For Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Jayne Mansfield, known for their voluptuous curves, weightlifting and vigorous exercise were not a part of their daily routine.
But times change. While a half-century ago the concept of women seeking extreme fitness may have been disdained in this country, now it has a solid niche. That’s especially true in an athletic environment like Southwest Colorado.
Take Durangoan Stephanie Walker, for example. Having the ability to change and shape her body to her satisfaction has become an empowering experience.
Dissatisfied with her slender appearance, she decided to start building up her body and take control over each muscle she wanted to enhance.
Though Walker wouldn’t necessarily be considered a professional bodybuilder by either title or appearance, she does consider herself to be a builder of her body and fitness.
“Being a bodybuilder means you work out and see fitness as a sport,” Walker said.
She has competed in both Fitness New Mexico and the GNC Nature Colorado Open. She soon will be training for Fitness New Mexico in Albuquerque this summer.
Competitions are held for several categories, including model, bikini, figure, fitness and bodybuilding. Many competitions host all or several of the above.
Walker attended a recent competition in which only two competed in the bodybuilding division among 200 total women participants,.
Women competitors are opting more for the figure category, a less extreme version, and have steered away from bodybuilding, she said.
Walker feels that it is unnatural for a woman to achieve an extremely bulky, muscular appearance often associated with such competitions and assumes most who do are using anabolic steroids.
“It’s really taboo, and people don’t talk about it,” she said.
Figure competitions allow women to remain feminine, she said. Although it’s hard work to achieve the look, it can be done naturally.
Walker does not use steroids because of their health consequences, she said, but ironically named her dog “Tren,” short for Trenbolone, an anabolic steroid.
Dawn Malinowsky of Vallecito wanted to learn more about her body, so she studied anatomy and researched how to shape it. She quickly got into a routine and was satisfied with her additional strength, she said.
“It feels good to be strong,” she said.
Malinowsky built her body for 12 years and once placed second in her division in a bodybuilding competition in Connecticut, she said. The winner, twice the size of the other women, appeared to have used some sort of anabolic steroid, Malinowsky recalled.
“I’m only 5-(foot)-4, and your muscles can only get so big naturally,” she said. “I don’t believe in steroids. I think it’s cheating.”
After experiencing the harsh realities of prepping for competition, she realized it wasn’t for her, she said.
Depriving her body of carbohydrates, though unhealthy, was not difficult, she said. The hardest part was limiting water intake to drop her body fat percentage from about 16 percent to 3 percent, she said.
Now, at age 48, she no longer bodybuilds but continues to exercise regularly and maintains a healthful lifestyle, she said. But to others considering getting into the sport, Malinowsky said, “Go for it.”
Antoinette Nowakowski of Mayday has been retired from competitive bodybuilding for about 18 years. She said she first discovered the weight room when she moved to Iowa to attend chiropractic school.
She said it took her awhile to feel comfortable in the male-dominated weight room.
“You really had to prove yourself,” she said.
Nowakowski, now 59, began working out regularly to improve a “weak” body and her health. Her regular routine later progressed to bodybuilding.
When asked if she had ever experimented with steroids, she gleefully responded with: “No, I’m a tree-hugging nature girl.”
Just before one competition, she entered a women’s bathroom and discovered a woman shaving her chest hair. It was likely that she was on some sort of steroid, Nowakowski said.
All three women have heard comments from other women who believe “lifting weights makes women bulk up and look like men.” They assure the statement is false and in bad taste.
“I didn’t want to emulate men,” Nowakowski said. “I wanted to have a beautiful, strong feminine body.”
Though the women’s bodybuilding community is very small, the women have received an immense amount of support and admiration from friends and curious admirers in the gym.
Also, even after achieving a “near-perfect” figure in their minds, like anyone else, they are not exempt from experiencing personal body-image issues.
The three women said it’s all about finding a balance.
Don Roberts, who owns Fitness Solutions 24/7 in Bodo Industrial Park and has participated in a few amateur bodybuilding shows, expressed a mixed opinion about the sport.
“It’s great when women do it in a feminine way,” he said. “It can be very tastefully and gracefully done from a woman’s standpoint.”
He did, however, express his distaste for both men and women who obtain their muscular physiques through the use of chemical enhancements.
“They are totally different types of people, he said. “I’m all for it as long as it’s drug-free.”
The women agreed theirs is not a lifestyle suited for all. But they emphasized the importance of not neglecting your health.
“Don’t wait until you’re at the point where you feel bad or are overweight. Find a buddy and work out with them,” Walker said.