Mention the word bodybuilder and most people picture the male stereotype with bulging biceps and tiny speedos complemented by an excess of fake tan.
But women are proving to be just as strong and committed as men, competing and training for hours on end, putting in months of preparation and going through more tan cans than a spray-tanning party.
The Newsroom spoke to bodybuilder Charlotte Mary Hailey about her personal experience.
“Growing up in New Zealand, I had always been a little heavier than the rest. Being 178cm, I managed to get away with it for most of the time” she said.
After a tragic personal loss she started drinking heavily and soon found herself “at rock bottom”. Determined to reclaim her life, she began kicking her habits bit by bit and removed herself from all things she saw as negative. Then she enrolled in a health-science course.
She says education was the key to unlocking the door to greater understanding about the impact her lifestyle choices had done, not only to her body but to her mind and emotions.
“I started going to the gym. In the beginning [I] only managed to stay there for 15 minutes at a time. I’d be puffing, panting and sweating like I’d run a marathon. Each week I managed to push myself to do a little bit more in the gym and I set goals for myself by participating in fundraising events.” These included the Mother’s Day Classic fun run, the Bridge Run and the City2Surf.
“My first and proudest achievement at that time was running the Sydney City2Surf in 72 minutes,” she told The Newsroom.
By planning a weekly running programme for herself, Charlotte saw results each week, but there was always room for improvement which made her more determined to keep going.
When she looked in the mirror she was reasonably satisfied with what she saw – but thought she could do still better.
“One day I saw Raechelle Chase [a professional bodybuilder] on the cover of UltraFitness magazine and thought to myself, ‘I want to look like that!'”
After choosing a personal trainer to help her achieve her goals through fitness programmes and diet tips, Charlotte trained harder and ate cleaner than ever before.
“I never gave up or missed a session. I never believed that it wasn’t possible for me to make the changes that I wanted to make. I had no idea where I stood in terms of progress, so rather than question it, I simply gave it my all in every way.”
Transforming her life for a healthier and happier approach, Charlotte started competing in major events such as the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation’s NSW titles. After taking first place overall in two categories she moved on to the Victoria, Asia and New York titles.
Charlotte says she sees preparing herself mentally and physically as a lifestyle.
“I generally train six days a week in the gym lifting weights. Cardio is kept to a minimum with roughly two or three 20-minute sessions a week including doing stairs or hill sprints. It’s a great hobby and passion of mine. Combining my love of training and competing is definitely something I see myself doing for years to come.
“I plan on utilising it to develop my business and income,” she added.
The bikinis, the heels, the posing… All these things can make a women’s figure competition look like just another beauty pageant, but many competors will tell you different.
“It’s definitely an empowering sport for women… It has given me confidence not only physically, but also in my ability to persevere and overcome obstacles and adversity.”
Charlotte still makes time for the things she loves.
“I love to cook! Creating delicious recipes is great fun, as well as my creative outlet. I also have a passion for travel and hope to see more of the world…”
Charlotte adds that if you stay focused each day and know what you do is taking you one step closer to your goal, pretty soon you will look back and weeks, months and years have passed.
“You will be safe in the knowledge that you spent each each one of those days doing everything you could do to achieve your goal!” – Vanessa Rossini
Top photo shows Charlotte Mary competing at FitX 2013 in the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.