As the Europa Super Show, including five IFBB pro competitions, gets going today in Dallas, folks who haven’t seen promoter Betty Pariso since her fifth-place finish at the Ms. International competition last March are in for a bit of a surprise. The 54 1/2-year-old veteran top flexer has hung up her posing suit, at least as far as bodybuilding is concerned, and is downscaling her 160-to-170-pound physique for civilian life. As in she’s not training. At all.
Can you say transformation in progress?
The 5’6” Texan, who has been competing since 1988 and turned pro in ’96, sported some major female muscle in her career and kept audiences howling with her takeoffs of the top male pros’ posing styles. Now, she says, she on her way back to where she came from, bodywise, with maybe a stop in figure competition. (Yes, you read that right.) As she told photographer Reg Bradford in an exclusive interview for Pump & Circumstance online, “I am a competitor; I don’t see myself sitting around.”
Not that there’s much chance of that. Betty and Ed Pariso operate several business, and staged three big bodybuilding and fitness weekends this year—and she’s also the athletes rep for women’s bodybuilding.
When Reg saw the new Betty at the Battle of Champions in Hartford, Connecticut, a few weeks ago, he had a multitude of questions. The following are some highlights of her answers, including why she decided to stop competing, her thoughts on changing women’s bodybuilding and the amazing journey she’s going through.
Pariso competed five times over the past year and qualified for the ’10 Ms, Olympia three times. Why quit before the big show? Her answer was simple. “I realized I just didn’t want to,” she said. After after her post-Ms. International break, she and Ed did a lot of talking—and decided that it was time for something different. She hasn’t touched a weight since early March.
“I never got into the sport to be as big as I had to become to compete at the level that I’m at,” she admitted. “I think most of the women feel that way, but there’s nothing we can change.”
As the athletes rep she has always tried to champion the points of view of all the bodybuilders. “Every time people say, well, just start picking other people, [I say] is that fair? Is that fair to the person who really is the best at the top? Do you just tell everybody, okay, we’re going to stop the sport for two years and wait till everybody changes and then we’ll start all over again?
“In my opinion that’s some of the reason that the divisions are being added. We had women’s bodybuilding and then fitness. Now you’ve got bikini, you’ve got figure. Because there is no real easy way to make that change.
“People want to compete and they want to train hard and excel and be the biggest and best, and there is a part of me that thinks they should be able to do that,” she said. “It’s difficult to go to the gym and say, I can’t train as hard; I can’t excel here. That’s something that I have already struggled with a little bit.”
Is she serious about competing in figure?
“I’m toying with the idea; I’m not sure; I am a competitor; I have to have a challenge. I don’t see myself sitting around. ”
What about sitting back on her laurels and concentrating on promoting shows and running her other businesses? That’s just not her, Betty explained. “Plus, I’ve always need that motivation of something that I’m preparing for, not just that I kinda want to get in good shape.”
Some people think she’s crazy, she acknowledged with a chuckle. Still, she said, “I’ve been an athlete all my life. So I would like to maybe try figure.”
To those who would say, There’s no way Betty Pariso can do figure, her answer is another chuckle.
“That’s what they told me when I tried to bodybuild,” she said. “I was a model at the time, did some fashion stuff. The girl said, ‘You need to stay in the fitness.’ Of course, she didn’t know that I couldn’t do a flip if I had to.
“That was all the motivation I needed. That pushed a button for me—I’ll show you.”
But can she really get small enough? "I took my body the other way," she said. "I was always 120 pounds, so to get to 140 pounds, which was my goal as a bodybuilder, was a lot of work—and then I had to go up to 170, and still people were saying, ‘She could use more size onstage.’"
Betty was down to 144 pounds, she continued. “The first time that I reached up and touched my shoulder—I think I was in the shower—and it was like a foreign person, it almost made me jump. I thought, Whose shoulder is that?”
Though it was exciting and scary at first, Pariso seems to be enjoying her evolution, “When I look in the mirror, I don’t know me,” she said. “I’ve had to buy new clothes. I ordered a jacket off the Internet and it fit, and Ed said, ‘You look so nice in that.’
“And I got here, and I had so many compliments on how I looked. It was overwhelming. It was very reaffirming; it made me feel wonderful.”
If she does step on a figure stage, it’ll be strictly for fun. “There’s no agenda,” she said. “I have nothing to prove.” Plus, she added “There’s no [worrying about] getting last place—which it’ll probably be. But to think that maybe I could represent another group of women in my age, still doing something, not just sitting back and saying, I’m too old.”
She summed it up this way: “I don’t feel 54, so why do I have to act 54?”
And who could argue with that?
Photos: Betty Pariso at the Europa Battle of Champions in July (top) and onstage at the —’09 Ms. Olympia.