With the Gulf’s conservative cultural stereotypes, female bodybuilder Haifa Almusawi won’t be flexing for Bahrain. Because of this, Almusawi is looking elsewhere for the spotlight. At 32 years old, Almusawi started working out ten years ago — battling obesity. She says, “I had a problem with obesity and I used to like bodybuilding.” While growing up, she searched for articles and pictures that covered the sport, “At that age, I didn’t have the experience or know how to become a bodybuilder. It wasn’t easy…bodybuilding for women in our society is rare.”

Once Almusawi started, she couldn’t stop and her family supported her in the journey of dropping the weight. Fast forward to now: Almusawi has numerous certificates from international fitness and bodybuilding associations. In Dubai she works as a weight specialist, coaching men and women. 

Just last month, she placed in sixth in the physique category of the International Natural Bodybuilding Association championships; it was the first drug free competition held in Dubai. At the event, her and a Jordanian woman were the only Arab female bodybuilders.

As of right now, Almusawi is going for a pro-card, which will allow her to compete around the world and become a member of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness. The downfall is that she won’t be able to represent Bahrain or other countries in the Gulf because they do not have a national female bodybuilding team or even female competitions. 

Moving forward, Almusawi plans on traveling to Portugal in October to become a resident and represent European countries. Her Portuguese trainer, Andreia Sousa, will hopefully help make that happen. Musawi says, “This is my dream and I want to fulfill it. If Portugal offers me my dream, then why not? But I hope to represent Bahrain one day.”

Musawi is an inspiration to many Arab women who are developing an interest in the sport and who are still burdened by “social restrictions.”