Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Colette Nelson, Professional Bodybuilder, New York City

Mention the name Colette Nelson in bodybuilding circles and you can pretty much guarantee the response will be smiles of recognition all around. Over the years she has carved a niche for herself as one of the most respected and admired professional athletes on the circuit. However, what few people realize is that competitive bodybuilding is only one string attached to this woman’s bow: Colette is also a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator, holds a master’s degree in science—and still manages to fit being a hair and makeup artist into her demanding lifestyle. (She also happens to be a bit of an artist when it comes to spray tanning…)

 Photo: Kyle Quest Studios

But it’s the bodybuilding that intrigued me the most, as she’s one of the few competitors who manages to combine extreme muscularity with extreme femininity, which has likely been a key to her astounding success in the sport (check out her site for a rundown of her contest history)—and it’s what made me want to delve deeper into the phenomena of female muscle as the possible new face of beauty. In her own words:

On the Beauty of Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding—at least women’s bodybuilding—is simply a new way of judging beauty. They say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and for those who attend and judge women’s bodybuilding contests, the muscular woman is beautiful. Call her a female Adonis if you will. Now, this may seem like a somewhat arrogant statement but let’s stop to consider this: Do you call the woman who spends hours in front of the mirror doing her makeup arrogant? Of course not, so why should we give this label to the woman who works out hard in the gym and then chooses to display the results on stage? Both are seeking what they deem to be perfection. 

Some may think it’s a huge contradiction and that muscle and femininity—or indeed beauty—cannot go hand in hand. I like to think that in some small way, I and women like me are proving that muscle can be both feminine and beautiful. The qualification to that statement is, of course, as long as it doesn’t go to the extremes of drug use, which many women fall victim to. I’ve never been an advocate of drug use, and yet I have had a very successful career in bodybuilding. I’ve gone about as far as I can go without sacrificing my femininity, which I am never willing to do.

On Femininity
Yes, some women may fall into the trap of taking drugs that threaten their femininity in an attempt to be “bigger and better” than their rivals. And the price they pay is significant—it’s emotionally traumatizing. It’s not unknown for women to begin losing their hair due to “male pattern baldness” and have to shave every day to remove significant facial hair growth. It’s not my place to judge or criticize these women—but should they ask for it, I can offer them my help. That’s how I got involved in the hair and makeup side of competitions. I’m not saying that all my clients are trying to cover up masculinizing side effects of drug use, but there are a small percentage of women for whom this is true and those were the first ones I helped. Now I do hair and make up for all contest categories, from bodybuilding to figure and bikini.

As a female bodybuilder you walk a fine line. You love muscle, and yet you love being a woman at the same time. I have always embraced my feminine side. I love doing my hair, makeup, nails….and I love fashion. Go figure! I think that is what makes me interesting—being a sexy girl with muscles. I may not be the biggest girl when I compete, but I do have decent size. I am just not willing to sacrifice my femininity for size. I also think that more women would be interested in looking like Jillian Michaels with that type of body than to go to the extremes of muscle size that can only be achieved with significant drug use.

 Photo: Dan Ray

On Supplements
I have to touch on the drug issue because, like it or not, it is a part of the sport of bodybuilding. For myself, I have never considered bodybuilding to be my career, so I was never willing to take it to that extreme. You don’t make money in the sport—you make it from offshoots of the sport, be that modeling for fitness magazines, movie work, or whatever. You need to focus on the big picture, and when you take drugs the big picture outside the sport can go from poster to thumbnail size.

In addition, I have a career as a dietician and diabetes educator. I need to be conscious of the image I present to both patients and fellow professionals. For me, drug use would be professional suicide—and let’s face it, I did very well during my competitive career without them!

On Contest Prep
Contest preparation begins about 16 weeks before a show. You start becoming more aware of your hair, your skin, your nails—everything. I don’t color my hair until about two weeks before a competition. That way it’s clean, healthy, and not over-processed. I also exfoliate my skin—more than I would just for myself—to make sure I have no blemishes. I also get facials three weeks before the show and start tanning about 10 weeks prior to competing. I never tan my face—only my body. Tanning can be extremely aging to the skin, and I’m not into that!

 Photo: Dan Ray

On Adolescence
When I was 12 years old I saw pictures in a magazine of Cory Everson and Rachel McLish and liked that look. My dance teacher at the time was muscular and I recall her saying she wanted to be thinner. But I loved those bigger, muscular bodies. Back then I was really skinny—I came from a family of skinny minnies—and I never considered myself as looking good. To me I looked frail and not interesting. At that time I was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which made me feel weak, broken—even damaged. I remember asking my doctor what I could do to make this situation better, and he said I had to pay attention to my diet and start working out. So I started going to the gym at a very young age—I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I went! It gave me a feeling of empowerment. I felt stronger and ultimately more accepting of my body. I got hooked on feeling strong.

On “Attention: Bodybuilder Ahead!”
I really don’t use this body I’ve built as a tool to get attention in everyday life…but I have to admit that I do love attention. People make comments—which are for the most part positive—and I get a kick out of how some people respond to me. Like, they always say, “Oh, I want to arm wrestle you.” I live in New York and the people here are very accepting of individualism, so I rarely get negative remarks aimed in my direction. 

People aren’t used to seeing a woman with muscle, though, so they do stare. We aren’t really brought up to know how to respond to a muscular woman. All I know is that it gives me a level of confidence and strength which I was lacking before, and people can feel that from me. That tempers their response.

On Perfection
Bodybuilding challenges our conditioning about what beauty looks like. With a muscular body you are creating art. I was always classed as “pretty,” but I wanted more. I am a total type-A overachiever—I’ve always been that way. And for me, building my body and reducing my body fat was a logical step toward perfection. When you have toned your body, you have altered it, nurtured it, re-created it—and when you are lifting those weights you feel like a superhero. Bodybuilders may seem neurotic in their attention to detail, but who said that trying to achieve an ideal of perfection would be easy? It may not be easy, but is it worth it? Do I really need to answer that?!

 Photo: Ivana Ford


  1. Intriguing. I love her confidence.

  2. It's a radical take on our bodies, one we don't normally see or hear about--that's why I wanted to talk with her.

  3. As a woman, i find it real hard on how to get a six pack in a month. but this girl is amazing. I wonder what training she had to have that kind of body.

  4. thanks for your sharing, I trustwebsitehostingreviews.com/ appreciate this. keep up the good work