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29-Sep-2019 15:49

For those that do, it becomes an addiction, pure and simple.

You take yourself right to the edge in the run up to a competition, and afterwards you swear you’ll never do it again.

“At one point, if I had feedback off a judge criticising part of my body at a competition, I’d be back in the gym the following day killing myself.

And women who push themselves in those ways are always looked at in a negative light: men who take themselves to the edge physically are seen as heroes, while women are seen as endangering their ability to have children, or to be good mothers if they have children already.

Late last year, the UK Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation introduced a controversial bikini category into the national competition circuit.

In doing so, they seemed to be helping close the casket on bulkier, less conventionally feminine classes, as seen in the eighties heyday, which culminated in the 1985 release Pumping Iron II: The Women, a film that turned female bodybuilders like Bev Francis and Rachel Mc Lish into poster stars for the Walkman generation. Female events both in the UK and beyond have been struggling to pull in competitors, especially in heavier classes, as though the fashion for slimline models had finally convinced the world that bulking up was for men, and a woman’s job was to stand around smiling and looking thin.

With the introduction of the new ‘bikini class’, a sport that formerly stood as a paradigm of a woman’s ability to compete alongside men has been moved a step closer to being one in which women use their sexuality as a weapon, and men show their appreciation by wolf-whistling from the stands.

It’s a move that repulses Hollie Walcott, sister of England footballer Theo and rising star of the more feminine, all natural ‘figure’ category.

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“For me that made perfect sense, because you kind of change how you see yourself after you have kids: you’re more aware of your body, and you start having more respect for it.Then you get your strength back, and before you know it you’re back in the gym.” When we meet, Jo is slimming down for a calendar shoot – part of a bid to raise money for an operation to replace faulty PIP breast implants – but she says that she long ago overcame the hunger that once drove her to win repeat Welsh nationals and place third in the 2009 UK championships; a hunger that also left her emotionally and physically drained, and on the receiving end of accusations from a daughter who claimed she was being ignored in favour of a weights machine.“Some days I felt as though I was ready to collapse with exhaustion,” she explains.It’s a massive industry in the US, and it’s one that allows me to spend ninety-nine per cent of my time totally focused on my career.

The federation would probably have less of a problem with it if they were making money from it themselves.” Now thirty-three, Lisa has been forging her own path since a departure in her mid-twenties from the Devon and Cornwall police force, where her bodybuilding hobby made her the butt of jokes from male officers.

It wasn’t until she subsequently began training hard that she realised her potential for size and definition; she started to indulge her love of boxing and heavy metal (she recently performed a competition routine to AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’), and found herself spending less and less time with thirty-something female friends whose lives revolved around parenting, and with whom she had little in common.