Consistency and determination transformed Michelle Lewin into the first fitness supermodel.
Gone are the days of the five-foot, nine-inch, stick-skinny supermodels of the 1990s. Today there is a new evolution in physical inspiration that has curves, muscle, and a passion for fitness and weightlifting. Michelle Lewin is one of these new breeds and arguably the world’s most famous fitness model. Almost six million fans on Instagram and five million followers on Facebook agree. People around the world can’t help but be drawn to this inspirational woman, with her combination of classic beauty, a jaw-dropping physique, and contagious passion for fitness.
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Michelle over the last year and was able to catch up with her over dinner in Los Angeles after her epic photo shoot with Per Bernal for Iron Man.
Dr. Cat Begovic: Well, let’s start from the beginning. Where were you born, and where were you raised?
Michelle Lewin: I was born in Valencia, Venezuela. My mom is Colombian, and my dad is Venezuelan. I grew up in a town called Maracay, which is a three-hour drive from the capital, Caracas. Life was not very easy. I grew up in a rich Italian family with my mother and stepfather from when I was one year old until they separated when I was 14. We were left with nothing. No money at all, just an apartment without any furniture and hundreds of cockroaches. That was a very traumatic experience, and we both lost a lot of weight since we simply couldn’t buy food. Our neighbors sometimes gave us sandwiches so we wouldn’t starve to death. Luckily we had the confidence and determination to get out of that situation. I started working right after school. It took about three and a half years to have even just a decent life.
CB: What were you like growing up, and did you play any sports?
ML: I was never athletic [laughs]. I can’t do anything with balls, I still swim like a cat, and I’m a slow runner. Growing up, I was so skinny I couldn’t stand seeing myself in the mirror. I was 90 pounds, and my bones were sticking out in places they shouldn’t. So at 17, when things got better, we decided to buy our very first gym membership.
CB: When did your body start to change?
ML: When I got that gym membership, all I wanted was legs. As a teen, I never wore high heels since that made my legs even skinnier. No shorts, no skirts. The leg press was my savior. I started with zero plates and even that was super heavy for me. My legs felt like overcooked spaghetti. I did legs three days a week and nothing else for years!
CB: When did you start getting into fitness, and what was your early career like?
ML: I did that leg routine for years until I met my husband in 2009. Slowly he got me to understand how asymmetrical I was. There was simply no upper body, just enormous quads. So he became my trainer, and it was so satisfying to see the change in my body. The way I carried myself also changed. Honestly, I used to walk around like a monkey with my shoulders pushed forward [laughs], but some heavy rowing and his constant reminder about standing straight helped me out. My career in fitness started later. Before that, I had worked as a glamour model and was on 30 different magazine covers, but there was still never any boom. It was cover after cover, but nothing really happened. But as my body changed, the fitness magazines started to open up their eyes. At the same time, my social media took off like a rocket. In the beginning, it was pretty steamy fitness pics that I was posting, and I could see that it was mostly guys liking it. So I changed the thongs to fitted yoga pants and the push-up bras to sport tops, and the girls started to actually like me.
CB: You told me that you went to a modeling agency in Spain and had a negative experience.
ML: Before I got into fitness modeling, I tried some fashion agencies. My husband and I knew that I didn’t have the height, but hey, it was worth trying! So we went to Milan, Rome, and Barcelona to visit some agencies. In Barcelona, they were plain mean. They saw the freckles on my chest and were disgusted with them and told me they had to be removed. In Venezuela, having freckles is considered high end, so I actually loved my freckles, but at the Barcelona agency, they actually said, “Eeeew!”
CB: Now that you’re the world’s most famous fitness model, what do you think they’re thinking now?
ML: I think they have no idea what fitness modeling is. Actually, it’s probably disgusting to them as well [laughs]. They can keep their skinny tall girls and keep doing what they do. I’m so happy I’m not a part of inspiring young girls to starve themselves.
CB: I know you have to travel a lot in your career. What’s an average day like for you?
ML: My day consists of two workouts: cardio in the morning and weight training in the evening. But that’s the only thing that is constant from day to day. My life is packed with meetings, photo shoots, gym videos, and a lot of traveling. These next two months I have 12 countries to visit.
CB: Whats your current training routine like?
ML: I train six days a week. I do cardio in the morning for 45 minutes and weights every evening. I do all muscle groups once per week, but I focus mostly on glutes and abs, which I train twice a week. I stopped lifting weights for my legs since I had so much size already. I don’t ever train my chest because it puts a lot of pressure on my breast implants. Over the last four months, I stopped training triceps because they were starting to get overdeveloped, so I’ll just do some toning once a month. I really don’t like to take rest days, but I do once a week.
CB: When you’re on vacation, do you ever let yourself go a little?
ML: I try to keep the same schedule even if I’m on vacation. Six months ago, we went to the Dominican Republic for vacation and there was no gym in the hotel and every meal was like a buffet. I wasn’t able to keep up my routine, and it took almost two months to get back in shape. I really learned from that and will never do that again! I’m usually just seven days out from being shoot or competition ready. My body is my career and a business, so I can’t afford to let it go.
CB: You’re famous worldwide. Do the fans ever get too crazy?
ML: The experience at expos really depends on where in the world I go. Northern Europe is very calm. Germany is usually crazy but fun. The US can be hysterical but organized. Latin America and South America are another story. Last time in Colombia for an expo, we were very clear with the organizer how security should be handled. Unfortunately, he underestimated more or less everything. So when I entered the expo hall hidden in my hoodie, it was super quiet. I removed the hoodie and all of a sudden 300 or so people started running towards me. There were three guys trying to hold back the crowd, but it was chaos. The police were called in and six armed police made a ring around me and transferred me to a safe place. Once I had the appropriate security, I had a great time at the expo. I guess I have an awesome story to tell my grandchildren one day!
CB: What sort of security do you normally have? Do you have to travel with a bodyguard?
ML: For a large expo, I need about five security guards to make a ring around me when I’m walking through the crowd or to the stage. Otherwise people pull my hair or grab me. If I’m signing autographs, I just need the lines to be very organized so everyone waits their turn and I can spend time with one person at a time. I don’t travel with a bodyguard, and when people stop me in the street, they are usually super nice and friendly.
CB: What sort of projects are you currently working on?
ML: A lot of people ask me for diet and workout plans. A lot of people ask for mine, but I usually don’t give them my program. The reason why is that we are all so different. Something that might be perfect for my body might not be appropriate for someone else. Imagine a truck using the same amount of gasoline as a Ferrari to reach a goal. The truck wouldn’t even reach halfway and might get injured. I really just want to inspire everyone to be their own best self. I’m working on some e-books and fitness apps to help others achieve their goals.
CB: When we’ve spent time together, you’ve been so wonderful with my daughter. What are your thoughts on having children?
ML: I have said I’m going to have children “in five years” for the last six years [laughs], and I guess I still stick to that. My career is going very well, and I feel I’m just getting started. The timing right now would not be the best. I’ll be honest, I am very concerned about the changes that occur with pregnancy since my body is my trademark and my business.
CB: Do you think the public ever gets the wrong impression about you from your social media?
ML: Yes, they always do. I don’t put personal stuff on my social media. I post motivational and educational stuff. Sometimes the tone might come across as being self-centered, like, “Look at me, I’m the best.” That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to inspire people and give a needed kick in the behind to those who want to make a change but just can’t get to the gym by themselves.
CB: What’s it like to have six million followers on Instagram?
ML: I will never understand the fact that when I post a video, millions have seen it in just a few hours. That is an insane amount of people, and I can never imagine those numbers are actually real people. It’s only when I leave my house and walk the streets having strangers come up to me and recognize me that it becomes reality. But still, I am overwhelmed over the response I get. It is so surreal but so fantastic.
CB: What advice would you give to girls who want to make it in the fitness industry?
ML: I would tell them, “Don’t copy anyone. Just do your thing. No copies have ever reached the top.” I would also tell girls they should have someone managing them. You can’t do it alone. There are too many traps out there. It’s no joke.
CB: What is Michelle doing 10 years from today?
ML: I think about that daily. Seriously. I will hopefully sit back, financially independent, at a beach house with my two five-year-old twins, happy that I was a part of changing the female ideal body worldwide from unhealthy skinny to healthy and fit by just posting videos and pictures with my cell phone.
Story by Dr. Cat Begovic
Photo by Per Bernal