Developing a healthy body image as you grow up in today’s time period is tough. Between heavily photoshopped magazine covers and countless “Instagram models” who only show their followers the highlight reels of their life, it’s no wonder that so many young people — both female and male — develop eating disorders to achieve what they believe is the “perfect” body. Victoria Gonzalez has taken particular issue with the way ultra-thin models are often promoted as the “ideal woman”, so now, she’s working hard to send out a different message: fit is sexy.
There aren’t many people more qualified to speak on the subject than Gonzalez. Not only does she have a doctorate in physical therapy, but she’s also been training BJJ for two years and is an accomplished bikini competitor. Now, she’s in the running to be featured in Maxim magazine and win the accompanying $25,000 cash prize that comes with it.
It’s easy to see why Gonzalez has already made it past round one of the Maxim’s Finest contest — anyone with eyeballs can see that she’s drop-dead gorgeous. But she’s so much more than just a pretty face (and abs that anyone would be jealous of). She’s overcome numerous obstacles to get where she is today, and it started when she tore her ACL in college. The recovery experience was something she describes as “positive and awesome”, and it inspired her to go back to school for physical therapy. “It all began with people helping me, and I wanted to have that impact on others,” she says.
After getting her doctorate, she was “semi-forced” into giving jiu-jitsu a try by her husband, Daniel, who’s a second-degree black belt. She acknowledges that starting jiu-jitsu involved stepping out of her comfort zone, but once she got a taste of it, there was no turning back. Adding jiu-jitsu to her regular (already intense) fitness routine enabled her to compete in both BJJ tournaments and fitness competitions. Before long, she started to see that other people were taking notice of her drive and determination. “I had many women messaging me saying I was so motivating ,and seeing my progress helped them and pushed them to take those steps to being fit and beyond,” she says.
Knowing that her efforts to improve her own life were also helping others to improve theirs pushed Gonzalez to pursue another endeavor: a meal-prepping side business. “All the pieces just seemed to be fitting together, and with all the positivity around me… it kept pushing me and now I am making a name for myself on the fitness competition scene.”
Make no mistake about Gonzalez’s dedication to jiu-jitsu, either — just like every aspect of her life, she gives her 100 percent in the sport, and she has no intention of quitting any time soon. She’s competed five times, and although she’s still “just” a white belt (her academy really makes you work for those promotions), she’s already feeling the benefits that jiu-jitsu has had on her mental and physical well-being. “I am no longer scared walking out to my car in a dark parking lot — I have way more confidence that I can take care of myself in a bad situation. I feel stronger in a functional way. Being a physical therapist, we always try and strengthen your functional muscles that allow you to carry out daily tasks (pushing a door open, carrying groceries). Jiu-jitsu works all these muscles, which is pretty amazing.”
Gonzalez even said that she won her pro card in fitness competition using just jiu-jitsu as her cardio — no running or treadmill work whatsoever. As a fitness expert, she knows the workout you get from this sport is no joke, and as a model, she’s living proof that the muscles it gives you make you look beautiful from the inside out. “For a long time, muscular girls were look down on and told they weren’t ‘girly’ enough,” she says. “To me, a girl or guy who is in shape and fit is very attractive. A girl with muscles, to me, says that girl grinds hard! She busts her butt to be strong. I think people within [the fitness and athletic] communities see it in a similar fashion, but it’s the world and the masses from gender stereotypes that don’t. It’s time to smash those walls and rewrite what ‘sexy’ is.”
To be fair, yes, Gonzalez is clearly blessed with some awesome genes. But the muscles that have defined her body and her success aren’t the result of luck — they’re the product of her hard work and mental strength. Even though most of us will never be fitness models, we can all strive to be both mentally and physically healthier, and that’s the “new normal” she wants to help create. “It’s actually pretty simple: the secret isn’t a secret, it’s consistency. I want to be the reason someone says, ‘I can do this.’ The reason someone says ‘today!’ Not ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week.’ We have so few true role models these days as women. I think it’s important to be one of them. Power in numbers, right?” she says.
The confidence that radiates from Gonzalez is clearly a part of who she is, but she claims that jiu-jitsu has helped tremendously as well. “The empowerment I’ve felt and built from BJJ has been amazing. When anyone feels confident, the sky’s the limit. BJJ has made me see you can break through micro-ceilings on a daily basis, and it’s also helped push me off the mats to strive for new things, new ‘bests’/PR’s, and overcoming new hurdles and obstacles frequently. Plus, the camaraderie is amazing.”
The title of Maxim’s Finest would be so much more than just another accolade to add to Gonzalez’s lengthy list of accomplishments. For her, it’s a way to reach more people — especially more young women — and show them that you don’t have to choose between being strong and being conventionally beautiful. Being featured in such a prominent publication would send the message that if you want to, you can be a total badass while still embracing your femininity and sexuality. More than anything, she wants people to know that regardless of what you look like, being confident and pushing yourself to achieve more is what helps your inner beauty shine outward. “That confidence and positivity snowballs into so many other aspects of life, from work to relationships and everywhere in-between,” she says.
If you’d like to support Victoria and her message, check out her page on Maxim’s Finest and cast your vote!