More than muscles


Just look at this muscled woman! The photographs tell the story of Bernadine Schwartz’s transformation from a reticent, insecure woman into a happy, self-assured body-building champion.

Today she’s so in love with the sport she’s resigned from her job as manager of an engineering company.

“There is no shortcut. If someone offers you one, warning lights should flash. Looking like this takes hard work and plenty of self-discipline,” says Bernadine, a fitness instructor in Stellenridge near Cape Town.

That means going to gym more than once a day for cardio exercises and weight work. And you have to follow a strict diet.

But she believes it’s worth it. “My personality has changed completely. Before, I wasn’t a friendly person; I know that. I was so uncertain of myself that it influenced my behaviour. I got jealous when my husband talked to other women – and my jealousy was totally unfounded,” she says.

Bernadine says her husband, Kevin, regularly exercised with weights but she was happy with her body and declined his invitations to join him. But then Kevin landed in hospital after he overexerted himself and the doctor recommended he exercise with a friend or relative.

“He nagged me so much I eventually agreed to try.”

At the end of 2008 they began to exercise together. “It was very difficult for me but also psychologically and physically stimulating.”

Change came quickly. “I began to develop self-confidence and became happier, and the tension in the house vanished,” she says.

People at the gym began to ask her why she didn’t enter body-building competitions. “Initially I would just laugh but the more I thought about it the more appealing it seemed.”

In her first competition, in George, she came first in the body-building division for women. That was the first of many trophies. In 2010 she was selected to compete in an international competition in Slovakia. That’s where she won the Super-Athletic Figure title.

Today she’s a qualified fitness instructor, a committee member of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and also a judge at heats, and doesn’t miss her former job as at all.

“I help anyone, whether they want to take part in competitions or just want to look and feel better,” she says. Seeing the change in women’s perception of themselves makes me incredibly happy.”

Her daughter Donna (15) recently took part in her first bikini competition. “It was her choice. I would never let my children do anything they didn’t want to do,” says Bernadine. She’s proud of Donna and grateful for the self-confidence the competition has given her.

Bernadine enjoys posing on stage ? “It’s nice showing people what you’ve worked so hard at” ? and enjoys helping prepare her clients for this moment.

She’s been criticised by people who don’t understand the sport. “You often hear, ‘Look at that woman with the muscles!’ And you hear it from men and women of all ages.”

But whenever she hears someone comment on her appearance or muscles she regards it as a compliment.

“People can’t comprehend that women could also have muscles and that it doesn’t mean they’re masculine or want to be men. I’m very feminine and I like muscles. A woman with a shapely body and muscles looks beautiful.”

This year she’s taking a break from competitions. “The preparation for a competition is too intensive. You can’t maintain the exercise and diet programme necessary for competitions; you’d collapse,” she warns.

But she still exercises hard and eats healthily. “Fitness is a lifestyle,” she says.

CLICK HERE for the gallery

-Suzaan Hauman

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