Thursday, 19 May 2016

Media Watch UK

If you are of the opinion that weight training offers a means of empowering women, or that it is not only one solution, but the best solution to eating disorders resulting in everything from morbid obesity to bulimia, then you would have found plenty of evidence in the online arms of the UK national media recently.

Sadly, not one (as far as I can tell) of the many stories reported by The (famously female muscle friendly) Mail, or The Sun from February to the beginning of May this year are actually new stories. They are all - again, as far as I can tell - regurgitated, sometimes word for word, stories that have appeared elsewhere across the world, and at least one of them dates way back to 2013.

But, having said that, it seems churlish to be critical when each and every one of the stories contains the message that weight training transforms women's lives for the better. So, well done to The Mail and The Sun - but if they need new stories, FMS will happily point them in the right direction. For a small fee, naturally.

Woman who was bullied for being chubby as a teen reveals how she overcame bulimia and transformed her physique to become a ripped bodybuilder with just 9% body fat reads the headline (Mail, 26th April). Sound familiar? It may well do, as the woman in question is none other than Hot and Hard 100 #10 Melissa Sarah Wee, and this story has been around since the Singapore media discovered their girl in the summer of 2013.

After (re)reporting her story of childhood chubbiness to teenage bulimia and then taking control through fitness and weight training, The Mail brings us up to date with Melissa now. She shows off her progress with pictures from competitions, writes Carly Stern, as well as 'swolfies' - selfies spotlighting her swollen muscles - and plenty of shots of her working out. She also offers inspirational words of body confidence to her fans.

And she recently came tenth in a poll of the world's hottest muscular women!

Melissa (now this is news) is currently preparing for the Arnold Classic Hong Kong - follow on Instagram. Fifteen weeks out and counting at the time of writing.

Now I can't help wondering if The Mail ended up recycling the Melissa story because its female muscle thunder was getting stolen by its rival The Sun. Apart from a handful of Rene Campbell pieces in the past, the latter has not previously been as vocal about FBBs and weight training females in general, but if the early months of this year are anything to go by, this may be set to change.

We've had "I'm a chubby girl stuck in a skinny girl's body" (12th February); Chubby woman transforms herself into blonde bombshell bodybuilder (10th March); Woman branded "hippo" in the park slims down to become weightlifting champion (25th March); and Woman branded chubby by bullies overhauls her life to become muscular fitness model (3rd May).

The "chubby girl in a skinny girl's body" is Conner Rensch from Nebraska, a World Beauty Fitness and Fashion champion who still bears the scars of her former self. I am so proud of my scars and stretch marks as they tell my story and how far I've come, she told whoever wrote the story in the first place after her WBFF title win in June last year.

Conner's title came in a category called "transformation" in which competitors not only do their T-walk, but also share their stories, complete, apparently, with "before" images. Not a dry eye in the house, I bet. Her website is the appropriately titled My Butterfly Journey.

Next, the "blonde bombshell bodybuilder" (a story reported by The Mail and The Daily Star on the same day as The Sun ran it and four days later on The Mirror) turns out to be Sophie Aris, a secondary school teacher from Manchester. Imagine that! A "blonde bombshell bodybuilder" telling you to stay behind after class...

Easy now. We're in mainstream media land here, where "bodybuilder" can mean a lot of things, in this case Bikini competitor. Still, Sophie is a winning Bikini competitor, UKBFF North-west champion for the last two years. I tagged along to watch a bodybuilding competition and when I saw all the bikini girls, they just looked incredible, she says. It was so inspiring – I set myself a goal that the next year I would compete in the same competition and when I did I won my category.

Since taking up weightlifting, Sophie has lost an incredible three stone and four dress sizes, we are told. Not sure how much teaching she's still doing because she's gained her personal training qualifications, started her own business - The Way to Glow - and has sponsorship and upwards of 80,000 IG followers. The only people complaining I imagine are the fathers who used to live for the termly parent-teacher evenings with Ms Aris.

The Sun's third fat to fit story in a month concerned Virginian Peggy Pullen, who, after being called "a hippopotamus" by a child at a local swimming pool. The 46-year-old mother of four used this as her "spark", the motivation she needed to become a contender for's $200,000 Transformation Challenge. In fact, The Sun's story is nothing more than a highly-edited version of a longer article that had already appeared there.

As is so often the case with such tales, Peggy's road to the gym was littered with empty diet pill bottles. I had tried every possible diet on the planet, she says, every miracle pill and every magical 30-minute workout that promised to transform my life. Not only was I left broke every time, I was left with a sense of failure and knowing that something was obviously wrong with me.

And as is equally so often the case, she didn't get much love at the gym at first either. All these big guys were like, 'Who is that fat old lady coming here and thinking she's going to lift all that weight?' One guy approached me and said, 'Why don't you just do it this way?' I explained that my way worked better. I said, 'I do 50, so you can do 15 reps, right?' After pushing his way to 15, he looked like he was going to faint. After that, their attitudes changed.

The Sun story claims she has "several bodybuilding gongs", but there's no mention of these anywhere else. So perhaps Peggy's story isn't quite as by the book as it seems. As far as I know she didn't win the cash either. But she has got herself some sponsorship, and a bunch of "just read your article on and..." fans. And she's met Kai Greene. Follow her future story on Instagram.

And our final former "chubby", Brazilian Rafaela Ravena, provides probably the most confusing story of those featured by The Sun in recent times. It starts off normally enough though. Bullies, taunts, transformation into "a muscular fitness model" with "a solid six pack and muscly arms and legs". Nothing strange about the mainstream media seeing muscles where I don't, but yes, OK, fair play to Rafaela, she's gone from ordinary to exceptional without a doubt. The only comments she gets about her body now (apart from the odd eejit who has commented below The Sun's story that "she looked better before" - it's subjective, of course, but they are so so wrong - she didn't) are complimentary, but, The Sun reveals, "she’s still the subject of gossip".

The gossip claims steroid use, and here is where it gets weird. The 23-year-old model became so tired of hearing whispers that she’d used steroids to change her body that she took a drugs test to prove she is all natural, according to the article. People tend to associate a muscular body with steroids, says Rafaela, but that's not true, so I did a test to prove it. And the results of the test are there for all to see, published as part of the article.

All natural then. Er, no. I did [use steroids] at first, she admits, but I don't anymore because I noticed it's something that's not good for your body. I think a lot of fitness models use them. I think all fitness models should do this test to prove it!

Let me get this straight. She's 23. She's transformed her body over a period of a few years, "at first" with the help of steroids, and now she's accusing other fitness models and preaching that everyone should get tested?! So, it's OK to use when you are starting out, but once you've got the body and you need to maintain it (not saying it isn't hard work but it isn't as hard cos we all know more muscle burns more calories) then you should become an anti-steroids campaigner?!

An interesting opinion. I think we'll leave Rafaela there and finish off today with a woman so well-known for (actually) being "All Natural" that she made it part of her moniker, Kortney Olson.

The human nutcracker! screams The Mail's headline. Watch a woman crush THREE watermelons between her muscular thighs before joking it's how you should 'serve a favorite summertime dish'. Actually the story is a combination of two watermelon crushing clips Kortney has made, a year or two apart, as far as I know. She is, as The Mail points out, "slightly more clothed" in the more recent clip.

It's a long and copiously illustrated piece, as though The Mail was trying to make up for its lack of female muscle compared to The Sun. And it's full of the wisdom of "fitness guru" Kortney. Ask any anthropologist, and they'll tell you women are fierce, she says. Women historically fought till the death protecting their child, whereas men fought for chivalry. Women have wider hips and any athlete knows this is the area for pure power. We have a lower center of gravity, we're more determined, agile, and have great balance. Society/media will soon cease programming young grrrls to fall for the lie that we're weak and belong in the kitchen.

No arguing with that, but behind all the publicity and dead watermelons, there's a real story with Kortney. A transformation from teenage alcoholism into a figurehead of some kind of Muscle Power equals Feminism movement. It's slightly frustrating that it never really gets told in full because we're too busy marvelling at that exploding fruit.

It's the same with the other stories, the transformations from bulimia to health, from fat to fit. There is an over-arching narrative. It's one that causes such a stir that the subject becomes part of the popular debate, and ends up with the Secretary of State for Health initialising an extensive weight training programme on the NHS for victims of eating disorders. It's a story that removes the "magic pills" from the shelves once and for all. And we're even pretty clear about what the message on steroid use should be!

Maybe one day someone will write these stories. Until then, keep an eye on The Sun and The Mail for your mainstream female muscle stories. Just don't expect all of them to be particularly new.


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