Female bodybuilder flexes her muscles to challenge gender barriers in a male-dominated field

BODYBUILDING is a sport that empowers body and mind. But the pursuit is predominantly male turf, and not always welcoming of females, according to Philomena Dexcyln.

She is among many woman bodybuilders who have experienced hostility from the opposite sex in following her passion.

“When I started going to the gym, it was not really a friendly environment. You hardly saw women using the dumbbell in the gym. So, when I started, I was always discouraged. And I was even called names,” said the Bidayuh fitness enthusiast who started exercising in order to lose weight.

Despite the unfriendly attitudes, Philomena did not shy away from seeking out opportunities in the field.

In fact, she has been successful in realising her fitness dreams while debunking misconceptions about female bodybuilders.

“I have been trying to reassure people that though I lift weights, I have not lost my femininity. And that has been my main focus and I think I have been achieving that since I joined the sport.”

$!Philomena initially started exercising to lose weight. — PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILOMENA DEXCLYN

What does femininity mean to you?

“To me, it is about feeling strong and confident as a woman. When I started bodybuilding, I had very low self-esteem and was very self-conscious. I often wondered what people thought of me. I was also a very shy person.

“But now being in the state that I am as a woman, I care less about people’s opinions of me and am more confident of myself.

“Bodybuilding has helped me achieve this by giving me an outlet. Since I am relatively new in this industry, I need [to gain exposure].

“And that process has improved my confidence and communication skills since I get to meet other bodybuilders and gym-goers.”

Could you elaborate on why you got into bodybuilding?

“I started with the intention to be healthy because I was overweight and not health conscious. And it affected my work performance and my relationships.

“So, I started going to the gym. From there, I managed to lose weight and transitioned from being ‘slim’ to an athletic build.”

What is the difference between exercising for competitions and regular workouts?

“I think both share the same core which is to attain a healthy lifestyle. But for competitions, it is a bit different in terms of focus, motivation and dedication.

“This is because you are looking to win. Whereas for normal day workouts, it is just something you do for a hobby or to ensure your health is in check. Like taking daily supplements to ensure that you are in the pink of health.”

$!Philomena earned a silver medal at the 16th South East Asia Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship. — PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILOMENA DEXCLYN

What are your exercise routines like?

“I normally start with warm-up sessions that usually include cardio workouts like running on the treadmill for about five minutes to doing jumping jacks.

“And then, I will move on to the main workout for the day. And for each day of the week, I will focus on a different part of the body. So, for instance, I focus on the lower body on Monday and the next day abs.

“Once I am done, I finish it off with a cool-down session which mainly is stretching.

“People often underestimate the importance of stretching. It actually helps reduce the soreness that you will feel the next day after working out. So, this is what I do every day for training.”

What is your advice for aspiring bodybuilders?

I would say it is important to stay focused, dedicated and motivated.

“This is because it involves a lot of time, sacrifice and challenges, especially mentally.

“Nobody told me that I had to sacrifice a lot of things like going out with my family and eating cakes, which I really like.

“It also helps if you get yourself a good trainer or coach. They understand how your body works and that will help you reach your bodybuilding goals.”

What is next for you?

“I have always wanted to create more awareness about bodybuilding among females. I feel that there is a lack of awareness especially about the benefits it can bring.

“Hence, I think this is something that needs to be shared because I believe not only bodybuilding but exercising, in general, is the first step to a more wholesome and healthy life.

“So, hopefully, I will be able to conduct fitness programmes in future and get more females involved.”