It is said that every human being has a purpose and the lucky ones are able to find it. Navreet Josan probably does not even know that she has stumbled upon her purpose, but she sure has busted stereotypes on her way.
Navreet is a makeup artist based out of Delhi and works with a major international cosmetics company. A 30-year-old Jalandhar girl, Navreet is also a bodybuilder in the bikini class category. Considered the least bulky of all the women’s bodybuilding categories, the bikini class emphasises muscle tone and symmetry over bulk.
Navreet had an impressive run in 2014 where she not only competed in competitions abroad but did remarkably well. At the NPC New York Grand Prix, 2015, she stood first in the Bikini Novice and Bikini Open competitions; at the NPC Eastern USA Championship, 2015 she stood second in the Bikini Novice competiton; at the NPC Fort Lauderdale Cup 2015, she stood third at the Bikini Novice competition and fourth in the Bikini Open.
However, even though these achievements are remarkable, that is not what this piece is about. It is about how Navreet has brought two seemingly separate worlds together and beautifully made them merge. There is no jarring collision: just a beautiful fusion where she seamlessly moves from talking about whey protein to dishing out make up tips. And this is Navreet’s beauty – the minute you start creating a certain stereotypical picture of her based on just one aspect of what she does, she makes you completely change it. She defies gender stereotypes of all kinds: on one hand, she is competing in bodybuilding, an extremely “masculine” sport while on the other hand she has an extremely “feminine” profession as a makeup artist.
Gender barriers have always existed in the field of sports; even to the most liberal open-minded people there are strong preconceived notions about female bodybuilding. The muscular woman throughout history has always been misunderstood. From having her womanhood questioned to being labelled a freak, the woman with strength has always remained on the periphery of society.
This is why when an “insider” such as Navreet, who conforms to all established standards of femininity, takes up the sport it shatters our worldview.
Navreet, though, is in it for the love of the sport. “I first heard about bikini bodybuilding in 2014 when someone from my sister’s gym was prepping for a competition. I went online and checked out some videos. I couldn’t sleep that night. Those girls had bodies to die for! Since that day, sculpting my body has always given me a high. Prepping for my bikini competition got me hooked. I loved the results and became a gym rat. You can achieve any kind of body you desire through weight training. It’s amazing.”
Her schedule now includes an hour of cardio in the morning followed by an hour of weight training in the evening with six meals through the day. Each meal has some protein, moderate carbs – sweet potato, brown rice and oats — and lots of greens – spinach, lettuce, broccoli, zucchini — and beans.
“Some relatives have never being able to get their head around why I can’t just eat dal roti. When I started my transformations, initially people would laugh at my meal alarms. I think you need a solid willpower to believe what you are doing is right and that it's others who need to adjust their way of thinking. I have got mixed reactions ranging from "Girl, you are putting on too much muscle!" and "You work out too much" to "You inspire me!” This sport requires true grit and discipline on your part and support from those around you, which can sometimes be a challenge.”
What Navreet does not say is that it is a challenge because she is shaking up the established norm.
“Women who take on the struggle of competing in a male dominated sport not only strain their bodily capacities to the max, but work to overcome the politics and derogatory images that are associated with female competitors,” says Leslie Heywood in her book Bodymakers: A Cultural Anatomy of Women's Bodybuilding.
Women have always been made to conform to the notion of what “is a woman” and what “must a woman look like”. Patriarchy never wanted a woman to unlock her own strength because once a woman understood the true power of her body, she understood that she is capable of anything. As Heywood says “When a woman lifts weights, she does far more than strengthen herself physically and psychologically. She strengthens women's place in society and weakens the old patriarchal notions of female frailty and passivity.” The muscles help women fight hegemonic standards of femininity.
Heywood concludes her book with a call for woman to “feel our muscles, our power, our terrible, wonderful, monstrous strengths by replacing light weights with heavy ones, and claiming our right to take up space. . . .”
Navreet too experienced her confidence shoot up when she started seeing her body transform. “It felt very fulfilling. In the gym I had the power and focus I had never felt before. I felt my body changing as I pumped iron further and faster. It made me believe that I was capable of anything. I realised that if you want something despite the challenges thrown at you, you'll find a way.”
However, what Navreet may or may not realise is that she is helping break down cultural barriers associated with certain sports so that more women will be willing to try them out, while fighting patriarchy.
Women like Navreet tell the world you can look feminine and muscular. She is strong, athletic and sexy. And that is why a woman like her must be celebrated.