Her bulging biceps, toned and muscular body are what most men would dream to have. Gurgaon - based Yashmeen Manak, who was recently adjudged Miss India 2016 at a bodybuilding competition, has now set her sights on winning international titles.
Manak, 37, won gold in both the Women's Fitness and Women's Physique category at a competition organised by the Indian Body Building and Fitness Federation (IBBFF).
In a conversation with IANS, Manak spoke about the odds she encountered on her path to make it big in the world of bodybuilding - - a 'men's territory' - - and eventually shattered a series of stereotypes.
"I still don't consider myself a celebrity, " said Manak, adding that she feels "overwhelmed by all the love and attention" she is receiving these days.
Manak, who runs Sculpt Gym in Sector - 14, Gurgaon, is also an avid biker and rides the Royal Enfield Desert Storm 500.
She forayed into the world of fitness 20 years back when after an illness she put on a lot of weight. The taunts from friends and relatives prompted her to get back into shape with a vengeance.
"Those comments pierced me deep inside and I felt bad. I realised that I was losing shape, " Manak said.
She joined the gym at the age of 17 and stated with cardio workouts. "There was no awareness about fitness back then, especially with regard to women. "
"Initially, I did not know that even women can lift weights. I got a bit of an idea on this from a professional bodybuilder and I started weight training. But I had no plans to get into bodybuilding, " she said.
So what made her get serious about bodybuilding?
"When I realised that cardio sessions were gradually eating up my muscle mass, I decided to shape up my body in a certain way that would make me look curvy as well as strong.
"Five - six years back, I started lifting very heavy weights. My coach taught me all the basics, all the right techniques of heavy lifting. I was completely into power - lifting and bodybuilding, " Manak, who weighs 66 kg, said.
Manak asserts that like men, women can also lift heavy weights.
"Women can lift like men, it is just that women are not that strong; but once into weight - lifting, a woman can get stronger than the average man, " she said.
On the negative comments she faces, Manak said she has to deal with remarks like "You look like a man, you should look like a woman, do what women are supposed to do. . . "
"Initially, those angered me but I eventually realised that such men could not attain the level of fitness they desired. They could not digest the fact that a woman has succeeded in shaping up her physique, and the remarks reflected their frustration, " she added.
On the controversial subject of the usage of performance enhancing steroids, Manak said: "There is a lot of misinformation about steroids. Many people misuse it and suffer harmful side effects due to which some countries have banned its usage. "
"It is still a very debatable topic in which people stay mum and don't want to talk about it. . . Even if someone is taking steroids, he or she has to work very hard and eat clean. You need to lead a very disciplined lifestyle. You can't just take steroids, sit at home and see the results, " she said.
Manak revealed that she intends to compete in international arenas in future.
(Pankaj Ghosh can be contacted at pankaj. g@ians. in)