Counterpointed by a number of striking tattoos, hers is a body defined by muscle. She is a mother of two who embodies power and strength.
Rene Campbell has dedicated most of her life to sculpting her once diminutive frame into one that, she says, goes “completely against what society thinks a woman should look like.”
The bodybuilder’s dedication has brought plenty of awards but building her dream body — gaining over 85 pounds, going from a UK size 8 to 14 — has had its challenges, too, both physically and mentally.
“I was very insecure about my body image, very insecure about myself as a person,” Campbell, 44, tells CNN Sport from her home in Cornwall, UK, as she reflects on her motivation to transform herself.
“I was constantly feeling under pressure through the media that women needed to look a certain way.”
‘A woman with muscle’
“For quite some time I struggled with eating disorders because I was constantly trying to keep my weight really low, to appear skinny, like these women are on magazine covers,” she says.
Then, she attended a women’s bodybuilding show and became intrigued by the way these seemingly confident women held themselves.
Though Campbell says she loves the way she now looks, she says she is sometimes treated with cruelty, like when she has been asked to leave women’s toilets.
“A lot of the time you are up against a lot of negativity. People set in an old mindset,” Campbell adds.
“I was up against — and still am — a lot of criticism from people who don’t understand why women would want to be muscular. But it just gave me a sense of confidence and mental strength.
“I’m stuck in a situation where I have to prove that I’m a woman in order to use these toilets? It’s quite offensive. I do try and explain to them quite nicely. I may look this way but, at the end of the day, I am a woman. I have every right to use these toilets.”
Studying female bodybuilders
For over a decade, sociologist Dr. Tanya Bunsell has been researching female bodybuilders.
“When I would tell people that I was studying female bodybuilders, the first reaction was, ‘That’s just not attractive,'” Dr. Bunsell, a lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Canterbury Christ Church University, tells CNN Sport.
“There’s definitely a glass ceiling on muscularity, and that crossover boundary where the body becomes transgressive and interrogates people’s notions of male and female.
“The troublesome and disturbing body of the hyper-muscular woman is deemed so outrageously deviant by society that it provokes harsh comments.”
“Even though there is a huge market encouraging women to build abs