Her bulging biceps, toned and muscular body are what most men would dream to have. Gurgaon-based Yashmeen Manak, who was recently adjudged Miss India 2016 at a bodybuilding competition, has now set her sights on winning international titles.
Manak, 37, won gold in both the Women’s Fitness and Women’s Physique category at a competition organised by the Indian Body Building and Fitness Federation (IBBFF).
In a conversation with IANS, Manak spoke about the odds she encountered on her path to make it big in the world of bodybuilding — a ‘men’s territory’ — and eventually shattered a series of stereotypes.
“I still don’t consider myself a celebrity,” said Manak, adding that she feels “overwhelmed by all the love and attention” she is receiving these days.
Manak, who runs Sculpt Gym in Sector-14, Gurgaon, is also an avid biker and rides the Royal Enfield Desert Storm 500.
She forayed into the world of fitness 20 years back when after an illness she put on a lot of weight. The taunts from friends and relatives prompted her to get back into shape with a vengeance.
“Those comments pierced me deep inside and I felt bad. I realised that I was losing shape,” Manak said.
She joined the gym at the age of 17 and stated with cardio workouts. “There was no awareness about fitness back then, especially with regard to women.”
“Initially, I did not know that even women can lift weights. I got a bit of an idea on this from a professional bodybuilder and I started weight training. But I had no plans to get into bodybuilding,” she said.
So what made her get serious about bodybuilding?
“When I realised that cardio sessions were gradually eating up my muscle mass, I decided to shape up my body in a certain way that would make me look curvy as well as strong.
“Five-six years back, I started lifting very heavy weights. My coach taught me all the basics, all the right techniques of heavy lifting. I was completely into power-lifting and bodybuilding,” Manak, who weighs 66 kg, said.
Manak asserts that like men, women can also lift heavy weights.
“Women can lift like men, it is just that women are not that strong; but once into weight-lifting, a woman can get stronger than the average man,” she said.
On the negative comments she faces, Manak said she has to deal with remarks like “You look like a man, you should look like a woman, do what women are supposed to do…”
“Initially, those angered me but I eventually realised that such men could not attain the level of fitness they desired. They could not digest the fact that a woman has succeeded in shaping up her physique, and the remarks reflected their frustration,” she added.
On the controversial subject of the usage of performance enhancing steroids, Manak said: “There is a lot of misinformation about steroids. Many people misuse it and suffer harmful side effects due to which some countries have banned its usage.”
“It is still a very debatable topic in which people stay mum and don’t want to talk about it…Even if someone is taking steroids, he or she has to work very hard and eat clean. You need to lead a very disciplined lifestyle. You can’t just take steroids, sit at home and see the results,” she said.
Manak revealed that she intends to compete in international arenas in future.
(Pankaj Ghosh can be contacted at email@example.com)