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Radhika Mettakhun, Bikini Athlete defines the intersection of strength and femininity

by Nikki Kumar

Lifting Expectations!

In the realm of female bodybuilding, pervasive misconceptions often label it as unfeminine, associating muscularity with a loss of femininity. These stereotypes suggest that a muscular physique makes women appear ‘big’ or ‘unattractive,’ contrasting with the idealised image of femininity as ‘small,’ ‘supple,’ and ‘sculpted.’ Such notions stem from societal pressures shaped by the male gaze, imposing narrow standards on what a female body should look like. However, body diversity encompasses a spectrum of shapes and forms, and female bodybuilding, far from detracting from femininity, actually celebrates and accentuates the feminine figure.

Radhika Mettakhun, a 28-year-old bikini athlete, exemplifies this paradigm shift. As a pioneer within the Thai-Indian community, Radhika has turned her initial interest in bodybuilding into a hobby with a passionate full-time pursuit. Achieving prominence through competitions, she embodies resilience and dedication. I had the privilege of meeting Radhika at the Benhanced Performance Center in Sukhumvit Soi 24, where her warm demeanour welcomed me into her world, offering a glimpse into her journey and the transformative power of embracing strength and femininity in tandem. She spoke to Masala further about identity, self-worth, and the power of a good support system.

When did your journey into bodybuilding begin?

During my university years in Vancouver, being around driven individuals and bodybuilders, I found weight training to be a refreshing escape from the structured routine of college life. The moment I enter the gym, my personality transforms. I like the person I become there – strong and confident, embodying the qualities I always aim for. 

Four years ago, I competed for the first time at the Muscle Beach Natural International Show in Los Angeles, California. Though it started as a bucket list goal, I placed first in my class. It was a proud moment, but I chose not to tell my family and most friends, thinking they wouldn’t understand. I still recall the nerve-wracking Greyhound overnight bus ride from San Francisco to LA, surrounded by strangers, fearing I wouldn’t make it to the show.

During college abroad, I balanced a typical student life with an intense gym routine, even commuting an hour for 6am bootcamp classes three times a week. It was surprising that no one questioned my extreme commitment. When I finally told them the truth three years later, they were completely understanding. That competition experience from four years ago shaped my self-discipline and dedication, elevating the standards I set for myself in various aspects of my life.

Could you expand upon what exactly a ‘bikini athlete’ is, and what the process for competitions is like?

 I think bodybuilding is a form of art – your body is a canvas; weights are your brush and nutrition is your paint. The challenge is: how do you facilitate the results within the given competitive standard with the genetics you were born with? 

Women’s bodybuilding competitions are commonly categorised into four categories: Bikini, Physique, Figure, and Wellness, with each category having distinct judging criteria. Bikini competitors are judged by symmetry, and balance of muscle shape and size. Judges look for the hourglass figure or the ‘S’ shape, with a particular emphasis on shoulder muscles, a small waist, and very well-proportioned glutes.

The duration of show preparation varies based on an individual’s background, including their weightlifting knowledge, eating habits, overall lifestyle, and mindset. Successful preparation, typically lasting from five months to two years, hinges on the ability to make significant lifestyle sacrifices, maintain extreme self-discipline, handle isolation, and possess strong willpower.

 What or who inspired you to pursue competitive bodybuilding as a full-time hobby?

As cliché as it sounds, my coach Khun Nittaya Kongthun inspired me to take competition more seriously. An IFBB Pro Bikini Olympian, she’s ranked #1 in Asia and Top 20 globally within five years – and she’s Thai! I wanted to emulate her beauty, success, and powerful mindset. The only way to see what’s possible is to believe and go for it.

While Nittaya initially inspired me, my deepest inspiration will always be my parents. My dad embodies an unwavering commitment to giving 110 percent in everything he pursues, prioritising effort over outcomes. Meanwhile, my mum is a pillar of unconditional support and logical guidance, constantly giving without limits. They are the perfect duo I turn to, especially on the toughest days of competition preparation.

Could you provide some details about your personal background? Have you always led an active lifestyle?

Growing up, my parents encouraged me to explore a variety of extracurricular activities. Swimming, golfing, and ballet became lasting interests, with ballet being my pursuit for 12 years, marking the beginning of my journey in the world of competitive art. I believe the long list of activities were what kickstarted and shaped my discipline growing up.      

 What does a typical weekday look like for you?

I run my life similarly during my off-preparation and on-preparation days. The only difference is the intensity of my gym sessions and diet, managed alongside my work schedule. Closer to show day, my day starts early and extends late. I wake up at 6.30am and hit the gym by 7.15am for morning cardio and weight training. From 10am until late evening, I’m at the office or making off-site visits. On more intense days, I fit in another gym session around 7.30pm or enjoy dinner with family or friends. By 9 or 10pm, I’m usually prepping meals for the next day, sometimes even preparing breakfast for my family. I aim to be in bed by 11.30 pm to ensure I get enough rest.

How does it feel to be a pioneering figure in the Thai-Indian community as a bikini athlete?

I feel very honoured. I stand by expressing and being your true self without any compromise. In my community, there’s an emphasis on concern for others’ opinions when pursuing less conventional paths. However, I believe as long as your actions don’t harm your loved ones, external judgement shouldn’t hold sway.

Did you experience any personal apprehensions before deciding to pursue this field competitively?

Not at all. I knew I wanted to do this, and it was quite hard to muster self-doubt when I am this blessed with overwhelming support from the people I love and care about. 

Have you experienced any pushback or misunderstandings about being in such a non-typical field for someone in the community?

 In fact, there are several common misconceptions about our lifestyle. One frequent assumption is that we spend endless hours at the gym, when in fact, our sessions typically last a maximum of 1-2 hours, not counting cardio. Another misconception is that we avoid carbohydrates, when they are crucial for fuelling muscles and lifting heavy weights effectively. 

While some may think our diet consists solely of chicken and broccoli, there are numerous protein sources and greens available, and sticking to bland foods isn’t sustainable. Many believe being on a diet plan is miserable, but it can be enjoyable if approached creatively with foods you love. 

Additionally, some categorise bikini athletes as models, but our focus and requirements are distinctly athletic. Contrary to the idea that we have no life, balance is essential; although bodybuilding is an individual pursuit, having a coach provides guidance and oversight. Lastly, if someone claims they can’t give up their favourite foods, they might not be suited for this sport, as our dietary choices prioritise muscle fuel over indulgence.

Entering this sport, I’ve mentally braced myself for the fact that many may struggle to grasp the concept. I often overlook comments that seem critical or aimed at bringing me down, choosing instead to give the individual the benefit of the doubt that their perspective is likely based on their own understanding of what the sport might be.

 Could you share with us what your support system is like?

Having a great support system first requires you to be open to who you truly are as a person. That process involves a significant investment of time in self-discovery. If you communicate your personal choices clearly and genuinely to the people closest to you, support should come naturally from their end. I am very blessed to have continuous support from the people I care and love. Some jumped right in with my idea of competing, while others took a bit of time to understand it. Regardless, all of them want the best for me and never stopped believing in me.

Apart from my incredible parents, I couldn’t navigate through months of rigorous training without the unwavering support of my brothers. Their calm presence has been a constant source of strength since the beginning. Whether it’s selecting restaurants that accommodate my dietary needs, accompanying me on lengthy walks to meet my daily step goals, or patiently enduring my mood swings after exhausting days, their support has been invaluable.

“The real question is, have you consistently put in the effort to cherish your body as it deserves?”

Given the field’s focus on physical conditioning, how has it influenced your perception of body image?

 For me, completing shows with my leanest physique can be challenging. Adjusting to a shredded appearance and experiencing the peak definition of my muscles brings indescribable joy. However, gaining back some fat and retaining water becomes necessary to restore hormonal balance and overall health, though it does temporarily affect how I see myself in the mirror.

Growing up, body image has always been a big issue in how I define myself as a woman. Women are told to look and be seen a certain way by the surrounding noise, whose perception of body image differs. Unfortunately, the only way to be happy with how our body looks is to shut out that noise. Women often grapple with the challenge of filtering out constant noise and overcoming pervasive fears, particularly in male-dominated societies where attractiveness is narrowly defined by specific shapes and appearances favoured by men. Women’s bodies are such a beautiful ode to our unique genetics and how we live life. As women, we’re often caught comparing our personal journeys to what others appear to have on social media. But this notion is almost like comparing the moon to the sun. 

Our bodies were never meant to be compared. As much as people think I’m far from this struggle because of how I look, it is still in my thoughts daily. I often find myself staring at myself in the mirror, nit-picking every little curve and line I can improve. but I am committed to continually striving to love and accept my body, aiming to reach a point where external opinions no longer sway my self-perception. The real question is, have you consistently put in the effort to cherish your body as it deserves?

While I can’t alter others’ views on body image, I hope to empower women to cultivate such profound self-love that external influences hold no power over their bodies. Enjoy the changes of your body and mind – they evolve when you give them energy and time to carve them correctly,  and as stress-free as possible. 

What are some insights or lessons about this profession that you discovered after joining, which may not be apparent to outsiders?

Competitive Bodybuilding is not a sport for everyone, just like every other competitive sport out there. It’s alright if people don’t get what you’re going through. I recommend staying vigilant and conducting thorough research before trusting any information or advice blindly. Outside voices can be loud, so be mindful of who you can trust. Your worries and feelings are always valid, hold the people that you can vent to very close to you because you will need it throughout the process. Sleep and health is your top priority – muscles need as much recovery as the mind. Also, your body goes through a lot more than you can see, make sure to balance your ambitions and health. The challenge for this sport is to keep pushing your limit without letting it break you. 

 How do you typically spend your free time?

Family and close friends are my priority. During preparations, most of my energy and focus go to balancing my day with bodybuilding and work. With the time I have left, I try my best to show up for the people that love and want the best for me.

I enjoy occasional trips, but managing my meals can be challenging as I have strict dietary restrictions. Despite this, I strive to maintain a sense of normalcy in my leisure activities, treating my free time as if I were not in competition preparation, except for the food limitations.

Could you offer advice to beginners in bodybuilding and share some motivating factors for those embarking on their fitness journey?

Remove the outside noise and dig deep into what you want for yourself. Whether you’re aspiring to compete, embark on a fitness journey, or adopt healthier habits, follow your passion and take the leap. By doing so, you eliminate curiosity and gain self-discovery along the way, regardless of the outcome.

Having someone who can keep you accountable can go a long way when entering a fitness journey, whether it’s a professional, friend, or gym buddy. The expectation they have for your health and fitness can serve as motivation, driving you to meet and exceed those standards to avoid disappointment.

The key to continuous improvement lies in consistently challenging yourself until discomfort becomes familiar. Achieving this milestone brings an immense sense of pride, fuelling your determination to persevere.




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