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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Class of 2011 graduate finding success as a competitive bodybuilder

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Vanessa Pollis (far left) competing back in May, she took second place in her division

Women’s bodybuilding started in the late 70s as a way for ladies to liberate themselves from spin class, allowing them to lift weights and sculpt their figures like their male counterparts. It is still very stigmatized and it remains in search of true legitimacy as a sport, but that is starting to change with the recent fitness industry boom in the 2000s. 
Those stigmas did not serve as a deterrent for Vanessa Pollis, a University of Massachusetts Boston class of 2011 graduate that entered the mysterious and very competitive sport a few years ago, and she is challenging them every day. She is not someone you’d expect to be a competitive bodybuilder, and she likes it that way.
Pollis, a graduate of the College of Management who competes in the bikini division, has entered in two shows since she began training in November of 2012, placing second in her most recent outing. Her entry into the sport was gradual. She asked a bodybuilder in her neighborhood if he could put her in touch with a coach, and she’s been working with him ever since.
“I’ve always been athletic and I needed a challenge,” Pollis said.
Pollis was a regular at the gym before she began her bodybuilding career but only for cardio and yoga.
“I never really used free weights because as with every other female it can be really intimidating, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Having my coach show me everything was huge.”
Pollis’s biggest hurdle when she began training was that she was also a huge food lover, which is not a great personality trait for someone in a sport that is all about monitoring what goes in your body.
“The biggest challenge was the relationship I had with food. I am such a foodie and that was the biggest challenge because you have to really change the way you look at food and the way you eat.”
After Pollis was able to balance her food and her bodybuilding, her workouts really took off. Nowadays, she’s in the gym nearly every day and she’s got a balanced workout routine as she prepares for her next show. She said that she does thirty to forty minutes of cardio in the morning five or six days a week, and she lifts five days a week, dividing the days up by muscle groups (quads and calves one day, glutes and back the next, arms after that). She tries to mix up her routine to keep it interesting and she works out with her coach about once a week.
Pollis claimed that she has found herself in some interesting conversations when her bodybuilding career comes up. You wouldn’t assume that she’s a competitive bodybuilder with her slighter physique and fair skin, which is because the bikini division places an emphasis on a softer, more feminine look than the other categories. 
“I usually try to refrain from saying I do the bikini division, I usually say fitness because when you say bikini everyone assumes you don’t work out as hard. Bikini girls work out just as hard as the next level of girls which is called figure.”
Pollis added, “Of course everyone is always like ‘oh show me your biceps.'”
Part of the reason people are surprised when they learn Pollis is a bodybuilder is because of the stigmas that have been associated with the sport since its inception. Images of steroid aided, masculine looking women with the fakest of tans come to mind when people picture female bodybuilders, but Pollis was quick to dismiss those stereotypes as inaccurate.
“It comes down to how you train. Everyone always thinks of big muscles and women that don’t look feminine. It’s unfortunate that it has that stigma because that shies other women away from lifting weights when there’s so much more to it. It helps your metabolism, it changes the whole way your body is sculpted, it’s something everyone should consider.”
There are definitely advantages to taking up bodybuilding. Pollis pointed out that there is really no age requirement, saying that in her division there are women aged 22-35, and that there are divisions for all body types. Women’s bodybuilding is split into four divisions: fit body, bikini, figure, and body building. She says that she wants to move past local competitions and compete on the national level. She placed second at her last meet and had she won, she’d have been eligible for nationals in only her second year of competing.
While Pollis says that she now loves the feeling she gets when she steps out on stage and hears people cheer for her, she had a rocky start at her first show.
“The first show I did I was so nervous I couldn’t get myself to smile for the life of me, I knew how important that was. The second show was like day and night, I definitely feel more comfortable.”
“I did theater in high school but this is completely different. You’re in a tiny bikini with a group of other beautiful girls who can definitely be intimidating,” Pollis shared.
Although going out on stage can be intimidating, Pollis says nothing compares to the feeling of showing off what she’s worked so hard for. Training ramps up twelve weeks before a show, all culminating with a short moment to shine. She was adamant that the shows are only a small part of bodybuilding and if you’re only concerned with them, you won’t go very far.
“You work so hard for twelve weeks to showcase your work on stage for thirty seconds of spotlight. You have to do it for more than just a show. It’s definitely a lifestyle. If you’re doing a show it’s an extreme lifestyle, but if you’re not dedicated to working out and eating healthy and having a healthy existence then you can’t do it. It can’t just be about a show.”
Pollis will compete next at the International Natural Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (INBF) Amateur World Championships in Boston on November 15.