Fitness models tone it sexy, on-stage and off
Growing up, Linda Cusmano wasn’t fat. But a big bum and big boobs—thanks to her Italian-Portuguese heritage—and chronic bronchial asthma, were enough to attract school-yard jeers, she said. Later, she blanketed the problem with another one: anorexia.
In her mid 20s, while she was recovering from the illness, Cusmano happened to channel-surf past a fitness-modelling competition. Unlike in female bodybuilding contests she’d seen before, these women were softer and prettier, but still hard with healthy muscle. She recognized the significance of the shows immediately: this was how she’d get off the body-hating treadmill.
“Modelling was the last thing I thought about when I was going through all that [anorexia],” she told the Straight in a phone interview between personal-training clients on Commercial Drive. “I found out that to sculpt my body like that, I’d have to eat, and eat well, to turn that around.”
For Cusmano, competing in fitness modelling offered her a goal. Spending up to six days a week at the gym balancing cardio and high-rep, low-weight lifting, she flushed out the post-anorexia fat buildup and put on long, lean, feminine muscle. In her first contest, Ms. Fitness, she placed third in B.C. Since then, she has scooped dozens of local and international awards, and put her achievements to work training other aspiring fitness models.
The 2009 Western Naturals—one of oodles of no-steroids-allowed events across Canada this summer—is set for June 27 in Nanaimo. The fitness models will compete alongside the beefier bodybuilders and the more routine-oriented fitness contestants. For fitness models, the emphasis is on a fabulous, healthy-looking body. As in a beauty contest, they must strut the runway in a swimsuit, an evening gown, and sportswear. They are judged on proportions, symmetry, personality, flexibility, and other criteria. An overly muscular body will lose points.
The cash prizes top out at $150. There’s also the chance to be scouted, as Cusmano was, by fitness-magazine editors needing toned models. But more than that, fitness-modelling competitions offer clients an achievable goal—just as they did for her.
“Some people are leaving eating disorders or recovering from medical issues like cancer,” Cusmano said. “For some, they’re turning 40 and they say they want to get on the stage for a feeling of personal accomplishment. And when you come from that, it’s very hard to go back to a poor lifestyle.”
Indeed, the sport is “growing like crazy”, according to Ocean Bloom, a 12-year competitor and fitness-model trainer who’s based in the West End. Unlike Cusmano, Bloom has always been an athlete. At 21, her unusually muscular frame caught the eye of sports-fashion publications, starting with Flex magazine. Since then, she’s helped hundreds of men and women achieve their goals—motivated, of course, by the stage.
“One man lost more than 100 pounds to compete,” Bloom told the Straight. “One woman was a single mom with four kids and nine horses. She had every reason to not stay with it, and I wouldn’t have been upset with her if she had. But she did it.”
In the past, Bloom also competed in bodybuilding and fitness competitions. Because she can make her body look harder or softer as needed, she can succeed in all three. Fitness modelling appeals to her, she says, because she feels sexy at that smaller size, and still 100-percent fit. Bodybuilding causes her to lose flexibility and become exhausted. Switching to fitness modelling, she said, has helped her career.
“There’s such a high demand to be fit,” she explained. “The look is in. Girls want ripped arms and backs. Before, everyone wanted to look anorexic, like a high-fashion model. Now they want to look healthy.”
Bloom’s route to being fitness-model shipshape involves balance: one-third cardio, one-third weights, and one-third yoga. Also, clean eating is key. When she’s getting ready for a competition, Bloom revealed, she’s sweating for up to four hours a day.
For both Bloom and Cusmano, women turning 40 are a big market. They want to be in the best shape of their lives, Bloom noted, and they have the discipline to make it happen. The challenge and satisfaction of taking their new bodies on-stage, she said, just provides extra motivation.