Female bodybuilding does have athletes that may not win as many contests, but they definitely are remembered fondly by fans. Lesa Lewis was such an athlete. Her competitive record was nine years in total. The unique part about Lisa Lewis is that to date, she was probably at the time from 1993 to 2002 the biggest female bodybuilder to ever appear on stage. Lisa in her physical prime stood at a height of 5 ft 10in and weighed 193 lbs pounds in competition. Her off season weight was close to 215 lbs. Lisa Lewis was literally an amazon in both the height and strength sense. It does not seem so far fetched that she also worked in construction during her competitive career as an athlete. Lisa once said ” I love the competitive part [of the sport].” Lisa also stated ” I love looking in shape and being fit.” She also has expressed she enjoyed traveling around the country to contests and expos. Based in Kansas City, she was probably at the time the most famous female bodybuilder known to fans in the area. Born in 1967 she be came a professional at the age of 30. Lesa retired from competition in 2002 at the age of 35 and some believed that it was too early for a woman with such potential. It is a real shame she never won the Ms.Olympia title, but she demonstrated that a large physique could be balanced.
Her best wins include the 1993 Missouri State, 1994 Heart of Missouri, the 1995 Red River Classic, 1996 Lone Star Classic, and the 1996 NPC Junior Nationals. Her professional debut came in 1997 when she came in first place at the NPC USA Championship. There was a mishap in 1998. That year Lisa was disqualified in the IFBB Ms.International for testing positive for a banned diuretic. This was only a minor setback and she won the 1998 Jan Tana Classic. Lisa Lewis only was able to get a 4th place in the 1998 Ms.Olympia and a 5th place in the 1999 Ms.Olympia. It is shocking that she did not win at least one, but there may be a reason for this. The 1990s to early 2000s was a transition period in which female bodybuilding judging standards were changing. This period was the Lenda Murray and Kim Chizevsky period, so the competition was formidable. Lewis competing as a heavyweight was a dominating figure. Her arms measured 17 1/2 inches and a chest of 43 inches. Lesa consumed a total 7,000 calories to maintain such a body.
There were times that Lesa had mixed feelings about her size. Sometimes she was shocked looking at past competitions at how large she became. She once said that in response to a question what she could change about bodybuilding was “don’t let the women get too manly.” This seems like a ludicrous statement, because muscles do not make women manly. Strength and power have been associated with men for so long many forget that women can be that as well. Lewis presented a physique and grace that was exceptional on stage. Lisa Lewis also made an appearance for the TLC documentary Bodybuilders in the year 2000. During the interview Lesa’s mother and sister were interviewed. They were not as supportive at first. Her mother admitted that she thought it was an activity that was more suited for men. Lesa’s sister thought it was weird. They became supportive, when they saw her perform and that changed their minds. Lesa’s mother revealed that Lesa was the tomboy growing up.
Lesa’s mother was her greatest role model. When Lesa was asked who was her favorite bodybuilder. she did not have one. She cited various athletes which body parts that she wanted to emulate on her own physique. She liked Lenda Murray’s shoulders. Lesa also liked the look of Puala Sukzi’s back and Vicki Gates’ biceps. Sue Price she proclaimed had impeccable vascularity and cuts. Lesa also cites Laura Creavalle and Kim Chizevsky as excellent bodybuilders. Women can carry mass and make it look good. Staying in that kind of shape requires a strict diet. However, Lesa just like everyone else loved certain foods. Donuts were her favorite junk food. Turkey and salads were also some of her foods of choice.
lesa has stated that her legs and shoulders were her best body parts. However, it is hard to say that the overall physique she presented was not excellent. Her efforts created an impressive aesthetic of both size and symmetry. This is difficult to master and present on a bodybuilding stage. Her observations of other competitors paid off. She also for her training incorporated walking and running into her fitness routine. Lesa would do this for at least 45 to 60 minutes. Other than working out, Lesa enjoys jazz music and movies. Normally, there are a section of fans who say the larger aesthetic is too much, but even detractors have to admit that Lesa Lewis was impressive. By the early 2000s there was a move in the direction to a female bodybuilder with less mass. Lesa said in the Bodybuilders documentary that it was not a negative development, but the judges needed to give some time for the women to make adjustments. Lesa Lewis retired from the competitive stage in 2002 with nine years as a bodybuilder. It was an incredible number of years and ever since it seems Lesa has been away from the fitness industry. She was a talented IFBB pro.
Penpraghai Tiangngok was the subject of a BBC report in 2017. To fans of female bodybuilding this athlete is familiar and is known better as Fon in her video work as well as competition appearances . This was significant because women athletes, especially ones in subculture like sports do not get much coverage in mainstream outlets. Female bodybuilders and muscular women in general are not presented positively by the mainstream press. This report is different and at times seems to laud her accomplishments. Tiangngok is the first Southeast Asian woman to compete in the Olympia, one of the most prestigious of all bodybuilding competitions. The report discusses the struggles Penpraghai has being the one of very few female bodybuilders living in Thailand. It is a cross section between sexism and subtle racism. Being a pioneer adds pressure when dispelling old stereotypes. The 100 women series spotlighted women making strides in various fields. The series wants to introduce readers to women who are inspirational and influential, while asking them questions related to the challenges women face in the 21st century. This could range from the glass ceiling, sexual harassment, disparity in education, or sexism in sports. Penpraghai Tiangngok is the subject of women in a sport not widely embraced by Thai society.
Thailand is an Southeast Asian nation that for the past decades been in a state of political turbulence. Coups and political factionalism have been persistent problems including racism. Thailand has either been discriminatory to hill tribes or had xenophobic attitudes in regards to foreigners. Penpraghai stated that some Thais do not speak to her when returning home assuming she is Filipino or Brazilian. Ethnocentrism has been a growing problem with Thailand. Colorism is also an issue in numerous Asian nations in which lighter skin color is preferred to darker skin.
Although being mistaken for another racial or ethnic group is not an act of racism, the behavior is an indication. Penpraghai being treated differently demonstrates that there is an racial or foreigner related bias. There is much disunity among Asian nations with ethnic and political problems dividing them. Exposure to different types of people can challenge prejudicial attitudes. Penpraghi even states that ” when foreigners look at me they just go wow.” This could either be a voice of approval or possibly more prejudice based. Westerners may have the racist stereotypes embedded in their minds of weak and helpless Asian woman, dragon ladies, tiger mothers, model minorities, or china dolls. When people do not fit in either of these racially prejudiced categories this creates a shock to the observer. Penpraghai Tiangngok’s rise or appearance should not be a shock. Asian women are becoming more involved in sports and fitness. Women becoming more involved in sports is a global phenomenon. Women from around the world are competing in various sports and have more visibility in the Olympics. This is a positive development which challenges some of the racist stereotypes that are common in media.
The status of Thai women has been for the most part based on a traditionalist domestic family role. Thai women were raised to be either wives or mothers in the past and their legal status was not equal to men. Polygamy was practiced in Thailand and women did not have many educational opportunities. The major change came with the revolution of 1932 in which the government was transformed into a constitutional monarchy. The new constitution gave women more rights and called for the end of polygamy. Plaek Phibunsongkhram the third prime minister of Thailand made it policy to raise the status of women. He served from 1938 to 1944 and again from 1948 to 1957. Since that period women’s status has improved, but there are still conservative attitudes. Women still are underrepresented in government. There are some advancements in the workplace. Knowing the history of sexist discrimination explains why Penpraghai Tiangngok’s statement ” they are surprised of how big I am and think I look transgender.” There are some Thais that cannot accept that women are no longer following traditional gender roles. Objections do not only come from men, but also other women. Penpraghai also explains “there weren’t many women lifting weights [at the time I started], but nowadays you have both men and women.” She delineates further : “In the past, female bodybuilders looked strange in the eyes of Thai women.” There is a double standard women no matter which country they are from face when becoming physically active.
There are some nations in which the stigma is worse. Although there objections in Western countries, there are very few statements saying women should not be allowed to do such an activity. Penpraghai says that people in her home town of Pattaya consider her to be a “freak” and claimed when she “goes to market , I get different looks.” Sadly many are not open minded about women looking different or not following the cultural status quo. Women are taking on new roles and Thailand. They are becoming involved in the workforce due to an expanding private sector and even entrepreneurs. Penpraghai is also an owner of a gym and a personal trainer. Women being this independent was no possible 80 years ago. Thailand even had its first Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, but was removed by a coup and court decision. Although her actions were legally questionable, it is apparent that she will not be treated fairly in the current political climate. She is currently in exile and this was another demonstration of how transfers of power and political stability eludes Thailand. The women who are active in various sectors can be role models to young girls to make effective change.
What holds the nations back in the Global South is not allowing women to contribute to society both economically and in leadership roles. If a country wants to be competitive in the modern post-industrial world, they must have women part of their workforce and in the public sphere. Women should enter fields and activities that are male dominated. Overtime, there may be at least some sex balance in such fields. The most important part of this process is that attitudes must change. The idea that women only serve a domestic function must be discarded.
The BBC report does not exclude the controversial subjects such as steroids, but did not mention others about the bodybuilding subculture . Acquiring steroids in Thailand is easier compared to other countries. The Thai press reported that Penpraghai Tiangngok had been arrested for selling steroids. She was contacted by a Thai police officer who asked her to bring them to a bus stop. Penpraghai Tiangngok was selling them and did say she was not authorized to do so. Bodybuilding gets a reputation for steroid use, but it can be found in various sports from baseball, soccer, and competitors in the Olympics. Penpraghai Tiangngok told the BBC that drugs do not create champions : “many people ask me whether or not I use steroids.” She then continues ” I ask them why they don’t ask me how I train or how many hours I work out… I want others to know that using steroids doesn’t help you to get bigger.” Steroids may cause better recovery and some muscle gain, yet ultimately it is related to workout intensity, exercise regimen, and diet. The unfortunate part is some have such limited knowledge they automatically think that a person who is muscular must be using. Drugs are a part of sports, but that does not mean every athlete is using them. Many fans do not even care what an athlete uses, yet there still is controversy. One controversy that the BBC report ignores is the practice of muscle worship. This is even bigger than the topic of performance enhancing drugs.
Bodybuilders, physique athletes, figure and fitness models have been known to do sessions. This was not mentioned by the BBC report probably because it is the more secretive element of the female bodybuilding subculture.To an extent it was unknown to mainstream media, but has gotten more exposure with the rise of the internet as a popular entertainment medium. The public can be exposed to different people and cultures by a mere click of a button. A search on Google shows that there are more men into female muscle than previously thought. The exact number is not certain, but it may be increasing due to visibility over social media platforms and websites.
The muscular woman has become something that is in popular demand at least on the internet. Numerous athletes have their own websites and do photo shoots for others. This may get criticism from the more conservative elements of society. While a muscular female body can generate controversy, there is also the debate about the nature of these photographs and video materials. Some make the claim that fitness is becoming borderline pornographic. Such claims are spurious. Female athletes posing for photos is no different from models posing for ads or appearing on television. Whether it is film, TV, or other mediums from time to time sexuality does appear or at least a particular innuendo is implied. Women should not be criticized for posing or being in videos. Bodybuilding is a sport in which the body is assessed for certain criteria related to aesthetics. Penpraghai Tiangngok is a representative for Thailand in the bodybuilding sports. Sometimes having the image present can inspire other women to follow a certain path. It is important that women of other nations have a presence in various activities to encourage wider participation. Thai women are already making progress in business and education. Penpraghai Tiangngok ‘s rise in the sport’s ranks just proves Thai women can advance, doubtless of wider societal bias.