Over the past many decades, I have been involved with or interviewed for many bodybuilding documentaries, particularly on women’s bodybuilding.  I have been disappointed by most of them.  The original Pumping Iron, directed by the late George Butler, was an amazing and effective look at the world of competitive bodybuilding, made more so because it featured the amazing and effective Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But Pumping Iron II: The Women, also created by George Butler, was much less of a success, for so many reasons. I am going to have to write an article just to detail all that it lacked.  Suffice it to say, this film was more of a “reality show” than a documentary, very contrived, and did not provide much insight into what the exciting inclusion of women in the bodybuilding world was all about.

Irene Andersen posing in leather outfit in the desert
Publicity photo by Bill Dobbins. Bill Dobbins

I sat down and had many conversations with George about female bodybuilding in the year or so before the production of the film began, but I’m afraid he just didn’t get it.  Technically, the movie was well made, but in terms of telling an important story, it just didn’t hit the mark.

Subsequently, as I became known as a photographer and advocate of aesthetic female muscle, I was contacted by many TV shows and film companies to be interviewed on the subject.  Many of these projects were reasonably well done, but the problem was they were created by people who were basically starting from scratch every time in terms of knowing about bodybuilding for women.  So, they all mostly make the same documentary over and over, from the basic beginnings and not asking about or exploring the most interesting and insightful aspects of this subject.

But then along came Irene Andersen and her movie Too Big For The World.  This movie is accurate and interesting on the subject of female bodybuilding because pro bodybuilder Irene is the subject being documented.  She is to this movie what Arnold was to Pumping Iron – the personality that holds the story together.  Irene is interesting in many ways.  For one, unlike many other women bodybuilders, she has stayed in the sport over time and has had an extensive career.  Women in bodybuilding generally retire much earlier than do the men, that’s how hard the sport usually is for them.  For another, she is a mother and has managed to combine being a completive pro athlete with normal family life – no easy task.  And, finally, she is very big and muscular but totally unapologetic about it.  Some may consider her to be “too big for the world,” but she doesn’t.  Nor do her many fans worldwide.

Female Bodybuilder Irene Andersen posing on stage at a female bodybuilding competition
Irene Andersen has had a long career and nowadays often finishes in the top 5 in pro contests. Bill Dobbins

The creators of this documentary do not set up artificial scenarios to make the film “more interesting.”  In other words, they don’t try to make a phony reality show out of it.  You see the real Irene, what her real life is like including her training and preparation for competition.  The movie doesn’t glamorize Irene or her life.  It does what a documentary is supposed to do: it documents the reality of a subject.

Since the movie was released in 2016, Irene has continued to compete successfully, more recently in contests promoted by Jake Wood and Wings of Strength.  Since Jake came on the scene there has been a renaissance of pro bodybuilding from women and more and more incredibly good champions have been entering shows.  And yet Irene, born in 1966, has been frequently able to finish in the top five.  This is quite an amazing accomplishment.

Muscular Female Irene Andersen posing in a headdress on the floor
Irene in costume commemorates the time when the Aztecs invaded Sweden. Bill Dobbins

At some point, Irene will have to retire – as all competitive athletes eventually do.  But she will not only leave behind an admirable record of achievement in her chosen sport but an outstanding documentary that gives fans and audience a real education in what female bodybuilding and her competitive career have been all about.

Too Big For The World is available online.  If you are a fan of female bodybuilding or even just bodybuilding in general, and you haven’t seen it – you are really missing something extraordinary.


Female bodybuilder Irene Andersen posing in the desert
Irene Andersen is obviously not in Sweden anymore. Bill Dobbins

Irene Andersen Competition History

  • 2021 Ms. Olympia  5
  • 2021 Rising Phoenix  12
  • 2020 Ms. Olympia    5
  • 2020 Rising Phoenix     5
  • 2019 Toronto Pro      4
  • 2019 Puerto Rico Pro      6
  • 2019 Tampa Pro       8
  • 2019 Rising Phoenix      3
  • 2018 Norfolk Pro     7
  • 2018 Tampa Pro        8
  • 2018 Romania Muscle Fest     4
  • 2017 Puerto Rico Pro     3
  • 2017 Omaha Pro    5
  • 2017 Toronto Pro      6
  • 2017 Rising Phoenix      13
  • 2016 Tampa Pro       7
  • 2016 Rising Phoenix       8
  • 2015 Omaha Pro      9
  • 2015 Chicago Pro     8
  • 2015 Rising Phoenix     14
  • 2013 Tampa Pro     10
  • 2012 Tampa Pro     16
  • 2012 Europa Hartford Battle of Champions     16
  • 2010 Europa Hartford Battle of Champions     16
  • 2010 Tampa Pro      18
  • 2009 Tampa Pro     10
  • 2009 New York Pro     16
  • 2008 Atlantic City Pro     12
  • 2008Europa Supershow Dallas Pro     4
  • 2008 Tampa Pro     15
  • 2007 Atlantic City Pro     12
  • 2007 Jan Tana Classic     4
  • 2007 Sacramento Pro     7
  • 2006 Atlantic City Pro        18
  • 2004 Lucia Classic     1
  • 2004 Swedish Championships     1
    • Senior 1
    • Veteran 1
    • Couple  4
    • Rookie of the Year
  • 2003 Luciapokalen 1
Female bodybuilder Irene Andersen
Publicity photo by Bill Dobbins. Bill Dobbins