With muscles and tudung, fitness instructor defies beauty and religious norms

Ain tells her critics who slam her gym attire that her dressing is between her and God.
Ain tells her critics who slam her gym attire that her dressing is between her and God.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 6 — Fatin Nur Ain Ramli regularly sports body-hugging apparel associated with physique and fitness models, but tops it off with a piece that is less frequently seen in the arena: the tudung, or headscarf.

The combination of her attire and developed physique gained her minor fame last year, when a local entertainment website republished photographs she had posted on her social media, without her permission.

Ain then became Ain “Sado”; Sado is a colloquial Malay term used to describe muscular people.

With fame came infamy, however, as Muslims unhappy with Ain’s display of her physique began raining criticism on her. Others also made leery comments on her appearance.

Ain’s method of handling the criticism? She simply ignores them and tries to shift the focus from just her physique to the effort and discipline required to achieve this.

“What I am providing to people is how they should see fitness, and the hard work you need to put in to become healthier. If you’re only looking at typing dirty comments, that’s too bad for you. Try to see what I am doing and delivering,” the 25-year-old told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

The fitness instructor said she trains six days a week, doing a combination of cardio for fitness and weightlifting to build muscles.

“I can’t really change how people look at it, especially Malaysian people. Some of them are typical jihadists. I guess this is what you get when you become well known,” Ain said.

She also questioned the amount of controversy her workout clothes has attracted, pointing out that she did not live in body-hugging attire.

Although acknowledging that there were cultural standards for how Muslims women were expected to dress, Ain explained that workout clothes were designed for functionality.

Ain is hoping to change the notion of feminine beauty, especially for Malay women like her.
Ain is hoping to change the notion of feminine beauty, especially for Malay women like her.

“I don’t really wear tight clothes 24 hours [a day]. People don’t understand how people dress up in this industry and comment crudely. But those in this industry, they know very well than those typical kind of Malays,” Ain said with a smile.

The former athlete also said her fashion choices were a matter between her and God.

“There is the Islamic way of dressing but it’s between me and God. What I do is none of your concern, so whatever that I do is between me and God. Slowly, I will try to better myself,” she said.

In the limelight, Ain is now seeking to use her fame to encourage women, especially Muslims, to challenge the taboos and stereotypes that are keeping them away from gyms.

Her plans include possibly opening her own gym at some point, in the hopes of finding others just like her.

Ain said she currently instructs around six clients each day, scheduling these around her own workouts. As with her own training, she prescribes a combination of cardio and weight training, depending on their goals.

“Feminine beauty is being comfortable in your skin and loving how you look. It’s the confidence,” she added.

A family of athletes

Ain’s venture into the world of physique was not entirely accidental; she comes from a family of athletes and was a national rower herself.

While she is now known more for her sculpted body, Ain remains fit and athletic. She has completed several marathons, triathlons and duathlons to date.

Ain demonstrating how she does squats with a 12kg dumbbell.
Ain demonstrating how she does squats with a 12kg dumbbell.

Her father, Ramli Hassan, was a decorated former national rugby player while Ain’s mother, Fatimah Bakar, was a notable sportsman during her school days.

“I was originally a national athlete in rowing. It’s not really a mainstream sport in Malaysia. Not many know it exists. I was rowing for about four years from 2011 up till 2015 and even participated in competitions representing the country,” she said.

Among these were the the University Games in 2012, 2013, and 2014 as well as the International Universities Boat Race between 2011 and 2015.

“Since I was small, I was influenced by my dad. He was a national rugby player and I used to follow him around for his trainings, just to get to know this sports industry.

“Also, I looked up to my dad a lot and I wanted to be like him. You know, how kids view their parents are heroes and try to be like them? It was that for me too,” she said.

Ain is also in the midst of completing her master’s degree in sports science and recreation at Universiti Teknologi Mara. She holds a degree in human sciences from the International Islamic University Malaysia.

Not all rosy

Ain’s story is not entirely perfect, however. As with some teenage girls, she battled an eating disorder during her school days.

She said she struggled with bulimia from 15 to 18. Bulimia is a condition characterised by periods of bingeing followed by induced regurgitation.

“I did go through difficult phases, where I was really very skinny, but I would look at the mirror and feel very fat.

“I had bulimia. How it started was when I was a top performer in studies and sports, but I dropped to number three and below. I was always number one in everything, so I could not take the inferiority,” she explained.

Ain overcame this eventually with the support of her parents. She also ventured into physical fitness on her road to recovery, which is how plain Ain became Ain “Sado”.

“So, my haters out there don’t know my past and yet they take the liberty to comment that way. They have no rights to dictate how I should look,” she said.

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