A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.
The first ever Indian woman who brought the country on international stage at WBFF (World Beauty Fitness and Fashion) in 2017 and won a Pro Card, had not even thought she’d get into bodybuilding. Exactly one year ago (2016), Bindya Sharma walked out of her strained marriage, and straight into the world of fitness bodybuilding. Since then, she has been building herself, winning laurels for the country, while parenting her two daughters with a lot of love and sass!
Related:To Be or Not to Be – a Parent
Q1. Getting headfirst into Bodybuilding, without any background could not have been easy. How and why did you take this decision?
It all started with my decision to walk out of my unhappy marriage. A mother of two, I was angry, on my own, and on a mission to find a career and provide for my daughters. The fight was not against anyone, but myself, to realise the things I could do and the person I could be.
I had no work experience except for a few modelling projects. I was wondering what I’d do, when one of my friends suggested that I get into bodybuilding. I had been very athletic as a child and had a modelling background, which he persuaded me, could prove to be the best mix for the industry. I was quite apprehensive of lifting weights, gaining muscle, as I was quite lean and skinny. Meanwhile, people spelled out all kinds of misconceptions about bodybuilding due to lack of awareness in the country: “it’s a masculine profession,” “a woman who gets into it would start looking like a man”, and “you are too old for this”. Unaffected by the noise, I decided to get into bodybuilding. What’s the worst that would happen? I’d earn a name for myself? And I did.
Q2. How has the journey been?
Well, it was no cakewalk, but I am extremely thankful for it. In 2016, I started a complete novice, but with the aim of competing on State level under 69 category for bodybuilding. I knew it was a ‘do or die’ situation for me, so I left no stone unturned to get what I had aimed for. I used to work out for up to 16 hours per day every day to gain muscle and lose weight. I lost 14 kgs within two months and emerged a lot stronger physically and mentally. I cracked my state level and got confidence for national. National was in January, 2017 and there I had to wear a bikini. A bikini for the first time that too a G-string one. All this on a stage in front of a crowd of 5000 people watching, making videos and whistling – like an expo open to all, not a sophisticated five-star hotel.
While getting on the stage in the bikini, I kept praying to God for strength to face the people. I told myself to go blind to everything and keep looking ahead at the judges while doing whatever I knew. It felt like a non-swimmer getting into the ocean without any idea how she would survive.
My experience of walking ramp helped me in my presentation skills. I could walk very well. I could dress up very well in terms of the hair, makeup, accessories and styling, I did it all myself. All I knew was that I had one minute of presentation and without thinking I randomly planned my choreography. In that first go, I won my pro card. That’s when I set the benchmark for bikini in India on international stage.
After that, I worked harder and went for Worlds in August the same year. Since I was representing India for the first time, leading designers supported me to look my best. Harsh Khullar did all my clothes. Other leading designers who supported me were Samant Chauhan, Gauri and Nainika, Rohit Bal, Rakesh Aggarwal, Sidharth Tytler and Nikita Tandon.
Thanks to this journey, I became who I am and in 3-4 years bit by bit, I made my home, by working hard to earn everything I own. My life reversed and I changed from being homely and bounded to being self-reliant, smarter and bolder. I’m living my life now.
Q3. While you were striving to make it big professionally, things were not quite stable on personal front. What were the problems that you faced?
A woman, who sets out to take control of her life, has to prove at every step that okay she’s not this, she’s that, she’s not that, she’s this. I, a single woman looking for a safe residential locality made people doubtful. “What if she calls men at her flat and disrupts the society’s moral conduct?” So, the house hunt became difficult.
And when, with the help of my friends, I could finally persuade them that I would not give them a reason to complain, there stood the question of my ability to pay the rent. I told the landlord to do proper paperwork and assured him that I would pay the rent month after month. In case I fail, I’d vacate the house without any questions.
Then again, when I, along with my daughters actually started living in the flat, fending for our safety all by myself was a challenge. Before this, all my life, I had been surrounded by a big family. Now, every single noise or sound would startle me and activate my fear about someone trying to break into the house. For the sake of our safety, I kept a danda in my hand. I used to cry alone. Kitni raaton toh main nahi soyi. Subah 6 baje jab roshni hojaati thi tab hi soti thi (So many nights I did not sleep. I would fall asleep only after the dawn around 6 am). The struggle was real. But that has given me a lot of courage and strength to stand alone and do whatever I want.
Q4. You have come a long way from when you set out to become a bodybuilder. Have you seen a difference in how people perceived you before your success and now?
Initially everybody thought that I was mad because being a “do bachon ki maa” (mother of two children), how could I have worn a “bra panty”. For my orthodox pandit family, this was the limit of getting insulted. “Naak kata di. Log thukege muh pe.”
People were judging me for everything I was doing, but I did not back off. I stayed focused on my work, and when I did make it big, everybody became all sweet and “proud of me”. They’d tell people, “She’s my aunt”, “She’s my cousin” and what not. People started calling me to parties to add glamour to their gatherings, but I wouldn’t go as I’m not a party person.
My mom did not talk to me for a good while for I had broken many rules – walking out of marriage and then wearing the bikini. When I had left home, nobody, not even my own family, asked me if I needed help. They did not visit me for a year, more than that in fact.
Only when you have success, people want to be around you.
Q5. How is your relationship with your daughters? Seeing you break norms every day, what do they think about you – their bodybuilder mom?
We have a very friendly and playful relationship, with a few undertones of motherly instinct. Both the girls are proud of me, and they cheer me for my work and give me the energy to do my best. In fact, the first trophy that I got, was handed over to me by my daughter. To make exercise fun for them, I do extra workout with them.
My elder daughter and I are like best friends. We watch web series like Kissing Booth, and even check out guys together, literally fighting over men like “yeh mera, yeh mera” (This one is mine, this one is mine). But when it comes to her Parent Teacher Meetings, she wants me to look like a ‘mother’. She tells me to wear simple suit, as she fears 12thies might hit on me otherwise.
The younger one flaunts me in her school, telling her friends, “Tumne meri mumma ke biceps dekhe, mumma zara biceps dikhana” (Have you seen my mother’s biceps? Mumma, show your biceps).
Growing up in a home with a bodybuilder mom, their idea of what women can do is different from what the society usually says. So that is great, but having a bodybuilder mom also implies that she might act like your bodyguard and scare people away.
Seeing the state of crimes against women in the city, I want to do everything I can to ensure their safety. Of course, every mother does. Once my elder daughter asked me if she could go to Boka – a club with her friends. I said okay with a heavy heart, but told her that I’d drop her myself and she must come out at 11 pm sharp while I wait for her at Qutub to pick her up.
Q6. In a time when children are already exposed to the internet, how important is it for parents to have one to one talk on difficult topics like periods and sex?
It is important for the parents to have ‘the talk’ with their kids so as to educate them properly about their bodies. I’ve had the conversation about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ with both my daughters very early on. In fact, the younger one learned some self-defence tricks from me, and she now can lock herself like a pro.
With the elder one, I am very frank about everything. On her 16th birthday, I got a champagne and two glasses, said to her, “Let’s drink together”. I want her to know that she can tell her mom everything. She can tell me if she has a boyfriend or if she wants to have sex. Children would do what they want to, so us, parents might as well be open about things tell them the right way of doing things.
As for periods, my elder daughter is already dealing with it and the younger one already knows all about it from all the discussions that we have. She goes around the house helping her sister with hot water bottle for cramps, pads and what not.
Q7. There might be times when you get your periods interrupt your active lifestyle. Do you use period solutions like menstrual cups to better deal with them?
My period problems have changed overtime. Earlier I used to suffer from abdomen cramps and diarrhoea, but now I get bloated. Now the cramps are not much, so I do my cardio moderately and lift weights – not too heavy ones, while avoiding core workout. I don’t stop. Other than this, period flow can be troublesome sometimes. When it is heavy, I have to keep changing the pad every 2 hours.
I have heard of menstrual cups from my trainees, but never tried one. They say it makes periods a lot more comfortable as one doesn’t have to change frequently, nor to worry about leaks or rashes. Will surely try it.
Q8. An advice or message that you would like to give to your younger self.
I want to tell my younger self to strive to become financially independent. Carve out a career path for yourself even if your family is against it and wants to get you married instead. Mine was and they did get me married.
This is my advice to all the youngsters, particularly women, because it is very important for you to become self-reliant, no matter how comfortable you are in your life or happy you are in your marriage. At one point, I was crazy for my husband and I never knew that one day I’d leave home and live without him, you know. But I did after 15 years to take a stand for myself. And not being financially independent made it very hard.
While working, as you earn a certain amount of money, make sure you save. And then get into marriage if that is what you want.
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