DRAW THE LINE BETWEEN TOO MUCH AND NOT ENOUGH.”
Jennie: I think if you look at magazines like Shape, they usually have the ideal where the woman is fit, toned but she’s not ripped and shredded because again, that look you know, you can get it but you can’t keep it. That’s why the muscle magazines usually have people who are on steroids. That to me isn’t a realistic view of how people look, and women become afraid of becoming too bulky when they train because of women who use steroids.
As far as there being a threshold, I would say it’s subjective depending on who you ask because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s all about people’s perception of where they draw the line between too much and not enough. Even when you ask a judging panel to assess girls up on stage, it should be unanimous across the board but some might say one girl is too lean, needs to put on more size or they’re just perfect. So it really depends on the person’s perception of muscularity.
I think there is an ideal according to society like having nice toned arms, nice flat stomach, shapely backside and nice toned legs as what anyone ever wants. I think just looking fit and shapely is the ideal. We’ve definitely moved away from the skinny look of the past and are moving towards a fitter, healthier look but as far as a threshold, I think it depends on who you ask.
Bintou: Do you think there is a correlation between increased muscle mass and a decrease in femininity?
Jennie: I think it depends how you carry it. Some women can be very muscular and very manly. Others can be very muscular but still remain feminine. Fitness models, much like myself, we balance beauty and poise with the muscularity aspect and we make it a feminine thing. I think people think it’s sexy when a woman is toned and works just as hard as a man.
TUNE IN FOR THE CONCLUSION IN NEXT MONTH’S ISSUE
JENNIE LAURENT | CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Jennie is a 28 year old Registered Nurse, Writer, Pro Fitness Model, and Landscape Architect. She likes to do it all and continues on a lifelong journey to grow and learn. Jennie has been competing for three years now, and she holds three Pro cards in the figure, fit body, and bodybuilding categories through the WNBF. She endeavors to pursue a world champion title in 2015 and expand her career.
Click here to order this issue or a monthly subscription.