Bodybuilding is an increasingly global sport.
With competitions and markets burgeoning in traditional cultures, many groups, like women in Myanmar, face considerable resistance.
Ma Thet Thet Wai, 21 years old, snuck out of her house with a bikini suit and headed to Yangon’s Myanmar Plaza on November 12 to compete at the VX Classic 2017 Grand Bodybuilding Competition. Her parents didn’t like her going to the gym, she couldn’t imagine them letting her participate in a public show.
“Even the boys’ parents don’t like it,” Thet Thet Wai told Frontier, “But for the rich people, it is normal because they already have an international mind.
“I wanted to have muscles because there was no girl who has muscles. And I wondered, how will it feel if I have muscles?”
Thet Thet Wai said the competition was even more fierce than she expected. When she arrived, the 5 foot, 93 pound competitor realized she had missed rehearsal and had no idea how to proceed on stage.
“I thought maybe it was a trick, I don’t know,” she said.
She relied on general knowledge and bodybuilding shows she had watched on the internet to see her through.
Apparently it served her well. Thet Thet Wai won third place and a free membership at Fit Way Gym on Pansodan Street.
Thet Thet Wai’s dream is to eventually open her own fitness centre. She fears many of the current fitness centres in Myanmar are simply trying to cash in on the growing industry:
“Sometimes the trainers don’t even know each other even when they are [working for] the same gym.”
But she says the path to prosperity in Myanmar is still encouraging.
“The important thing is believe in yourself, shut up, and train”.
Ma Nang Lao Kham began training in 2013. She said that she almost quit when her father threatened to kick her out of the house.
“However I tried, I could not give up this sport,” she said. “So I kept doing it in secret.”
She says that even at competitions held by Myanmar Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation or private sponsors, female athletes can be viewed as bizarre curiosities or as a disgrace.
This stigma could be responsible for less grace on stage, as Myanmar contestants seem a less relaxed, more bashful and stiffer in their movements. But the women’s physiques are the biggest focus.
“Most of the women are afraid to train with weights because they are afraid their muscles will get too big,” Nang Lao Kham said. “But that’s wrong. … Of course the muscles are getting stronger, but they are still good looking with the feminine shape.”