Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Around the World: India

Around the World is an occasional series celebrating the female bodybuilders of a particular country, and examining any issues peculiar to muscle women there.


She's clearly not a "female bodybuilder" as you or I would understand the term, but this is obviously a bodybuilding competition, and she's obviously one of the competitors.

Two patriarchal mustachioed faces look proudly on from the stage backdrop behind her. Her dark skin oiled and glistening, she hits a double biceps pose, the effort etched into her face. A second picture in a more relaxed stance shows her traps to good effect.

This is, indeed, a bodybuilding competition, the Ajit Bharat Shree Bodybuilding Competition according to the caption, but the odd thing is that this competitor isn't wearing a posing suit but a plain black sports bra and shorts. This contest took place in Pune, India in February, and the competitor is Ashwini Waskar from Mumbai.

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In the last year Ashwini gave up her steady middle-class job as a marine researcher and became a personal trainer so that she could devote herself to the sport full-time. To begin with she had joined a gym in an effort to lose weight, but after attending a (male) bodybuilding show, she was, she says, "captivated" by the sport.

She was immediately compelled to compete. An announcement was made there about the upcoming first national level female bodybuilding competition, she says. And they were asking if anybody wanted to participate. So I thought 'Why not give it a try?'

She had just ten days to prepare for it. Problem enough, but not her biggest problem by a long way. That was to persuade her father to let her wear the sports bra and shorts. Ashwini is 32 years old. When I heard that shorts were worn in the competition, says her brother, I was a little worried. We are a middle-class family.

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Ashwini before and as she is now

As FMS reported happening in Myanmar last August, it is a sobering thought that there are plenty of women in the world, and specifically across Asia, who are struggling not just for the right to build muscle, but also to display that muscle even in the kind of attire many women in the West would consider rather modest gym wear.

And the first part of their struggle is with those closest to them.

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After a night's sleep, Ashwini's father did - to his credit - decide to support his daughter, and continues to do so, funding her training by selling off a gold chain while Ashwini tries to find a sponsor from the industry. But even as he speaks about what convinced him, you can see where the wider problem lies.

The clothing is a part of the sport, he says. This is not something random, you are showing the world what you have earned. You are not selling your body.

Well, Dad, you kind of are, although not in the way you mean!


Stage one of Ashwini's struggle might be over, but she's finding that getting a sponsor is a lot harder than it would be if she were an Indian male. So I imagine the inordinate amount of publicity she has received in the last week or so will go some way to helping with that. Meanwhile, her Dad is happy to foot the bill. Sort of. It is okay if no one helps my daughter. I am ready to sell everything, he says. OK, now stop talking Mr Wakar... As long as she competes and places in the top three at competitions. Doh!

You can read more about Ashwini in the UK news via The Mirror, "Meet India's first competitive female bodybuilder crushing cultural stereotypes with her physique" and there's even a report on MSN via Barcroft TV where you can watch Ashwini in action and meet the family. Well, the male side of the family, anyway.


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