WOMEN OF THE ISLANDS - PRISCILLA TUALA-FATA
CLAIMS ADMINISTRATOR & BODY BUILDER
Talofa Lava, my name is Priscilla Tuala-Fata.
I am 42 years old and I am the eldest twin out of my sister and I, and the second oldest in our aiga. I was born in Auckland, New Zealand and lived there until the age of 6, then we moved to a much smaller town called Hastings. I am now living in Flaxmere, Hastings where I spent most of my life as a young child to adolescent and now as an adult. I have four children, the oldest being 19 currently attending Victoria University of Wellington and the youngest being only 6 years old. I attended Flaxmere Primary School, Flaxmere Intermediate and Hastings Girls’ High School. My experience at Hastings Girls High School was a great one. I participated in volleyball, basketball and the pasifika group which helped me to make lasting friendships and also helped me to build a stronger connection with my Samoan culture. I work at Choices Kahungunu Health Services as a Claims Administrator for the Midwives. My villages are Leauva’a and Afega. I have never been to Samoa but I'm longing for the day when I do visit and really embrace my Pacifica Heritage.
Last year you won 'Ms Hawkes Bay Physique 2019' and then went on to compete in the Nationals - tell us how you got in to Body Building and your journey to the nationals.
Becoming a bodybuilder was a massive dream of mine but as a mother of four I didn't think this would be possible for me and didn't think there was any way I could do it. With all the stretch marks and loose skin on my body I didn't think any judge would want to see that. In 2017 I went to my first show to watch my friend Seta Vaisigano (who is also Samoan) compete in her first competition. As I watched all of these beautiful ladies up there I could not see one woman who had stretch marks and I definitely thought my dream was not going to become a reality. In 2018 I was invited to be a helper backstage to help prepare Seta for her second competition in the East Coast. It was such an awesome experience and it was then that I noticed so many beautiful ladies with stretch marks, all covered in tan. It was a big eye opener for me and put my head in a different mindset. It was such a good atmosphere with so many beautiful and supportive people around. It was at that moment I knew that, THAT was what I wanted to do. Seta’s Trainer Laura Caton was there and I approached her while having breakfast. I only said two words to her “Can you” and straight away she said “YES”.
My Journey to becoming a bodybuilder started in November 2018 and I wouldn’t have done this without Laura who is an ex bodybuilder (1998 - 2007) Laura gave me the strength and motivation with her ongoing belief in me and encouragement knowing that I could do this sport. There are others who are a part of the crew and have been a part of my journey too: Mel Caton (Laura’s daughter) who was/is my yoga instructor, my mentor, my choreographer for my routine, my friend and also an ex bodybuilder (1998 - 2007). Bex Brown, a personal trainer and dear friend of mine. I would also like to Flex Fitness Hastings! I have felt welcomed and supported by this amazing gym since day one and definitely love working out there, it is also where I have met a lot of amazing people. The last person I would like to mention is my girl, my number one supporter, my eldest daughter Leigh Tuala-Lauvao.
The first bodybuilding competition I entered was held in Taradale, Napier last July and it was for the Hawkes Bay region where I entered in the 'Novice Physique Short Class' category. In every bodybuilding competition there are always two shows - the morning show is for judging where the judges will look at your compulsory poses and the evening show is where competitors perform their rehearsed routines to a song of their choice. The evening show is where the final selection for first, second and third are announced. I came first in the Novice Physique Short class which meant I was then a competitor for the Overall Ms Hawkes Bay Physique award and had to compete against Vanessa Cobb, who had won the Novice Physique Tall Award. To my surprise I won the overall award and won the title Ms Hawkes Bay Physique 2019.
Winning this award meant so much to me, especially with my family there to watch. Hearing their cheers and their loud “get in the middle!” during the pose down really cracked me up, but that’s why I love them. As the winner of the overall award it meant that I was set to compete in the Nabba New Zealand National Body Building Championships 2019 held in Palmerston North. I only had three months to prepare and get leaner and meaner. Straight after my first competition I could have some sweets, my favourite cider and my favourite vegetarian pizza. However, all these luxuries did not last long as I had to get straight back into my routine and strict eating habits. No time wasting and no mucking around just straight into it for Nationals.
My aim was to come first in my class and to also have fun. I was hoping I was not the only one in my class and luckily there was another competitor from the east coast - Sarah Kane-Matete. This competition had the same structure as my first one, yet it was totally different because the top first, second and third winners from all the regions around New Zealand competed for the overall awards. There were about 100 males and females competing, so as you can imagine there were still a lot competing for the overall awards. I was truly blessed to be awarded first place in my Novice Physique Short Class and it was honestly a thrilling feeling. This meant I had to compete for the Overall Ms New Zealand Physique 2019 title.
Unfortunately, I didn't get the title but I was happy to come first in my class for Novice Physique. It’s nothing to be upset about and I was just so glad that I had the opportunity to compete and meet a lot of wonderful new people. Onto the next I reckon ... Bring on 2020!
Is the dieting and training for competition difficult with your Samoan background and upgbringing?
We all love our Samoan food so it was hard to distance myself from the sensational tastes of our island food and the temptation to eat panikeke, sapasui and pisupo when we'd have our aiga to'ona'i - it was a killer. Everytime I'd have my own container of food, my aiga would be eating the island food that we all enjoy and love.
I was that person who would eat whenever I wanted and pick my food here and there. It was not three meals a day, it was a big feed of whatever was in the kitchen at night. When I started my meal plan to gain more muscle and grow, I had to eat six meals a day. That was my struggle. It wasn't one massive meal, it was normal to medium sized portions of food, six meals every day and I also had to weigh my food. No treats, no cheat meals and no alcohol. The most important part of it all was consuming three to six litres of water everyday which basically means going to the fale uila all the time.
In our Samoan culture you wouldn’t expect a female to do bodybuilding. I have never known any Samoan females, other than those I have seen recently, that were interested in the sport. Growing up in a Samoan family showing our bodies was a no, no. Wearing bikinis and showing skin was a no, no. I'd always hear our elders and other members of the family saying “Kaukalaikiki le teine lea” or “shhh moe pi”. It’s really a sad part of life for an Island girl where we're not able to wear those kinds of clothing and we always have to cover ourselves. I grew up thinking that and I still do, even at my age now. Today, for me to wear bikinis on stage and to receive the alofa and support from so many has given me my confidence. I never had that while growing up or even as an adult. Never wore a bikini at all. By doing this, by showing my skin and being comfortable with it, it has heightened my confidence. It was scary getting up on stage in a bikini but you know what ... no one cared about the marks and no one cared about my loose skin. All they cared about was how good I looked on stage and all the muscle gain that I worked on to be there. Like a Samoan Queen!!!!
What have been some of the biggest challenges and lessons along your journey?
A big challenge was self love and appreciation of my body. I actually did something totally out of my element and had a nude photoshoot at Te Mata O Rongokako, photographed by my good friend Tarrise Kingi. It wasn't a normal photoshoot, obviously, because I was nude and it was something that no-one would expect me to do. My private lady parts were covered of course but the idea was to show skin and make people, especially females, aware that I’m not perfect, I have flaws and that is okay. They should be okay with it too.
There were also people out there that didn’t believe that I could do bodybuilding or that I couldn’t get abs or even build muscles. But you know what, I proved them wrong. To all the females out there, especially in our culture if you believe that you can do it, then do it. Set your goal and your mind and never give up. You will certainly achieve it for sure.
Has bodybuilding changed the way you appreciate beauty in a woman now?
As a 42 year old Samoan woman I have realised how important our bodies are. Having four kids and seeing how our stretch marks are actually a sign of a blessing that we have brought our angels into this world. I would not have thought that at first.
I would have my siblings, especially my sister and sister-in-law, say that it is ok that I have stretch marks and loose skin. They would say “Look at you, you’re beautiful” but it took a very long time for me to understand what they meant. One close friend of mine said to me that it doesn't matter what others see, what matters is what you see and that is beauty. I’ve built up my confidence since competing in my first show. I’ve always felt so ashamed of my body but now I can say I am more confident than ever.
I was self conscious of my body, and had people in my life who would say “cover yourself’ or would look at my stretch marks and screw their faces. I’m not going to lie but at that time of my life I would say the same thing and look the same way as well but I have grown and I am now appreciative of my body. I realise it’s a blessing.
I would like to show other females, mothers, sisters, daughters in all different shapes and sizes and even different ethnicities that it is all right to have our beauty marks, that it is all right to love yourself and to see the beauty within. You're beautiful inside and out and we seem to forget that. We need to learn that our bodies will never be the same, but it is beautiful.
What did your family think about you getting into bodybuilding?
My aiga, they mean the world to me and their input is very important. I have four brothers and a twin sister. I have three beautiful sister-in-laws and a brother in law that I truly adore. I also have cousins who I consider my brothers and sisters that are really close to me. They all have their own families and are living in different places around New Zealand, Australia and even America. We were brought up by my beautiful mother, Sega Va’asili Tuala, the Queen of our family.
I had to ask my first cousin Doris Feaunati some questions… if this was right for me, if I was going to be alright and will it be okay for me to do this kind of sport? I asked her for advice purely because her partner Cindy Kuipers is in the bodybuilding industry, she is a pro figure athlete. She gave me the advice that I needed. She told me to just go for it, do it, never look back and she also said “we getting old cuz might as well do it”. The support that I got from her was way beyond.
As you know I have four beautiful children, Leigh (19), Jaimee (14), Tia (13) and Matenga (6). They are my rock, my angels, my life, my purpose and my everything. You would think yes I will let my siblings know first, but for me I wanted to ask my children if it was okay with them for me to do Bodybuilding. All four of my children were all for it and were all supportive of it. I have mentioned to them that it would be less time with Mummy, but they knew that they would be okay as they had Nana, Uncle and Aunty around to help out. My two girls Jaimee and Tia would ask me what I would look like on stage with the tan, especially with my stretch marks. I honestly told them that I had no clue and that they would have to wait for the day.
My siblings were next in line. I sent them all the same text to say this is it I am going to do bodybuilding. One by one I would get a text from them to say “yes knew you would” and how awesome that would be. That made me really happy and I knew they were 100% supportive and by my side.
My Mum, I had to tell her in person, it wouldn't be the same texting it to her. I was scared to tell her to start with. I didn't know whether she knew that I knew my father did bodybuilding and would not be supportive because of that. I went into the room and said “I’m going to do bodybuilding Mum” She just looked and said “oh that’s good. Is that what you want?” my reply was a definite “Yes”. She was all good with it and I don’t know what I was scared of.
After doing two competitions this year my aiga are still 100% supportive and the alofa from them is priceless. They are all proud of the woman I am now, even asking me for tips and discounts.
What do you love about being a Samoan woman today?
Growing up and watching my Mum Sega Va'asili-Tuala, my late Aunty Makerita Feaunati and Grandma Hine Vaasili, I observed how they lived/live their lives. Knowing what I know from then till now. They had to work hard to get to where they are. The three women that I have mentioned are the most important women in our aiga.
My Mum worked hard being a single parent, owning her own house and living on social welfare having part time jobs here and there. The struggle was real. At the time I never knew what my Mum was going through until I grew up and learned that for myself. Being a single mother is not that easy but you can get by with the help of your aiga. I’ve always kicked myself for not being so understanding in why my Mum was the way she was. I would always go help her clean up the Kimi Ora daycare in Flaxmere so we could finish early, or help pick apples and fill up the bins. I would always moan and get frustrated and hungry. She would give us what she could and what she had at the time and hence why she kept working. My mother would even buy the most expensive shoes for my brothers to play basketball even though she didn’t have much in the bank. She did it because she loved us. That is the kind of Mum I had and am blessed to still have today. Now I’m that Mum with my own kids and I am truly grateful and blessed to have my Mum with us.
My late Aunty Makerita Feaunati would always be there for my Mum (as she is the oldest sibling in my mum’s Aiga), for myself, and for her own kids and grandkids. She was our other gem, our rock. Always showing us the true meaning of being a hardworking Samoan woman. By being a loving wife to her husband, our uncle, Fio Feaunati, an awesome Mum to my cousins and an amazing Nana to her grandkids. I always looked up to her, just how I look up to her daughter; my cousin Doris Feaunati. I said to myself one day I’m going to be just like Aunty Makerita. 2007, Aunty Makerita passed away and I never got to say goodbye to her as I was living in Australia at the time. My heart was broken. But I know that she is up there with our heavenly father looking out for us all.
There is also my Grandma Hine Vaasili. Wow, how blessed am I and my aiga to still have her here in our presence. Grandma came to New Zealand in 1988 with my cousin, Va'asili Uili, and she had no understanding of English. So as she was speaking Samoan to us we would speak english to her. It helped in a way for her to understand but the best way for her to understand was watching soap operas on television. It was quite hilarious but honestly it did work. Now she watches rugby and netball, even the gameshow The Chase and she probably knows all the names of the players and the teams they play in. My Grandma taught us how to respect the elders and do what you are told or else you will get a fasi. But she never did touch us, thank goodness. My Grandma is now 87 years old and still strong as ever. A strong Samoan woman who I admire dearly.
Being a Samoan woman has given me a sense of reassurance that I should be truly grateful to be in my brown skin. I love the culture because of the unique language we speak. I love the culture because of the traditions that come with it. I love the culture because of the beautiful tatau and its meanings behind them. And I love the culture because it has made me who I am. I am honored to be recognized by others as a Samoan woman because it gives me the confidence to be me and to be comfortable in my own skin. I will forever cherish the Samoan beauty within myself and I encourage others too, even other pacific cultures. Thank you to these three women that I have looked up to while growing up. They gave me the strength to better myself and now that I have my own children, I want to inspire them to be the best they can be and to not care about any negativity thrown their way. I want to inspire other polynesian women and let them know that they can do anything to succeed and do their best. To show our younger generation that they should be proud to be Samoan.