- Which is more difficult, being a competitive bodybuilder or being a competitive fitness pro?
In my case, being a competitive fitness athlete is much more difficult. Why? Simply because in bodybuilding I had a six-month off-season, whereas with fitness I am balancing a lot more: routines, cardio, the weights, and diet. One must find a happy medium. I am so prone to putting on muscle that I really have to watch my diet. Bodybuilding was easier for me because I grow so easily.
- Where is the judging worse: in female bodybuilding or in fitness competitions?
Definitely in fitness. There are no guidelines. I'm not saying this to bash the judges, that is not my intention at all. It would be hard for any person to put me next to Susie Kerry. Put a Timea Majorovia next to Susie Curry and you really are comparing apples and oranges.
The criteria in bodybuilding contests is more clear-cut: muscularity, conditioning, hardness, symmetry. In fitness, they want you hard but not too hard. What does that mean? They say, "Well, looks play a part in it." You've got to be pretty in the face with nice hair. There are no specific guidelines.
- Some of the fitness women, while not as big as the female bodybuilders, are extremely lean and muscular. Is drug-use in fitness as prevalent as it is in bodybuilding?
I would ask, is it present? Absolutely. I wouldn't say the severity is as common as in bodybuilding. In bodybuilding it is much more obvious. Certainly, it is very present in fitness.
- I always like to point out that bodybuilders are not the only athletes that use sports-drugs.
Very true. People who are uneducated in sports and sports drug use seem to think that steroids always means testosterone. There are many non-sex hormones containing steroids that endurance athletes utilize to aid muscle recuperation and increase red-blood cell count which helps them with the level of oxygen in their muscles. Sports drug use is very evident in any elite level sport. It's just the most obvious in ours.
- As a female bodybuilder, how far do you think one can go drug free?
With my genetics, I'm very gifted in putting on muscle. I'm very much not normal! I was 19, having trained 3 years and placing top 5 at the Junior Nationals, my second contest. I was competing with girls like Jane Trucka three years out from being a college cheerleader. Could I have continued in bodybuilding drug free and made it to the pro level? No. That's why I came back to fitness. It got to the point where it was either time to drop the hammer or time to turn around.
- Knowing what you know about bodybuilding drugs, and how harsh they can be on female athletes, especially the testosterones, was there ever a time when you said to yourself, "What the hell am I doing?"
I never took testosterone. Because I am enrolling in a PhD program next year I'd like to make it clear here that I never took steroids.
- (Wink, wink.) Me neither.
Just from the bodybuilding lifestyle alone was there ever a point where I said, "What the hell am I doing?" Sure. I was a gymnast for 13 years, and I was so burned out from that but I wanted to stay in the gym. I started weight lifting, put muscle on easily and people encouraged me to compete.
The thing is, bodybuilding, or even fitness, is not and has never been the only thing I do. The problem with a lot of these women is they think they can really do this for a living. That goes for the female bodybuilders as well as the fitness athletes. These women think they can flip around onstage half-naked for a living. I don't. For me it was kind of like, okay, here I am, singing professionally, working on my degrees, running my businesses, and putting on lots of muscle. The muscle gains were hurting the other aspects of what I did. That is what made me say what am I doing? That was the point where I said I can't focus my life on weight lifting.
- You carry a lot of muscle on your frame naturally. Do men hit on you a lot or are they intimidated by your look?
If you asked most professional woman athletes, I think they'd say men are more intimidated not by the muscle but by the discipline. What I get is men who approach me and at first are intimidated because they don't know if I am going to be nice or not. When they talk to me they realize that I am a nice person, then they seem to be intimidated by the discipline.
Most men find it hard to find an hour to be in the gym every day, eight hours to work and four hours to spend with the family. A woman with that type of discipline can be intimidating to many men. It's apparent in women at the high academic levels. I met a woman the other day who has a medical degree, a PhD and a law degree. That's very intimidating for a man to hit on a woman like that. I interpret it as men feeling threatened by our discipline.
- You and King Kamali have gone your separate ways. What did your time together teach you about yourself?
It taught me that your needs and desires from a significant other at age 18 are very, very different from your needs and desires in a significant other at age 24. Let's leave it at that.
- Well said. In general, do competitive bodybuilders make good boyfriends?
This goes for anybody: yes, as long as they can balance their sport and all else that life entails. I've seen the whole spectrum. For someone like King, bodybuilding came first and foremost in his life, before anyone and anything. And that's fine for him, because that works for him. He's made it very good in the sport, very fast, so he's obviously going to put bodybuilding first in his life.
On the other end of the spectrum are men who can balance their sport and a wife, and actually treat her like a wife, a job, their kids. Fitness and bodybuilding is a very selfish sport. You're spending 4 or 5 hours a day focusing on yourself. Whoever you bring into your life on an intimate level has to go in aware of that.
- Put the shoe on the other foot: can a competitive female bodybuilder or fitness athlete make a good girlfriend?
What holds true for the males holds true for the females. It's about balance. There are a lot of women who get into sports and think they can do this forever. Not me. 16 years from now when I am 40, I will not be trying to compete in the Masters Fitness. That's ridiculous to me! Men and women need to realize that they have a limited time in sports, that they should take advantage of that time while not taking advantage of significant others.
- In general, what qualities do you look for in a man?
First and foremost, he must be extremely well rounded. I like men who are well educated. With education comes a respect for authority and the discipline that it took to get there. I like a man who can go to the opera one night and then the next sit in the front row of a Lakers game screaming his head off. Physical attraction plays a part: I like a man who takes care of himself. He doesn't have to be a professional athlete. Having said that, looking back I've had 3 serious boyfriends and they've all been professional athletes. It just worked out that way.
- Kelly and Craig, Bethany and King, Anna Nicole and O.J. Since high school I've been pondering this one: what is it about bad boys that women like?
It's the challenge. You're two people coming from two different sides of the track. Most "good girls" coming up are surrounded by their own type. At the University of Virginia I was surrounded by a million guys who are probably now doctors, lawyers, CEOs, quote-unquote good guys. Then along comes a bad boy. It's the challenge of taming the bad boy.
- Is that possible?
Is it possible? Absolutely. But you have to be able to tame them without letting them change you.
- I've seen some of these off-season guys stagger around beet-red and sweaty at 300 pounds. Do bodybuilders make better lovers?
I think anybody who is into their physique -bodybuilders, fitness athletes, models- has got to be in touch with themselves. And anybody who is that in touch with themselves is a very sensual and sexual person because they are that comfortable with themselves. Do bodybuilders make better lovers? Absolutely! And so do fitness athletes and models!
- Is monogamy in a relationship important to you?
- Has Craig Titus ever hit on you?
No! Craig and Kelly are both good friends. Craig and I had the same trainer back in 1996. I've been friends with them since day one.
- That's interesting given the smack talking that went down between Kamali and Titus some time back. You and King had mutual friends. How do they treat you now that Kamali is out of the picture?
Most of our mutual friends are involved in the industry. We were together six and a half years. I thank God that everybody is mature enough to respect the fact that we no longer date. I know that I am friends with everyone we were friends with when we dated, as I am sure he is.
- You're lucky. That doesn't always happen.
King and I just went our separate ways and that was that. It didn't work out. People seem to respect that.
- Rumor has it that the day after the Jan Tana a female competitor was arrested for importing ecstasy into the United States. Fact is, you yourself are something of an entrepreneur as well, albeit of the legal type.
Better Bodies by Bethany, Inc., is a personal training and nutrition company. I have 3 facilities and 15 trainers under me. The personal training business expanded into gym ownership. I do a lot of online personal training with clients, some of whom I have never even met. I am also working on a mini-clothing line.
- Like Chris Dickerson, I hear you can sing.
I've been singing since I was 5 or 6. I am classically trained. I've had a vocal coach since I was 5. Most people are surprised to learn I can sing opera in 8 different languages. Most people don't realize that when you begin training as a singer, you do not go to your vocal coach and say, "I want to sing like Whitney Houston." You learn the basics of singing: proper breathing technique, tongue and jaw placement, phonics. My voice-type is best suited to opera and jazz.
- Wow! You double-majored in college with one of those majors being singing?
Yes. Double-majored, double minored. I have a BS and MS in Molecular Biology, and a
minor degree in Spanish, and I am going to begin my PhD in Pharmacology soon. Originally the whole point was to go to medical school. But, the way the medical field is progressing with the PPO and HMO takeovers has caused me to steer away from med school and towards Pharmacology and an eventual law degree.
- A PhD in Pharmacology? Are you considering going back into bodybuilding?
I am not, but (laughing)I am sure a lot of my bodybuilding friends will remain close!
- (laughs). Between all your endeavors, how are you able to maintain a balance in your life?
Honestly, I don't sleep! Look at us now, doing this interview at 12:30 A.M.! I'm obsessive compulsive, very anal and I'm very much a perfectionist. A typical type-A Scorpio. I do everything myself because I know what I want done and that I can do it better myself than delegating it to other people. I sleep four hours a night and I always have.
- Whoa! How do you get away with that?
Your body is a clock at the biological level and it will set to anything. People will say, "Oh, the body needs 8 hours of sleep" but that is absolutely not true. You can't set a uniform amount of sleep for every human being because every person functions at a different level. Ever since high school I've gotten by on 4 hours. I think sleep is a waste of time.
- What do they say, "You can sleep when you're dead?"
Exactly. Looking back in history, a lot of geniuses felt the same way. Einstein slept two hours a night. His brain was functioning at a different level than anyone else's.
- In an e-mail you said you were going to be getting some cosmetic surgery done in the near future. Are you doing this for you or for how it will make you look in the eyes of the judges?
For me. Most people are like, "You don't need anything!" But I love to play: making this bigger, taking this out, putting this up here, sucking this over here. Plastic surgery is just fun! (laughs)
- What are your stats now compared to when you were a bodybuilder?
When I compete in fitness, people say "You're so muscular." It takes a Rich Gaspari or Steve Weinberger, someone who has watched me from day one, to say, "Oh, no, she's not." I'm 5'7". My fat is never above 9 or 10%. As a bodybuilder my highest weight was 190. I competed at 163 at the Junior Nationals. Now, I compete at about 138 in fitness and don't let myself go above 150. By early 2003, I hope to be onstage at about 130 and remain there.
- This is going to sound weird but I'm curious. You have a large chest. Does that pose a problem in fitness?
It does. I'm going to get them reduced. Bodybuilding and fitness both have the symmetry category. In bodybuilding, if you have nice, muscular legs with sweeping quads and a flat chest you are always going to look bottom heavy. The judges aren't judging you on if you have implants, they're judging you on if you have symmetry. Is your physique pleasing to the eye? Implants, if done right, will balance a very muscular woman out.
On the other hand, fitness is T and A. The competitors will say, "But we're athletes!" Yeah, whatever. We're T and A girls who can flip around. 9 times out of 10 these girls are blondes. Certainly the judges are not judging us on implants and blonde hair, but if you look at the progression of things, anyone can see exactly where it is going. Implants help your symmetry and can balance the look of your physique.
- Do you think American society puts too much emphasis on youth and beauty in women?
Sure. But they always have. And that's your choice if you choose to be part of it. I've done pageants and modeling. I've chosen to be part of it.
- Do you find it demeaning in any way?
No, not at all. When you get on stage in a bikini in front of 3,000 people, that's you, that's your decision. No one is forcing you to do it.
- There's a double standard that goes like this: if a man has a lot of lovers, many consider him a stud; if a woman has many lovers, a lot of people consider her tarnished goods. What do you think is behind this?
The double standard has always been there. Even back in biblical days. There is something that is very appealing about a woman who respects herself enough to not sleep around. She values herself and is very choosy. If a woman values herself, there will not be a lot of men who meet her desires, needs and standards. When I meet a woman who has had sex with a lot of men, that tells me she has very low standards and a lack of self-worth.
- Bethany, you're 24 years old. You've accomplished more things than most people accomplish all their lives. What's next?
A PhD and a law degree. More gyms. I have a demo CD in the works; I plan on doing a lot more singing. When I give up fitness, which I see myself doing in my early 30s, I am going to go into professional ballroom dancing. That's something you can do well into your silver years and it will keep you in great shape.
All my life I've always been up at the top of whatever I chose to do, from bodybuilding to the fine arts. Fitness was the first thing where I felt I was being punished for something I worked so hard for. When they come to you and say, "You're too big and too hard," that's like saying, "You lifted too many weights and you dieted too hard." I am going to continue competing until I get my body where I want it to be. Next year I want to present a whole new physique fitness-wise.
Tony interviewed Bethany in September 2002. Tony is a high school teacher and graduate student in New York. The Iron Bug bit him around 15 years ago, and wanted to do the interview for the love of the game.
Bethany currently writes for six current publications: Curl Magazine, DC One
Magazine, Ironymag, Pro Muscle Online, Natural Muscle, and Ripped News. Bethany Howlett can be contacted through her website, www.bethanyhowlett.com. Bethany's web site won Fitness Web site of the year in 2001 and is now redesigned for the 2003 year, contains over 800 pages, and habors a Members Lounge with over 2,500 pictures in it.
Bethany is promoting her own show on October 4, 2003: The 2003 NPC Bethany Howlett Fitness and Figure Classic and Athlete Workshop. It will be located at the Schlesinger Center of NOVA Alexandria Campus; 3001 North Beauregard Street; Alexandria, Virginia 22311.