Irene Andersen: Not too massive for my world

Over the last few decades I have been involved in or interviewed for many bodybuilding documentaries, particularly on women's bodybuilding. I am disappointed in most of them. The original Pumping Iron, directed by the late George Butler, was an amazing and effective look into the world of competitive bodybuilding, all the more so because it starred the amazing and effective Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But Pumping Iron II: The Women, also created by George Butler, was a lot less successful for so many reasons. I will have to write an article to describe everything that he lacked. Suffice it to say that this film was more of a "reality show" than a very contrived documentary and didn't give much insight into the exciting inclusion of women in the bodybuilding world.

Irene Andersen poses in a leather outfit in the desert Promotional photo by Bill Dobbins. Bill Dobbins

I sat down and had many conversations with George about female bodybuilding about a year before production on the film began, but I'm afraid he just didn't get it. Technically the film was well done, but in terms of telling an important story it just didn't hit the mark.

As I later became known as a photographer and advocate for the aesthetic female muscle, I was contacted by many TV shows and film companies to conduct interviews on the subject. A lot of these projects were pretty well done, but the problem was that they were created by people who basically started from scratch every time when it came to the knowledge of women's bodybuilding. So they all make the same documentary over and over again, from the basic beginnings and without asking or exploring the most interesting and insightful aspects of this subject.

But then came Irene Andersen and her film Too Big For The World. This film is accurate and interesting on the subject of female bodybuilding because pro bodybuilder Irene is the subject being documented. She is to this film what Arnold was to Pumping Iron - the personality that ties the story together. Irene is interesting in many ways. For one, unlike many other female bodybuilders, she has stayed in the sport over time and has had an extensive career. Women in bodybuilding generally retire much earlier than men, that's how tough the sport is usually for them. On the other hand, she is a mother and has managed to combine a full-fledged professional athlete with a normal family life - not an easy task. And finally, she's very tall and muscular, but she makes absolutely no apologies for that. Some might think she's "too big for the world," but she's not. Neither do your many fans around the world.

Bodybuilder Irene Andersen poses on stage at a women's bodybuilding competitionIrene Andersen has had a long career and often finishes in the top 5 in pro competitions these days. Bill Dobbins

The makers of this documentary do not build artificial scenarios to make the film more "interesting". In other words, they're not trying to make a fake reality show out of it. You see the real Irene as her real life is, including her training and preparation for competition. The film does not glorify Irene or her life. It does what a documentary film is supposed to do: it documents the reality of an issue.

Since the film's release in 2016, Irene has continued to compete successfully, more recently contests sponsored by Jake Wood and Wings of Strength. Ever since Jake burst onto the scene, professional female bodybuilding has experienced a renaissance, with more and more incredibly good champions entering shows. Irene, born in 1966, has often made it into the top five. That is quite an amazing achievement.

Muscular woman Irene Andersen poses on the floor in a headdressIrene in costume recalls the time when the Aztecs invaded Sweden. Bill Dobbins

Irene will have to stop at some point - like all competitive athletes at some point. But she will not only leave behind an admirable track record in her chosen sport, but also an outstanding documentary that will give fans and audiences a real enlightenment on what female bodybuilding and her competitive career is all about.

Too Big For The World is available online. If you're a fan of female bodybuilding, or even bodybuilding in general, and haven't seen this - you're really missing out on something extraordinary.


Bodybuilder Irene Andersen poses in the desertIrene Andersen is obviously no longer in Sweden. Bill Dobbins

Irene Andersen Competition History

  • 2021 Ms. Olympia 5th
  • 2021 "Rising Phoenix" 12
  • 2020 Ms. Olympia 5th
  • 2020 The Rising Phoenix 5
  • 2019 Toronto Pro 4th
  • 2019 Puerto Rico Pro 6th
  • 2019 Tampa Pro 8
  • 2019 The Rising Phoenix 3
  • 2018 rfolk Pro 7th
  • 2018 Tampa Pro 8th
  • Romanian Muscle Festival 2018 4th
  • 2017 Puerto Rico Pro 3rd
  • 2017 Omaha Pro 5
  • 2017 Toronto Pro 6th
  • 2017 The Rising Phoenix 13
  • 2016 Tampa Pro 7th
  • 2016 The Rising Phoenix 8th
  • 2015 Omaha Pro 9
  • 2015 Chicago Pro 8
  • 2015 The Rising Phoenix 14
  • 2013 Tampa Pro 10
  • 2012 Tampa Pro 16
  • 2012 Europe Hartford Battle of Champions 16th
  • 2010 Europe Hartford Battle of Champions 16th
  • 2010 Tampa Pro 18
  • 2009 Tampa Pro 10
  • 2009 New York Pro 16
  • 2008 Atlantic City Pro 12
  • 2008Europe Supershow Dallas Pro 4th
  • 2008 Tampa Pro 15
  • 2007 Atlantic City Pro 12
  • 2007 Jan Tana Classic 4
  • 2007 Sacramento Pro 7th
  • 2006 Atlantic City Pro 18
  • 2004 Lucia Classic 1
  • Swedish Championships 2004 1st
    • senior 1
    • Veteran 1
    • couple 4
    • Rookie of the Year
  • 2003 Lucia Cups 1st

Bodybuilder Irene Andersen Promotional photo by Bill Dobbins. Bill Dobbins

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