“To see me compete in a bikini on stage was not acceptable to my father,” said 25-year-old Rutuja Hegshetye, who has been defying odds to rectify the image of bodybuilders in India’s culture where, till the time she appeared on stage, it was presumed that muscles and abs only suit men.
Bodybuilding is still largely considered a man’s sport where exposing the body in order to show musculature is ‘not something women can pursue’. Even when times are changing at a rather slow pace, the stigma against women bodybuilders still continues to haunt those like Rutuja. But she is beyond such limitations!
Image: Instagram / Rutuja Hegshetye
Her body ripples with bulging muscles, with strong and hard legs, as she poses much like a revolutionary marking the beginning of a better tomorrow. “Wearing a bikini on stage was a big challenge for me. I had never even worn shorts. I was too shy to even communicate with people. Hence, to be on stage wearing a bikini with so many people watching you was intimidating. Till today, I become very nervous before competitions. This is where bodybuilding played a major role. It has built my confidence,” said Rutuja, flexing her arms into frozen waves.
So, what inspired the boldness? “I hail from a small town. I started working out to become a better version of myself. I wanted to look good, which has motivated me to keep going. My first major competition was in 2016, as I wanted to give it a try. Eventually, I started loving it and hence took it up,” Rutuja acknowledged. Hailing from a small town, she had several challenges lying ahead of her, the toughest of which was the lack of support from her family during the initial years of starting out.
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“Initially, my family did not support me. I remember having won some decent cash prize in 2018. That’s how they started believing that bodybuilding has got a good future. They had the slightest idea that bodybuilding could take me from where to where. Everyone from Ratnagiri knows my family very well. Bodybuilding was never acceptable to my parents. It took me a lot of time to convince them that bikini is just a costume and bodybuilding is a symbol of women empowerment,” she avered.
Through the struggle of finding sponsors, of arranging finances, of entering competitions and finally securing the support of her family, Rutuja was crowned the winner of the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness Pro (IFBB). “If you are a woman, to be pursuing bodybuilding can be tough. Because it is physically demanding. Women, in general, possess a lot of strength. We are working so hard every day, and when people appreciate us, it surely means a lot,” said Rujuta.
Image: Instagram / Rutuja Hegshetye
An architect by profession, Rutuja admits that it is tough to accumulate funds for her training in order to make it big on the stage. All of 25, Rutuja has been breaking the ground in the male-dominated field, making high strides over the years. With a much larger presence in bodybuilding, it is inspiring to see such an upsurge over the century, and generations are definitely jumping at a chance to take their turn on the stage. “Right now, we are slowly moving to a place where people are accepting women bodybuilders. It was difficult when I started out. There were barely ten women in the circuit, it was difficult for me to get inspired. All I can say is that bodybuilding among women has been growing at a rapid pace in India,” she signed off.
Also read: Why bodybuilding is a recognised sport?