Breaking The (Gender) Boundary In Bodybuilding

Sep 13, 2013 1 Min Read

I am not too different from most of you. Raised in a typical Chinese family, I am in most ways a regular girl who loves dressing up and putting on makeup, hanging out at shopping malls, and going to college. What set me apart, however, was a dream that most people would have deemed abnormal or insane for any typical girl.

As a child, pictures of people with muscular physiques easily fascinated me. I admired them and yearned to look like them someday. However, there were many obstacles and discouragements along the way. Above all, I was an overweight child who huffed and puffed even though I only tackled two flights of stairs. Needless to say, I was the butt of ridicule.

However, my parents finally gave me the green light to go to the gym once my PMR examinations were over. During that period, my weight problems were escalating and I was not feeling too encouraged. Everyone assumed that I just wanted to lose weight, but what I really wanted was to become a bodybuilder. I was 15 when I first picked up a dumbbell at a small gym close to home. It was a humble place, without fans or air-conditioning, but it became my second home, where I trained earnestly and diligently six times a week. I got my hands on every fitness and bodybuilding-related magazine or book I could obtain, and fed myself with as much information as I could.

Being the only female at the gym was daunting and uncomfortable, but I told myself that it was a matter of ambition. I began seeing changes in my physique, and that gave me the strength and motivation to keep at my training.

When I completed high school, I began searching for a part-time job. At that point, it did not matter how much I would get paid. All I wanted was to be close to the fitness industry and learn the tricks of the trade. Hence, my six-month stint as an instructor at Fitness First began. At the same time, I began venturing into the modelling line to generate some side income, thus kick-starting some of the most exciting and exhilarating times of my life.

College began soon after. My first choice had been Sports Science, but due to discouragement from friends and family over future job opportunities, I decided to do a course related to language. My ultimate dream was to own a gym, or even better, a chain of gyms. Hence, the right decision was to have more stable, versatile career options with regular income, on top of freelancing as a personal trainer in order to finance my passion in the long run. Training never took a setback during my college days – I even trained during lunch breaks to make up for my busy schedule!

However, I realised that I was allowing myself to lose too much weight for modelling. While it was a fun, fast-paced period in my life, I always reminded myself that bodybuilding and fitness was the priority. I packed the pounds back on – in muscle.

Since then, I have tried to keep myself as close as possible to the bodybuilding universe by participating in online forums, watching competitions, and meeting numerous like-minded people along the way. These people have given me valuable advice, helped to point me in the direction of my goals, and even became my good friends, for which I am ever thankful.

I have also appeared in newspapers as a teenage bodybuilder and personal trainer, designed training programmes for Women’s Health and Beauty Magazine, and had a stint as a columnist for a local online fitness portal. However, my future in bodybuilding and fitness has always been uncertain and filled with challenges due to financial constraints and public perception that women should be soft and willowy, not heavy and muscular.

Furthermore, there is no outlet for female bodybuilders in Malaysia, which is very demotivating. After four years, I am still the only female in my gym that trains seriously.

Nevertheless, I try my very best to stick to what I love and aspire to be one day. I still work as a freelance personal trainer and a part-time model. At the same time, I am pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in English at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR). In life, we may all face let downs, disappointments, and discouragements, but I still believe in making the best out of our circumstances. Bodybuilding has, after all, given me great satisfaction. I still wonder where life will take me, but regardless of everything, I am going to enjoy it the best way I know how; believing in what I love wholeheartedly, and doing whatever I can to sustain this lifestyle.

Kimberley Chai, 21, studied A-levels at Taylor’s University while working as a freelance personal trainer and model at the same time. Her strong passion for the sport drove her to begin bodybuilding at the age of 15, and to pursue her dream of eventually opening her own gym.

Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.

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