Woman bodybuilder in Malawi dispels stereotypes


Doreen Kumbatira, 33, second from left, competes with her fellow participants in an international body building ...
Doreen Kumbatira, 33, second from left, competes with her fellow participants in an international body building contest. At a contest in South Africa in October, she placed fifth out of eight contestants in bikini fitness. PHOTO/VOA

In Summary

  • Standing 175 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall and weighing 72 kilograms (158 pounds), Kumbatira takes part in men’s local contests.
  • Kumbatira never intended to become a professional bodybuilder when she first began working out in a gym three years ago. Her intention was simply to build up her strength and confidence. But then she had a realization.
  • Now, Kumbatira has become Malawi’s only female competitor in this male-dominated activity. In October in South Africa, Kumbatira was among the contestants in the Gentle Giant Bodybuilding show. She came in fifth out of the eight female contestants in the bikini fitness category.

In Malawi, bodybuilding and bodybuilding competitions have long been regarded as a male-only activity.

But 33-year-old Doreen Kumbatira is changing that perception. Kumbatira is the only female bodybuilder in Malawi to be actively involved in competitions, and she has made a name for herself in fitness circles.

Kumbatira never intended to become a professional bodybuilder when she first began working out in a gym three years ago.

An avid cyclist, Kumbatira says she went to the gym simply to build up her strength and confidence. But then she had a realization.

“I saw that there are other avenues in bodybuilding especially for women, like, competing for fitness shows, and that’s how I got more interested in bodybuilding, to see what else I can (do) with it.”

Now, Kumbatira has become Malawi’s only female competitor in this male-dominated activity.

Standing 175 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall and weighing 72 kilograms (158 pounds), Kumbatira takes part in men’s local contests.

And, in October in South Africa, Kumbatira was among the contestants in the Gentle Giant Bodybuilding show.

She came in fifth out of the eight female contestants in the bikini fitness category.

“I was very excited about that, and I learned a lot from that experience, and next year, I am sure I will do very, very well.”

Love of sports

A single mother of one child, Kumbatira owes her love of sports to her father, Precious Kumbatira, a former national football (soccer) team goalkeeper who used to take her on his training runs when she was a child.

“We would climb the stairs at Kamuzu Stadium 20 times, up and down, one, up and down, two, until you do 20, and we used to be very physically fit. … So probably she took a little bit of those genes from me.”

Still feminine

Even though Kumbatira seems to have broken the glass ceiling, many Malawi gyms remain male-dominated.

This is largely because women fear bodybuilding will make them lose their feminine appearance, something Kumbatira discounts.

“I still have my feminine curves, I still look like a woman, so it’s because of that. As women, we don’t produce that hormone and we cannot look like men.”

Malawi’s National Weightlifting and Bodybuilding Association plans to engage Kumbatira to promote its sports development program.

Harold Mwayang’ana is its general secretary.

“We will be moving around with her, just to have a talk to some women who may (want) to join the sport because we have seen that other women, they are shunning,” he said.

Kumbatira supports herself with money she earns from baking, graphic designing and architecture, a field in which she earned a degree.

She’s now working on various projects to raise funds to participate in more international competitions next year.

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