Fri, Jan 7, 2022 7:20 AM
Shauna Anderson at her first body-building competition. Photo: Supplied.
Female bodybuilders have not always been celebrated the way they are today. Shauna Anderson saw the societal shift firsthand as she went from being ostracised, to admired for her body. It’s been less than a year since 53-year-old Shauna threw herself deep into her new lifestyle and is already taking center stage at national competitions. She talks to Jonty Dine about her journey.
Back in the 1980’s when Shauna Anderson was grinding away in the gym strengthening her body, her mental health was getting weaker.
Despite looking like she belonged on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Shauna was a racked with insecurity and self-doubt.
“When I was growing up, it was not cool to have muscles. I was embarrassed of them and would cover myself up.”
Shauna says during that period, women who lifted weights were given labels such as ‘unladylike’, ‘weird’, and ‘freak’.
“It was a very different time. Every time I went out, comments were made and never in a positive way.”
The attitudes took a toll on Shauna’s mental health which was unfortunately even more stigmatised at the time.
“I struggled with mental health for years and back then no one talked about it. You had to sneak around to see a doctor or to get a counselling session.”
As society progressed however, so did Shauna’s self-confidence and thankfully her body now also reflects her inner strength.
The 53-year-old has just competed at her first bodybuilding competition against women almost half her age and took the crown.
Shauna first entered the bikini open novice category for women 160cm and under.
Her nerves quickly dissipated as she stepped out on stage.
“I was just so ready to show what I’d worked on, a win for me was just getting on stage.”
Competing against women in their 20’s Shauna won silver in a near perfect performance with judges commenting that she walked out with great confidence.
“My biggest fear was that I would trip in my five-inch stilettos because posing is not my strong point, but I just went out and owned it and my routine went flawlessly.”
She then went on to win gold in the master’s category for women 35 and over.
“It was just such an incredible moment and my friends managed to capture it on video which I sent to parents.”
Shauna says her parents were blown away by her transformation with her father cheekily taking credit for her genetics.
“The calves I have hated my entire life have finally served me well,” she jokes.
As cupcakes with pink buttercream frosting had “kept calling her name,” Shauna was sure to treat herself following the competition.
“If I never see egg whites, fish and broccoli again…”
That evening, Shauna’s friends surprised her with a party and a mountain of all the foods she had been craving for the past few months.
“We had the most beautiful platters and of cheese, chocolate, and lollies.”
She also indulged in the long coveted pink frosting cupcakes however her body did not enjoy them nearly as much as anticipated.
“I couldn’t stop at one, so I inhaled three, but my stomach said no, and they came straight back up about three hours later.”
Shauna didn’t have long to put her feet up however and she was quickly back onto her strict diet and exercise regime as she looks ahead to nationals in Wellington on December 18.
She says it may have taken five decades, but Shauna has finally discovered her “jam.”
“It took 53-years to get here but I may have just found the thing that works for me.”
One of the catalysts to her journey was the ailing health of her parents back home in Canada.
“I can’t be there for them, I can’t change anything, and it’s wasted energy, wishing, hoping and blaming.”
In order not to dwell on the situation, Shauna found a focus.
“I knew I needed to get through this year with something positive.”
So, Shauna turned to what had been her safe haven for decades, the gym.
The final seed came when she saw a confident young woman amid her own bodybuilding journey.
“We got chatting and she showed me her pictures, I thought ‘wow, smoking!’”
The mystery woman was the final piece of inspiration for Shauna.
“I tried to find her and tell her, but I can’t remember her name.”
It was a now or never situation for Shauna.
“You are never too old, but I knew if I didn’t do now, I’d probably get to my 60’s and 70’s wondering ‘what if?’”
Originally from Canada, Shauna was not commended for her impressive figure back home.
“It’s only really been in the last three to five years that we started celebrating the fact that women are lifting in the gym and just owning who they are.”
She jokes that celebrities such as the Kardashians may have had something to do with it.
“All of a sudden everyone was training glutes, back in my day everyone wanted a small butt and now we want it as big as possible.”
A shift was also seen in the mental health sector where it became much less difficult for people like Shauna to seek help.
“I love the fact people are now open to talk about it with less judgement, It’s not a weakness.”
Shauna says a crucial aspect of her new lifestyle was getting buy in from friends, family and work.
Her husband Winton did not hesitate in encouraging her in her new venture.
“He said ‘if that’s what you want to do babe and it makes you happy then I support you.’”
With her partner on board, Shauna launched herself into the new lifestyle and linked up with Dunedin based fitness coach Sheena Jane.
“I started telling everybody about this journey I was on and once you tell enough people, you can’t go back.”
With an online health and wellness business, Shauna says it was easier for her to schedule her training round her job.
Her new routine became intensely regimented.
Getting up at 7am, Shauna heads to the gym for up to an hour of cardio. She then comes home to eat, work, eat and work before 90 minutes of weight training followed by more food.
A final workout sees her walking her two dogs for over an hour and a final meal of the day.
She says the diet can be mundane, but 80 per cent of results are created in the kitchen.
“I realised we need far less than we think we do and certainly far less than a restaurant would serve up.”
One aspect of bodybuilding Shauna did not anticipate would be so difficult was the posing.
“Walking in 5-inch stilettos in a very tiny sparkly bikini covered in tan and glittery frosting is far harder than anyone gives it credit.
She says trying to hold a pose for up to 30 seconds is a workout in itself.
Ensuring her face is constantly lit up with a beaming smile also required some work.
“I had resting bitch face trying to remember the next move,” she jokes.
Shauna says finding something that gives you drive, and joy is crucial for mental health.
"We are in charge of our own destiny choose something that’s going to fire you up every day, go out and make something happen.”
Shauna says we all too often get caught up in envy of others on social media.
“Comparison is the thief of all joy, compare yourself to who you were yesterday.”
She says there are such strong links between a healthy body and a healthy mind.
"You can’t have one in great health without the other, my mindset is rock solid now, the two just fit together so well. I only wish I had the courage years ago, but life is all about timing.”
She hopes her journey will inspire others to take on a new challenge.
“People look at me and think ‘if Shauna can do it, then I can give it a crack! There is always an element of courage required but if you don’t take that first step then what does your life look like in five years?”
Shauna says if your belief cup is not full, reach out and she will fill you with belief.
“I was literally the doom and gloomer a few years ago and I’ve managed to turn that all around. Go out and do whatever it is that makes your heart sing. We are far stronger than we ever think we are.”
She says her journey has been an incredibly powerful one.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
She hopes she can inspire other woman in their 40s or 50’s not to accept their perceived limitations.
“Don’t accept what society tells you how you should be, don’t fit into the box.”