“Too big For The World” Docu Examines The World Of Female Bodybuilding

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By Hanna Aneröd

I’ve always been interested in women who challenge norms in one way or another. I think it’s important that everyone can decide on an identity for themselves and not let anyone else decide it for them.

My husband and I are both interested in training and in people who passionately sculpt their bodies. So when we met the fascinating woman Irene Andersen it was natural for us to make a documentary about her. But by then we didn’t know all the things that were about to happen.

Irene Andersen has always been physically and mentally strong. As a girl she used to wrestle with boys, winning them over. Already as a child she was brave and lived her life the way she wanted, to her concerned mother’s dismay. Like the time she brought home snakes and rats that got loose in the house and left her mother scared to death. Her father who trains race horses taught Irene to be focused and always told her that if she wants to succeed she most give 100 %.

Irene trained in Thai boxing for many years and then she fell in love with building muscles, inspired by the black female 100 meter runners. Since Irene is an artist who loves to paint she saw bodybuilding as an art form and a way of sculpturing the body. She was also inspired by the famous bodybuilders Bev Francis and Lenda Murray – eight time world champion.

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But it wasn’t until Irene was 36 that she competed in bodybuilding for the first time. By then she was a divorced single mother of three children. She quickly became the best in Sweden and earned her Pro card. That brought her to United States, where the big competitions take place – for example Arnold Schwarzenegger’s competition Arnold Classic, and the famous competition Olympia you can see in the cult film Pumping Iron. To compete at Olympia has been Irene’s dream since she was eighteen.

When Irene started competing in bodybuilding is wasn’t long before she realized that many people look at muscular women as freaks, especially in Sweden where you aren’t suppose to be different or stand out. People told her it wasn’t natural for a woman to have muscles and that she looked like a man. This was unpleasant for Irene but she managed to ignore it most of the time. When Irene competed in United States she got a lot of appreciation for her hard work and her muscular physique. This gave her the energy to continue competing and strive towards her goal – to compete at Miss Olympia together with the top female bodybuilders in the world.

But then big changes started happening in the world of bodybuilding. And this is where we are now. This year the European Championship, the World Championship and Arnold Classic decided to shut down female bodybuilding. Irene has known for many years that some people in power in the bodybuilding world doesn’t appreciate that the women get bigger and bigger. But she never thought they would actually remove the female bodybuilders all along. And this has upset both female and male bodybuilders around the world.

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So what is really laying behind the female bodybuilding being removed?

Some say it’s a lack of interest in the sport of female bodybuilders, but there haven’t been any lack of female bodybuilders competing at Arnold Classic. And they do have many fans. Others say the bodybuilder men feel threatened by the women being almost their size. And some say the decision makers at the competitions doesn’t think it’s feminine for a woman to be that muscular and that they prefer the men to be huge, kinda like super heroes, and the women smaller and with more sex appeal.

This brings up the question. What is a woman and what is a man?

There are women who are independent, straight forward, physically strong and even the ”head of the family”. While there are men who have a caring nature, a softer way of being and enjoy taking care of the children and the home. There are also women and men who see themselves as more on the androgynous side. They are neither very feminine or very macho. So who decides what a women should look like or be like? And who says that every woman should be judged on being feminine enough or sexy enough. Isn’t that up to the individual and why does it even matter?

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Irene doesn’t care whether she looks like a ”woman” or a ”man”. She is herself and she happen to be an independent, strong, courageous woman who loves to compete with women AND men. She’s also warm, loving and caring. There’s nothing more important to her than her three children that she has raised all by herself. And her house is full of animals she also takes care of.

So maybe we should start looking at women and men as human beings who come in different shapes and with many qualities instead of forcing people in to already decided roles?

My husband and I are making a documentary called ‘Too Big For The World’ about Irene and about the future of female bodybuilding, and we’re in the beginning of production. We launched an Indiegogo to raise funds to be able to continue filming and get the word out about the film.

We also wanted to start a wider discussion about the film’s subjects even outside the bodybuilding world and start the movement #savefemalebodybuilding.

Some of you might be thinking: ”what’s so important about female bodybuilding?”
Well this film is not only about female bodybuilding, as I’m sure you have already understood by now. It’s about what it represents, and how male and female bodies are perceived. How is a woman supposed to be and how is a man suppose to be? Why can men be big and muscular while women can’t? And why can’t people decide for themselves how they want to live?

This will also be a really cool and inspiring film about female strength. I have to admit I’ve always wanted to make a real girl power film! Because it’s fun and exciting, and Irene kinda is the real life Xena.

Hanna Aneröd is a documentary filmmaker from Goteburg, Sweden. You can contribute to her Indiegogo campaign here.

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29 Comments

  1. Lacey Lace says:

    I hope this starts a major movement in female bodybuilding to where female bodybuilders will get super huge and compete against the biggest male bodybuilders

  2. I think it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that support has been withdrawn from professional female bodybuilding. It encourages the use of steroids, which have various associated health risks and let’s face it, the women who use them have become a halfway house between males and females. They are no longer females. They have developed male characteristics. I think the people who are making this movie are making a large mistake. They are lionising something completely unnatural.

    On the other hand, I have no problem with NATURAL female bodybuilding. Maximising the body within it’s natural constraints is aesthetic and healthy, in my opinion. And on the flip side of the same coin, I would say the same about men’s bodybuilding.

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