West Coast entrepreneur and competitive bodybuilder, Harj Hadani knows all-too well the difficulties that successful women face in the twenty-first century. According to Harj, “balancing the often-conflicting demands of marriage, motherhood, family, friends, and career – and always looking fantastic while you’re doing it – sometimes seems impossible. “It is as if you can not just be a woman you are expected to be Superwoman.”
Harj is not the first woman to note that juggling a career, a family, and a social life, while staying healthy at the same time, seems to require an almost superhuman amount of energy, ambition, and patience. Indeed, many women feel that demonstrating such superpowers is expected of them. This of course isn’t fair and Harj has made it her life’s mission to prove it isn’t true either. “Women can have it all,” she insists, “great relationships, great careers, healthy and happy children, and can maintain their own physical well being while doing so. It is challenging for sure, but it is not impossible.” For Harj, you don’t have to have be Superwoman to live a happy, healthy, and rewarding life. You just need to decide that you are not happy where you are, understand that no one can do this for you, and have the courage to make the changes you need to be happy in your own mind, body and soul.
Harj’s own journey from a career in advertising and marketing to competitive bodybuilder and health and wellness guru began when she sought help for herself for post-partum depression following the birth of her son. “At first, I thought how I was feeling was a result of being a mother to a newborn colicky baby” she recalls. “I wasn’t sleeping much and I thought it would pass. When it didn’t, I started feeling kind of guilty. Here I was with a loving and supportive husband, a newborn baby, this great life so why wasn’t I deliriously happy like I was supposed to be? I came to realize that it was not because I was doing something wrong but instead that I was depressed. Through research I came to understand that this was quite common after child birth and that I did not need to suffer to in silence.” Still nursing, she decided against taking the depression medication her doctor suggested and instead took a health and wellness approach that emphasized regular exercise and better nutrition.
What began as a regimen of self-improvement soon turned into a wonderful opportunity to help others. Noting the improvements in her own energy level and overall wellbeing, Harj launched a website called skinnyroti.com to share exercise tips along with her recipes for quick, delicious, and healthy versions of many traditional South Asian dishes. While putting in the extra effort to get fit and stay healthy Harj also discovered a kind of paradox about time – that the way in which we use it seems to change our perception of it. “The connection between time and energy was something I noticed right away,” she recounts. “For a lot of women, myself included, it often seems as though we simply don’t have enough time to do everything we need to do. What I discovered, though, was that it wasn’t about time, it was about energy. By taking the time to exercise and prepare healthy meals, my
energy level shot up and I was able to accomplish a lot more during the day than I was before. It was like I had more time.”
Even if you feel you simply do not have the time to exercise as much as you would like, Harj insists that you can radically improve your health and wellbeing simply through better nutrition. “It takes just as much time to prepare and eat an unhealthy meal as it does a healthy one,” she says. “One of the things I do on the website is show people how to plan quick, healthy, and tasty meals.” Harj’s specialty is suggesting low-fat, low-carb versions of traditional South Asian dishes, which we all love, but can be very unhealthy. “They do not have to be, though,” she insists. “I’ve come up with some recipes for them that are delicious and nutritious.”
Harj’s introduction to competitive bodybuilding came about almost by accident, as a result of her work on skinnyroti.com. “It’s not like I grew up dreaming of one day becoming a bikini athlete,” she says with a laugh. “How it happened was that I decided to post some professionally-done photos of myself on the site and began to train more intensely prior to the photo shoot. When the photos were posted, people asked me if I was a bodybuilder and whether I was doing it competitively. I had not really thought about it like that, but I guess I already was a bodybuilder. Doing it competitively seemed like the next logical step. So I just did it.” Harj’s success was immediate. She won a series of smaller competitions then won the Overall Bikini Category, Masters at the provincial championship of the British Columbia Bodybuilding Association (BCBBA) in July 2015, and has since competed at a National and now International level of bodybuilding.
During this period, Harj also upgraded her education in order to bring it into alignment with her newfound passion for health and wellness, becoming certified as a sports nutritionist and as a personal trainer. She also launched a line of fitness products through her website. Though both The Insta-Waist and The Insta-Waist Sport are multi-purpose fitness devices, part of the motivation in developing them was to help women reclaim their bodies following childbirth. The two sports belts can aid in reshaping core muscles and help to support the “baggy skin” that results from pregnancy. Harj wants to stress, however, that no line of products, including hers, are going to give you results on their own. “Certain fitness products can help expedite the process,” she insists, “but only if you use them in conjunction with proper diet and a regular work-out regime.
If you want to be fit, you have to eat right and exercise. There are no magic pills or magic devices that are going to do this for you.”
Though Harj’s success as a competitive bodybuilder was immediate, it did not come without a certain amount of adversity. Within the South Asian community, there were some who felt that exposing her body, regardless of how tastefully it was done, was inappropriate, and they made their opinions known to her. Harj took these criticisms with a grain of salt. “People are entitled to their opinion,” she suggests. “What’s important to me is that I present myself respectfully and in a way that I can be proud of. If I have any doubt at all I ask myself, ‘would you want your children to see this?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ I do it. If it is ‘no,’ I don’t. It’s really that simple.”
As Harj continues her competative career, a strong showing will likely earn her a pro-card, making her the first South Asian woman to achieve this in the bikini category. When it’s suggested that she is a trailblazer, challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers for other South Asian women, Harj responds with her characteristic humility, “I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but I’ve also been very fortunate to have the support of my family. I’ve met South Asian women who want to train or compete, but are afraid of what people will think. I’ve also met women who are doing it secretly. This is not the kind of world I want to live in and I hope that by doing what I’m doing, I can help change that in some small way.”
It is hard not to be inspired by Harj’s willingness to share her experiences in order to help others fulfill their dreams of a better life. She share daily tips to help you on her social media platforms, @skinnyroti. Indeed, her message of hope, growth, and personal empowerment through better health is as simple as it is contagious.
Harj wants it to be clear, however, that her journey is far from over. “Doing well at Nationals and getting my pro-card would be fantastic, but there is still so much more I want to do and achieve.” The next step for Harj is to build Skinny Roti into an international brand. “I want to help people everywhere,” she admits. “Women, men, South Asians… everyone, really. You don’t have to be Superwoman or Superman to have the kind of life you want, you just need to be shown how to make better choices. I have a number of products in development that I think will be able to help people live healthier and more fulfilling lives, and I want to share them with the world.” Given what she’s accomplished so far in such a short amount of time, one would be have to be a super-villain to try and stop her.
Story by: Joel Beacon