By: Amanda Sandström Beijer
Photos: Philipp Fussenegger
Big biceps and a soft heart - Tischa ’The Tigress’ Thomas is the woman behind the 17-inch biceps. From New York to Berlin, Tischa talks to us about her journey into the subculture of female bodybuilding and the world of BDSM.
Current in the documentary film about her journey and strive towards the goal to reach number one in the world of female bodybuilding. The documentary film ’I Am The Tigress’, by Philipp Fussenegger of Fun Fair Films, lifts ’The Tigress’ who behind her huge biceps is also a vulnerable human being who struggles with self-doubt, discrimination and acceptance of others. With much admiration, Playful takes the chance to get to know Tischa better and be inspired by her incredible mentality, as well as her soft heart.
Tischa grew up in Bronx, New York with her mother and older brother. During her first year of college, she got pregnant.
”I had my first child, Jasmine, just before my eighteenth birthday – so I didn’t return to school. Two years later I met and married my first husband.”
I was at my lowest in my self-esteem and at my highest in bodyweight
Together with him she got two more children. They got divorced, Tischa got remarried and divorced again, something that took its toll on her mentally.
”At this time in my life, I was at my lowest in my self-esteem and at my highest in bodyweight reaching my peak at 300 pounds. I decided that I wanted to focus on myself and work on getting back to my high-school weight, which was half of what I weighed at that time. I hired a personal trainer who worked with me.”
”As I approached my goal of 150 pounds, that same trainer convinced me to enter into a local bodybuilding competition. It took nine months to prep for the show and on the big day I not only hit my weight-loss goal of 150 lbs, but I also won my very first show.”
My confidence and self-esteem were non-existent. Bodybuilding means so much to me because it taught me to love myself again
It took Tischa six years to go from amateur to pro in bodybuilding. A sport that has meant much to her, not only as proof of her mental strength, but also as a successful way to fight bad self-image and insecurity.
”Bodybuilding has meant a second chance for me to claim my body back. When I started out on this journey back in 2008-09, I was a few pounds shy of 300 pounds. My confidence and self-esteem were non-existent. Bodybuilding means so much to me because it taught me to love myself again. Bodybuilding gave me the discipline I needed to not just loose the weight, but also to get the confidence and stamina to transform my whole body.”
The challenges have not only been the metal and physical, regarding the body transformation, but also the social challenges of being harassed and questioned.
”The biggest challenge in being a female bodybuilder was always having to gender-proof myself when I was in social settings or just out and about. It used to really get under my skin, but now I try to use these moments to teach and give a better or different perspective of what strength and beauty is.”
Tischa qualified for the world championship after her first year of turning pro, which took her six years of hard focus and discipline to achieve.
At this championship show, a film director from Berlin was holding a casting call for a movie he was working on about a female bodybuilder.
”I went in for the casting call along with about a hundred other girls, and I landed the lead role. That brings me to how I wound up in Germany. I thought that It would be easier to be physically here when the production for the movie started.”
Tischa applied for and got a three-year visa. She gave up her apartment and furniture back in New York, packed two suitcase and headed to Berlin.
” Many of my friends and family think that it was a bold and courageous move. I didn't think it was such a big deal. I knew Berlin was where I wanted to live from my very first visit.”
In the US Tischa was constantly questioned, since many people found that a female bodybuilder was something unnatural – and there were a number of other topics of harassment as well. It has been a lot easier for her to be accepted in Berlin.
”My view on living in Berlin versus in the U.S. is like comparing apples to oranges. It's like night and day the way that society sees and receives me here just as I am.”
”Here many people appreciate and admire my uniqueness, strength, and my fearless confidence to embrace my authentic self. Where I was constantly harassed for my physique over there, I now perform live here in Berlin for the masses that have literally told me ’Thank you for being you’. Which is one of the best compliments that I've ever received.”
”I have been on this body transformation journey for ten years now and it wasn't until the 10th year when I moved to Germany that I actually felt accepted for just being me. It was the first time that I didn't feel like I was standing outside of society looking in, but Instead felt proud to embrace my uniqueness as a female bodybuilder. No one wants to be where they don't feel accepted or where they are looked upon as a freak of nature. That was my daily experience back home. The US may be my birthplace, but Berlin has now become my home. I feel accepted and I feel that I belong here.”
The guys love to be lifted or taken down by a female in a mixed wrestling match.
A side income for some bodybuilders is to work as a dominatrix, or within the BDSM culture, something that Tischa has been doing for almost ten years back in New York.
”I actually got started in the session business offering mixed wrestling matches because of my physique. The guys love to be lifted or taken down by a female in a mixed wrestling match. However, l was never a big fan of offering that service because some guys try to prove a point by really trying to hurt you during the match. So, I started to offer more fetish and BDSM type services.”
The role of a Dom has also taught me how to be confident in myself
”I like to entitle myself Professional Fantasy Facilitator. I help bring to life gentleman's ultimate fantasies. Some may get into the business strictly for the money, but I truly enjoy getting into character according to my client's request and bringing their fantasy into frustration. Also, I feel working as a dominatrix has helped me to find and use my voice as a powerful and assertive woman.”
”The role of a Dom has also taught me how to be confident in myself.”
When coming to Berlin Tischa was offered work as a performance artist and dominatrix at the KitKat Club.