“It’s a sport that is about passion and going against the grain, going against the norm, and doing something because you love it,” says Roxie Beckles, a retired physique pro.
Bodybuilding is a sport that honors the male and female physique. In the world of female bodybuilding, there are many different classes of female competitors ranging from the slimmer bikini competitor to the more muscular yet feminine physique competitor to the more commonly known classic bodybuilding figure. There are also a number of misconceptions when it comes to the sport including the stigma that competitors may use hormones, steroids, and other performance enhancers to gain muscle mass. Black women with natural hair face even more pressure when competing.
Roxie Beckles, Cassandra Spencer, and Nesha Ward, three women who participate in bodybuilding competitions, shed some light on the challenges and triumphs of the sport they are most passionate about.
Tell us about your background. How did you get started bodybuilding?
Roxie: I’ve been a long time follower of the sport of bodybuilding since I was a kid, and that only intensified as I got older…watching all of those competitions that were on ESPN. I’ve been involved in sports (dance, track and field) my whole life. As far as bodybuilding is concerned, I’ve been interested in the sport since the 80s. I just went from there.
Cassandra: A friend of mine turned me on to the P90X videos. I actually dislocated my knee jumping around trying to make my son laugh while I was doing cardio. I was frustrated and went online and Googled how to workout without hurting your knee. That’s how I stumbled across bodybuilding.com. I saw female bodybuilders, and I was completely blown away that women could look like that and that they could look like that from lifting weights. I Googled again for competition prep, and I came across a lady who did it 10 minutes away from me. I signed up with her. The rest is kind of history.
Nesha: About eight years ago, I just got completely burnt out. I had to do some things for me. I started going to the gym everyday. While I was in there, somebody said ‘you have a good physique. You should think about competing.’ I found a coach who would train me, and I fell in love with weights. Before I knew it, he had talked me into a competition, and I have been training hard ever since.
When did you start competing?
Roxie: 2010 is when I started competing.
Cassandra: 2012. This is going into my fourth year.
Nesha: My first competition was in 2011, and I trained for eight months.
What do you do in order to get prepared for competitions?
Roxie: Every show that you do is going to be different. The regimen is get up; cardio; eat; work; go back to the gym; weight training. That’s as general as it gets. It’s a time commitment. With the gym, my training, my posing, my cardio, and my routine work that can be three to five hours at the gym. That’s what it takes to be at the top of the sport. It’s not something that’s for everyone. It can get pretty intense.
Cassandra: I have a coach. The most I’ve done is a 14 week prep. The average I’ve done is about a 12 week prep, so we plan out three months in advance. I meal prep even in my off season. I workout as I did before. There does come a point in competition prep where you end up doing two-a-days (exercising twice a day). I make sure to buy everything organic. I’m big on supplementation. I’m a Herbalife nutrition coach, and I believe very much in their products. I will be doing my protein shakes twice a day to supplement my diet because I try to eat as much protein as possible.
Nesha: I usually start 16 weeks out from my competition. I start slow, really cleaning up my diet. When you compete naturally, you have to take supplements. I have to eat enough protein so that [I] sustain the muscle. I start getting my budget in order. Competition is very expensive. I train a different muscle everyday. I train a heavy muscle and a small muscle. I always do a back and a bicep. I’ll do legs and glutes. I do something different every single day. I do cardio five days a week. I practice my posing as well. You are in front of judges. If you can’t present the whole package that you’ve built up, then it’s worthless.
We’ve heard stories of female bodybuilders taking all sorts of hormones and supplements to gain muscle mass. Some of it sounds extreme. How much of that is true?
Roxie: Performance enhancing drugs are prominent in every single sport you watch on television and everywhere else. It’s not just in bodybuilding. It’s in all sports. Not everyone uses. It is up to you what you are willing to put into your body and what you’re not willing to put into your body.
Cassandra: Honestly, it wasn’t until last year when I was entering my competition prep season that my coach brought it to my attention. Some women are on performance enhancing things. Some women I found out are on hormones which technically are natural, so they can get away with saying that they’re natural. But they’re taking testosterone. I was really disappointed to be quite honest with you. I think that I could go pro as a natural competitor. That’s what I’m out there to prove.
Nesha: Every single bit of it. When you get on the stage, the competitive force takes over. You have the “bodybuilding girl” that is going away. The reason why they are trying to eliminate that is because of all these drugs. It’s unfortunate that there are very, very few of us who are natural competitors. They don’t think they can do it with the food and the over the counter supplements.
In your opinion, how are black women received in the bodybuilding world?
Roxie: It’s an even playing field nowadays. We’ve got plenty of athletes who are top names that are black females in the sport. You are now seeing all races, all nationalities. Before it was a thing that you couldn’t wear your natural hair. Now you see women with their natural hair. You see girls with locks. The industry is actually more respective and open than it ever has been before.
Cassandra: My first two shows, I competed with natural hair. I literally showed up at the venue with my hair in twists. I took it out, and I fluffed it, and I hit the stage. I was actually told by the judges and my coach, who is a black woman, mind you, ‘don’t do that, there’s no place for that in this industry.’ No matter how much we want to do this for the hard work that you put in at the gym and the body transformation this is a pageant. It’s still Miss America, and you’ve never seen a winner of Miss America with natural hair. They want the big straight hair and the stage makeup. It’s very much about that presentation with muscles.
Nesha: The reality is that we have to be 10 times better than everybody. Black women get upset when I tell them that if you are going to be competitive on that stage, you cannot have natural hair. That is just the reality of it. That is why you will see black women wear wigs because they are covering up their natural hair when they are on stage. A lot of pageantry comes with it.
What are some of the more rewarding aspects of pursuing the sport for them?
Roxie: Getting to that point where I actually turned pro was a very proud moment because I actually got to that goal. That year that I earned my pro card, 2013, a very good friend of mine who is a bodybuilder, we went to the Olympia together which is like the superbowl of bodybuilding. We were at the show and we made a bet. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the sport, and we’re both pros now. We’re both going, and we’re going to do it. In 2014, we were both at the Olympia. Both of us competed on that stage amongst the best in the world. That was another defining moment in the sport for me.
Cassandra: Natural Fit Mom was a hobby that I really, really enjoyed. I had a passion for this, and I feel really good that I’m able to offer something of value to people at large—my passion for fitness. My tagline (the Oprah of Fitness) is about helping people discover their passion by discovering their own is exactly how I feel. I really feel that if I communicate effectively enough about why I love this and what I do, other people will do it to.
Nesha: What has been the most rewarding is the people that I’ve come in contact with. They are like my family. I’m watching them grow. I’m watching my passion spill over to them and them become excited about all of the things that I am excited about like watching their bodies change. The most rewarding thing has been sharing that with other people.
All of these women have a love for the incorporated fitness into their personal lives and also into their professional careers. Here is what these women are doing with their passion.
Roxie: After reaching highest level of the sport, I decided to focus my energy on my business (RoxStar Fitness) and my brand and taking that globally. I love business. I love creating brands. I am now retired from the stage, and I now get to live vicariously through my clients teaching them and getting back in that lane without being center stage.
Cassandra: Natural Fit Mom was invented to chart or chronicle my adventures at competition, and after my first year, I loved it so much I went out and got my personal trainer certification because I wanted more knowledge. I actually struggled with the coaches that I had when I first started, and I wanted to teach myself as much as possible. There’s Natural Fit Body Nutrition which is my Herbalife business which I use to help with the health coaching to help people adopt the healthy lifestyle or healthy nutrition habits. I have now taken women through the experience of hitting the stage. It’s amazing, and I love working with competitors. I get a lot of energy working with Natural Fit Body which is my comp team, and I do all of that around my full-time job as a human resources director.
Nesha: The business is Strong Mind Strong Body. It’s all about the mind first. If you get the mind to do it, the body can do anything you want it to do. We have been actively reaching people one at a time in the community. Most of my clients are transformation people—people like me, who are stay at home moms, who work, who have children. Most of my clients are trying to get weight off and feel good about themselves. We’ve had such good results. I have a team of girls who actually compete now because they’ve seen my journey and what’s going on with me. That is the passion.