Melly Sevoy, the pioneer of female bodybuilding in Indonesia, knows that true beauty comes from within – her muscles and bulging biceps are just part of the package.

Growing up in Lampung, South Sumatra, as the second youngest of seven siblings, Melly learned about the hardships of life early on: her father passed away when she was 5, and her mother had to work hard to make ends meet.

“I had to drop out of high school because we didn’t have enough money,” she recalls. “Even when I was still in school, I had to work on the side because I didn’t want to burden my mother.”

One day, Melly says, she saw a female bodybuilding competition on TV, and she was blown away by how strong and beautiful the women looked. This is when she first started frequenting a nearby gym, twice a day – one hour in the morning and another one in the evening.

Soon, the other gym members took notice of this determined young woman who always seemed to push boundaries and challenge herself to go one step further. Melly knew that she had found her calling, but she quickly realized that in order to move forward and follow her dream of becoming a female bodybuilder, she needed to leave Lampung.

Her family always supported her, Melly says.

“My family is Muslim, but they have never judged me for participating in competitions where I might have to wear a bikini,” she expains. “They know that I am not doing it to sell my body, but because I have a passion for this sport.”

Moving to Jakarta turned out to be the right decision – but even in the capital, that surely had better facilities and possibilities, it took a while until Melly could gain a foothold in the bodybuilding scene. Everything she knows about the sport, including what kind of nutrition works best for her body, she learned with little help from others – by reading magazines, by experimenting, and by simply never backing down.

Fast forward a few years, and Melly is a well-known personality in the bodybuilding circle. She has entered fitness and bodybuilding competitions, landed a contract with athletic apparel company Reebok, appeared in talk shows and is often invited to be a judge for contests she has paved the way for other female bodybuilders in Indonesia – though the scene is still relatively small, it has been growing steadily over the past couple of years.

Before entering a competition, she has to follow a strict fitness routine with the aim to build mass – which lasts several months and requires a rigorous diet of eating protein, complex carbohydrates and low-calorie greens a couple of times each day. Through the cutting process, she loses excess fat with the aim to give her muscles more definition.

“Whenever I am going through this phase and my husband wants to go out for lunch or dinner, I am taking my own food to the restaurant or otherwise I am driving the chefs crazy with my detailed instructions,” Melly laughs. “It is also kind of ironic if you think about it – you prepare for a competition for months, but then you are on stage only for a couple of minutes.”

At the moment, Melly is taking a break from competing because she wants to focus on opening her own business first.

“I would like to train other women to become personal trainers as well, but with a holistic approach: being a personal trainer should not be about looking good, but about being healthy,” she notes, adding that she has been trying to teach that lesson to her clients in her many years of working as a personal trainer.

In order to do that, she has to change the mindset of Indonesian women first. Many of her clients ask her to come up with a workout routine that will help them lose weight because they want to conform to the beauty standard of being skinny.

“But that’s not the point,” Melly says. “It’s about having a healthy body. If you are healthy, you feel good about yourself, and this inner beauty will also shine on the outside.”  

Melly, who takes her job as personal trainer very seriously, jokes that it is an all-inclusive service: she comes up with a personalized exercise regime for her clients, advises them on healthy nutrition, acts as a relentless motivator and sometimes even becomes a close confidante regarding her clients’ personal lives.

“It is very important to me that the women I work with have fun doing regular exercise and cooking healthy meals,” Melly explains. “If they enjoy themselves, they will teach their children the same values. That way, it will have an effect on the next generation as well.”

Being a bodybuilder and taking excellent care of her body has helped Melly to become an empowered, strong and self-confident woman – without losing her sense of femininity.

“I will turn 40 soon, and maybe it is time to step back for the next generation,” she says with a laugh. “Perhaps I will still enter a couple of competitions in the future because this is who I am, and it has become a part of me. But I also will take the time to focus on other things. I am also still a wife who wants to take care of her husband.”

She adds that she is thinking about opening a gym where underprivileged children can come in for free, so she can teach them about these values. This is also a way of honoring her own childhood and giving back.

“I will never forget where I am from, and how my mother struggled to raise seven kids on her own, which, in return, helped us to become closer as a family. We always helped each other out,” Melly explains. “And still, despite my humble background, I was able to make my dream come true through hard wark and dedication. That’s why I want to encourage other girls and women to do the same. I want to show them that anything is possible.”

Follow Melly on Instagram @mellysevoymanagement

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge is a previous editor of NOW! Jakarta. An experienced writer and avid bookworm.