“I already had two kids when I started bodybuilding, and I quickly met a lot of mums who were doing it,” she says.
“For me that made perfect sense, because you kind of change how you see yourself after you have kids: you’re more aware of your body, and you start having more respect for it.
Late last year, the UK Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation introduced a controversial bikini category into the national competition circuit.
In doing so, they seemed to be helping close the casket on bulkier, less conventionally feminine classes, as seen in the eighties heyday, which culminated in the 1985 release Pumping Iron II: The Women, a film that turned female bodybuilders like Bev Francis and Rachel Mc Lish into poster stars for the Walkman generation. Female events both in the UK and beyond have been struggling to pull in competitors, especially in heavier classes, as though the fashion for slimline models had finally convinced the world that bulking up was for men, and a woman’s job was to stand around smiling and looking thin.
It’s a massive industry in the US, and it’s one that allows me to spend ninety-nine per cent of my time totally focused on my career.
The federation would probably have less of a problem with it if they were making money from it themselves.” Now thirty-three, Lisa has been forging her own path since a departure in her mid-twenties from the Devon and Cornwall police force, where her bodybuilding hobby made her the butt of jokes from male officers.
“The way the women pose, sticking their bums out and spending more time with their backs to the judges than their fronts – I find it quite embarrassing, to be honest.“A lot of the time it’s men stuck in sad relationships, or bored by routine, and they get off on being at the mercy of powerful women.The strange thing is they’re often the same people who are the most taken aback if they see you in the street.” The sexual fixation on bodybuilders known as muscle worship is a fetish today pursued and practised largely on the internet, but it’s one that goes back many years, and that’s as true for female bodybuilders as it is for men – from idolisation of Brigitte Nielsen’s sword-swinging heroine in Red Sonja (1985), to the twentieth century cartoonist Robert Crumb’s regular representation of himself at the mercy of engorged Amazonian women.The guys love it, and it certainly pulls in crowds, but it’s not bodybuilding, and there’s no place for it at a bodybuilding competition.” Opinions like Hollie’s are being drowned out by the baying of mostly male audiences, and the industry is bending to demand.
While you’ll be lucky to find three or four women competing in the catch-all bodybuilding category at UK competitions – long ago conflated from light, middle and heavyweight divisions due to a lack of competitors – it’s not unusual to see more than thirty women strutting around the stage in the bikini class.
With the introduction of the new ‘bikini class’, a sport that formerly stood as a paradigm of a woman’s ability to compete alongside men has been moved a step closer to being one in which women use their sexuality as a weapon, and men show their appreciation by wolf-whistling from the stands.