The African definition of beauty have evolved over the years, from the voluptuous to the slim women, from traditional scars (nyora) to contemporary make-up. Of course it has been as dynamic as culture is in different societies.
Never has the definition, however, encompassed a woman with muscles. Muscles for women are despised like some form of abnormality .How each society viewed beauty was mostly influenced by what men prescribed as the acceptable look for women. Traditionally, a muscular body has always been associated with power and dominance, which were believed to be exclusively a male trait. Never was a female body expected to have muscles, have them displayed and feel good in them. It was a shame, and still is in some rural parts of the country as well as some conservative minds in urban towns.
The women in Zimbabwe’s bodybuilding industry have defied these archaic notions. They have found muscles to be an empowering possession that is an epitome of health and fitness. Body building is an industry where women have embraced their bodies and have taken responsibility of how they want to define their beauty. They have vehemently dismissed the myth that muscles will turn a woman into a man, but proved that muscles will make one independent and powerful.
Regina Jonga, may be described as the woman with most muscles in the country for retaining the Ms Zimbabwe Bodybuilding title uncontested on October 22. She knows her muscles grab her unnecessary attention when she walks in the street as a black African woman. But she confesses that, it would be written in their (people in the streets) eyes “they want to be like me.”
“Muscles are not only for men, they are also for women. The people who believe they are only for men are lost, they do not know about bodybuilding,” said Jonga.
“What I love most about bodybuilding is that I stay fit and strong; and the fact that I am different from other people. When I walk around people look at me; my advice is that noone must not listen to what our society says. These days people are beginning to accept that bodybuilding is for everyone, I would like to see more women in this sport.”
46-year-old Kirsty Baxter looks younger than her age. She is as fit as a teenager and contesting in the bikini fitness category of the bodybuilding competition has seen her being “admired and complimented so often, especially by both young women who desire my body and women of my age who would like to be more toned or slimmer.”
Baxter, a nutritionist, has refused to have society dictate how her body should be like and she is happy after that decision.
She said, “Weights do not make a woman big. I’m proof of this. Society will always dictate a trend. The important thing for each and every woman to consider is who and what she wants to be. They should not and do not need to be defined by the norms of society. Love yourself enough to be who and what you want to be.”
Shirley Spreeth’s (25) song choice on the night of the 2016 Ms Zimbabwe contest, Sia’s The Greatest (a song that encourages never to give up), was inspired by the challenge of work-life balance she was facing. She believes women need to stop trying to please society, as the latter is never there to please them.
“Seeing my body taking shape over the weeks keeps me going and of course the clean eating – I live by the motto ‘Look after your body, it’s the only one you have to live in,’ ” she said.
“My advice to women who want to take part in body building but fear what society will say is that – ‘Live, Love your Life – do what makes you happy’ they should take the challenge and be a rebel towards societal norms because no matter what they do or say critics will always be there. They should know that they won’t be able to please everyone, so better be selfish and have a goal to please no one but yourself.”
These confident, beautiful and muscular women have demanded the power to be the judge of their own body. Nothing society will say will stop them from pumping those weights in the gym and consequently looking beautiful in their healthy muscular bodies.
Main image Kirsty Baxter in middle flanked by first runner up Diana Meller (left) and Nozipo Maraire on Women Bikini fitness masters podium
All image provided by Grace Chirumanzu