Anoush Aram Sarkis Belian, from the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, recently became the first Arab-Armenian female bodybuilder to participate and win an Israeli competition — winning the Miss Fitness category in a contest organized by the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA).
The 28-year-old Belian – who has mixed Armenian (her late father) and Arab Christian (her mother) roots — has been tackling stereotypes her whole life. She tells The Armenian Weekly that she grew up playing soccer on a small girls’ team at the Armenian convent in the Old City. She also participated in a beauty contest in 2005.
Belian says the idea of female bodybuilding in her community is still unthinkable for most.
“The community and most Palestinians in general don’t support the idea of a girl lifting weights, having muscles, and competing,” Belian tells the Weekly. “There are no women here that lift weights and have reached this point in bodybuilding. There are lots of girls competing around the world each year; [there are] many Jews and Russian Jews in the sport. But I am the first woman in Jerusalem that lifts weights and competes. You won’t see girls here that train or even go to the gym in the Armenian Quarter.”
Belian trained for one year for the bodybuilding contest that took place in late August in Tel Aviv. She said her win “makes me feel very proud. By being the first, it is like I am writing history.”
Belian said she hopes her triumph will motivate other women in her community to take part in bodybuilding. Speaking to the Weekly, she said: “I hope all this encourages the youth to be more active in sports. Perhaps this may be a reason for a new gym for the community. Who knows?”