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Sunday, Sept. 22, 2002

Happy doing it her way -- whatever the 'bashers' say

Yumi Sekine, 41, a nurse by profession, began training 12 years ago and has reached levels beyond those of any other female bodybuilders competing in Japan.

After winning the Ms. Tokyo Weight-Class Category Championships in 1995, she began competing in the United States. In 2000, she clinched the middleweight title at Seattle's Emerald Cup, the country's top amateur competition. Last year, though the smallest competitor in her category (61 kg; 157 cm), she was second in the heavyweight category.

News photo
Yumi Sekine poses.

Due to her highly developed physique, Sekine is often the brunt of harsh criticism -- what she refers to as "female-bodybuilder bashing." Here, she talks about "bashing" and related topics.

What attracted you to bodybuilding?

I had always enjoyed art, looking at pictures and sculptures, and I saw bodybuilding as the same thing. I was attracted to the beauty of the body line and the overall balance.

Do you consider yourself an artist?

Yes. When I compete, I go on stage with the pride of an athlete. But before that I consider myself an artist: You express things you have inside.

And do you feel you express them with your body?

Yes. A sculptor sculpts with technique and skill. In the end he or she breathes soul into the sculpture. Only then does it come to life. It is the riches you have inside that emerge and give beauty to the finished form. As a bodybuilder I treasure the riches I possess as a person.

Do you have many male fans?

Yes, a lot of the men who want to get to know me like strong women. Some people want to call that a fetish, but I don't think of it in such negative terms. The one thing that did surprise me was that such men had had to keep their likes hidden because of what others thought of them. In a way it was like women who train and have to face bashing.

What do you think about people who consider female bodybuilders unfeminine?

Everyone has his or her own way of thinking, but I think that a large number of people who say that muscular women are not beautiful are expressing nothing more than a stereotype. I really wonder if deep inside they feel that way. . . . It has long been taboo for women to develop muscle, not only in Japan but also in the United States. Slowly things changed, and women started to pay attention to bodybuilding. With the emergence of pro builders I think there emerged a new culture of female beauty.

And is that what you are a part of?


What is femininity to you?

It's not something external, though there is something you can perceive. The term "feminine" is very vague, and it lends itself to any number of interpretations. So the meaning changes with the interpretation. It's not a definite term, though it sounds like one and people use it as one. It means different things to different people.

If we get away from feminine and just think female, what do you say about people who say female bodybuilders aren't even women?

First of all, I think that such opinions are the result of stereotypical thinking, and also that people are only looking at superficialities. I think such opinions are extremely shallow. You can look at a woman or a person in many ways, from many viewpoints. But to look at just one aspect of a person, such as the fact that they have a lot of muscle, and then say that that person is not a woman constitutes an extremely narrow viewpoint.

I think that in Japan, especially, women have a very narrow concept of themselves. What do you think?

Yes, I wish that people wouldn't allow themselves to be swayed by their environment or by the thinking of others. You have to value yourself more and value what you think and what you want to do.

And if you allow yourself to be swayed?

You won't be living your life as yourself. You'll be living other people's thoughts, others' thinking. The way I see it, God made lots and lots of people. Why? Because it's a good thing to have all different types of people. If there was no need for that I probably wouldn't have been born. It's the same for everyone. Each person has his or her own individuality, own character, and it's the most important thing to live that.

Is bodybuilding to you in any way a rebellion?

That didn't have anything to do with why I started bodybuilding, but I must say that it has been a constant battle since then. As my muscles got bigger and I got stronger, people around me started to change. That's when it started becoming necessary to fight. Of course, I could have just kept quiet, but I wanted to express myself, express what I was.

How did you express this?

If people came to me looking to discuss things, I did discuss with them -- but most people weren't looking to talk. It was very one-way, and to them I either expressed it directly by saying, "You have your way and I have mine," or I simply expressed it by continuing in my training.

So you didn't try to hide what you did?

No. There was a time when I was sorely aware of how many people felt and I felt extremely dissatisfied. I felt under a lot of stress. But then I realized that the reason I was feeling so stressed was that I was trying to fight and there was no need to. The way I am is something that I consider a part of a culture; women who train, who develop their muscles and sculpt their bodies. As far as strength and power is concerned, everyone sees it and I think it's good they see it and feel it -- even if they see it and hate it.

All bodybuilders reduce their body fat to an extremely low level for competition. What do you think about the trend for women bodybuilders to alter the natural body line with breast implants?

I think it's a very unfortunate trend. It looks to me like the women are being manipulated by men's wishes. It's like a fitness version of Playboy.

Do you think this trend is because people are not looking at the women as athletes?

Yes, they're looking at them as women, not athletes; and not just women as humans, but women as their girlfriends, or lovers -- as objects of their desire.

Do you think they have had to compromise for the competition's sake?

That's very likely. It's become a matter of popularity in order to win the contests, and they get swept up in the trend. So what was art now becomes only business, the business of sex appeal. And that I find very unfortunate.

Do you think there are women bodybuilders who have implants to increase their sex appeal?

I'm sure there are some, but I don't think there are any women who are developing their muscles in order to make themselves more appealing to men. If you develop your muscles and your body becomes very muscular then yes, your body may look like a man's -- but that doesn't make you a man. And that's the difference I'd like to emphasize. I can't agree with putting in breast implants to try to emphasize that you're a woman.

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