What made you want to be a bikini competitor?
Natalie Pennington:
When I was 16 I was trying to go into modeling, but most Asians aren’t tall enough. I was right on the edge, so they were constantly telling me to lose weight. It was always, “Five more pounds. Five more pounds.” It wasn’t a healthy look for me at all. At the same time I was working the front desk at a gym, and I saw all these girls training and putting on muscle. They looked fit and sexy and healthy to me, so I decided I’d rather look like that than starve myself to death.

You’re competing, you’re a dentist, but you’re also studying to be a personal trainer. You don’t make enough money from your other gigs?
[Laughs] It comes down to wanting to help people. I just love to see someone who’s overweight start to eat right, work out, and see results. It’s the same with dentistry when someone comes into my office with a not-so-great smile and I’m able to help him walk out with a better smile. The results and the self-esteem that you can give people are big aspects of both jobs.

Do any patients recognize you from competition?
A few guys have recognized me and were excited by it. One guy was like, “Oh, I’m going to start eating more candy so I can see you more.” Yeah, not so clever. Anyway, as soon as he was in the chair, he got all nervous just like anybody else. Everyone is so dental-phobic.

I guess that would make things a lot easier.
It definitely helps with guys hitting on me. Though, one time as a joke, my boss had me e-mail one of my bikini competition photos to one of our patients with a note that said, “Don’t be late to your appointment.” He was sheepish when he came in, but he wasn’t late.

It sounds as though being a strong woman can intimidate a lot of men. What does a guy have to do to get on your good side?
I obviously like someone who hits the gym and takes care of himself. But more than that, don’t take yourself seriously. Nobody’s perfect, so you have to be able to make fun of yourself.

Does he have to have perfect teeth?
A nice smile works to your advantage, but then again, I could fix it up.