Photo of me at age 25 in 1983
Photo Credit: Larry Agron, Women's Physique World Magazine
I was channel surfing last night when I happened to catch the last ten minutes or so of Super Size She. Super Size She chronicles a female bodybuilder, Joanna Thomas’s life. I was shocked to see a woman, who at first glance, I thought was a man or a transvestite. It was sad to see just how far women’s bodybuilding has gone.
I fell in love with bodybuilding in the late seventies. At that time, I was in college and worked at my first gym and later progressed to working at several other clubs. Somewhere along the line, I became interested in men’s bodybuilding. Back then, they didn’t have female bodybuilders and for the record, Muscle and Fitness had not been started.
Shortly thereafter, women’s bodybuilding came on to the scene. I started working out with heavier weights. Bodybuilding came naturally to me. At almost 5 feet 8 inches tall with an athletic build, I was built for the sport. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was about bodybuilding. For the first time, I felt like my body fit into a “sport”. Not only did it fit bodybuilding, but I was a natural. I loved the concept of being strong and even better how my body looked with weight training. I felt like I “belonged”. I built up my back and my waist looked even smaller. At 25 inches, it was small. I was a runner too and the weight training just gave my thighs a nice sweep and I felt very sexy. I met my husband while working in the gym and I began to train with him at some hard core gyms. It was there that I heard about the steroids.
In time, we would go to contests or men would prepare for contests at the gyms and use steroids. I never liked drugs of any kind, let alone these. I would see the men get big from the steroids, the acne on their skin, the puffiness and the “roid" rages. When they went off the drugs, they always went back to their natural size, whatever that was.
Even more disturbing were the women. They would take these drugs and develop these big drug bellies and get these bulky muscles. Without any natural symmetry, they didn’t look very feminine.
Around this time, female bodybuilding had taken off. I would read the magazines and aspire to be a professional bodybuilder. I remember reading about one woman in particular who could bench press 135 pounds for 8 reps. I decided I wanted to do that. Heck, my first time in a gym, I bench pressed 125 pounds with free weights.
Once the steroids use became rampant on the bodybuilding scene, my love for the sport died. I no longer aspired to be like them. I loved the sport for how it made me feel, strong and powerful. But health is also terribly important to me and I would never take any drugs, let alone anything for bodybuilding.
Fast forward years later. The women that I admired in the magazine had died. Of steroid use. Not only did she die, but many of the women who were featured in the various publications died over the years, most likely of steroid abuse. It was always some oddball thing they died from, but almost all were linked to the side effects of steroids.
So as I looked at the woman last night, I felt disappointed. A sport that was once a thing of beauty had become a freak show to which no woman would aspire.