India’s First Fitness Bikini Model

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In Conversation with Fitness Model Amrit Dhaliwal

She was once labelled as “Canada’s best kept secret since Pamela Anderson.” Today India’s first bikini model Amrit Dhaliwal is in her own league, bridging the gap between the traditions of the past and the aspirations of the future as an Indo-Canadian woman.

Abraxas NU recently spoke with the model about her fitness routine, competitions and a whole lot more…

You were once labelled “Canada’s Best Kept Secret since Pamela Anderson”… Do you view yourself as a sex-symbol?

Wow, that label was given to me almost 10 years ago! I’m pretty sure the secret is out by now. In fact, at that time there were many labels going around to give description to me or my brand. Some of them were: “The Corporate Canadian Chic”, “Punjabi Femme Fatal”, “India’s First Fitness Bikini Model”, “Glamorous Fitness Beauty”, “Beverly Hills Bombshell”.

I don’t really view myself as a sex-symbol. I mean, yes, there are the photographs and my modelling. Those reveal a sense of femininity and sensuality which on the external can definitely be classified as ‘sex-symbol’. When I’m in photoshoots, on stage or at casting calls, I step into another extension of my personality; the one which adores being a female, the delicate yet ever so powerful force within me. I claim my own freedom and expression to celebrate who I am. It’s tasteful, classy, sexy, beautiful and soulful. However, that is the effort of a handful of people on set; the makeup artists, wardrobe stylists, photographers and creative agents who all come together to help produce a story, a mood, a character.

By no means do I wake up every morning, look in the mirror and refer to myself as a ‘bombshell or sex-symbol’! I’m simple, low maintenance and pretty laid back. I mean it’s really easy to capture someone’s attention physically but it is a lot more appealing when there is depth to a person. The ultimate female sex-symbol embodies character, intelligence, confidence, genuinity.

Although I’ve been compared to other sexy-sirens on the merit of physical appearances such as Sophia Loren, Monica Bellucci or Pamela Anderson, I am in my own league bridging the gap between the traditions of the past and the aspirations of the future as an Indo-Canadian woman.

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What made you start modelling? Is this something you always wanted to do?

I started modelling when I was 19 and was signed on by a local agency. It was a hobby for me while I pursued a double degree in Science and Commerce.

I’ve always loved fashion, arts, aesthetics and interior design. I enjoy taking something and elevating it to another dimension of expression which stirs up an array of feelings and emotion. A photograph can evoke so much from within; calm, beauty, mystique, vulnerability…It’s a timeless moment in time.

But the one person who encouraged me at a young age was during my first professional photoshoot with the iconic Canadian photographer Raphael Mazzucco. His photographs have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Victoria Secret, Guess and Calvin Klein campaigns. He has a signature style, photographing models very close-up, revealing all angles of their beauty. So when our 3 hour scheduled photoshoot turned into almost 14 hours, I knew there was something there which I should pursue and not give up on. Raphael gave me the encouragement, excitement and a love for creating. I’ll never forget that day!

The coming together of various artists for a common objective is an energy field and space I love to be a part of. To create something spectacular out of a plain palette. I have every reason to believe that our efforts, that the work models, photographers, stylists and set designers do, can be traced back to artists like Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa. Efforts that create unmistakable works of art, that hopefully will endure lifetimes beyond us, give meaning and purpose to our lives, and nourish those that are inspired. Art, beauty and the attainment of liberty, I love that energy. The group collective and the excitement of the creative pursuit, is it something I have always wanted to do? Yes!!!

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How did you enter the field of fitness modelling?

You know it’s quite interesting because even though I didn’t work out much in high school or University; intuitively, I knew that physical activity/knowledge was missing in my life. One of my key goals was to learn more about health and fitness. With that intention my knowledge came to me with a lot of pain and tears having fallen on our cold Canadian winter ice. A pinched sciatic nerve and a subluxed SI joint forced me to hire Calgary’s best power lifting trainer, Brian Johnston. Power-lifting was my rehab which transformed my life physically and mentally. In little over a year, I was fully recovered with a toned beautiful body, competed in my first fitness show (Women’s Tri Fitness- Las Vegas, 2004) and made a lifestyle change with health as a priority. I guess Canadian winter storms can give you a butt-kicking if you’re not careful!

But seriously, I love the idea of a woman doing intense weights, getting sweaty, and going pound for pound with the boys. It’s a rush to push yourself and conquer your own set limits. To me every set, rep, cardio session is indicative of how I handle my life choices. A determined will and a desire to dream followed by strategic actions are what have led to my success.

Having a naturally gregarious personality, I had my fans right from the start that encouraged me, and set new ambitions that I could go after. Power-lifting was only the start. I was soon competing with other women in various fitness competitions around North America. I immediately began shooting for high profile magazines and was out of the box running after my dreams.

You’ve competed in multiple fitness competitions. Are you very competitive when the time comes to compete?

I think I am my own biggest competition. I take pride in my work ethic and discipline, yet I am also aware of where I may lack and or make excuses. I think most people are competitive by nature. Give them a challenge, a competition, and a group of rivals and you will see fire in most people’s eyes, a smile of self-confidence, pride in their achievement and an experience to be in the spotlight to showcase their hard work. A fitness competition is a chance to excel even beyond your own expectations. It’s a total transformation to your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

In my case, I think I go one level beyond that. I like to think that it’s healthy to be in competition with yourself. No one wants to be stuck in one place. One shouldn’t be complacent about anything in life. Yes, when I have competed in the past, I have been very strict on myself and prioritise the show above everything else in my life. Of course, I want to place top 10, top 5 or top 3. It’s a validation amongst the industry that you have fit into an aesthetic box ‘THEY’ have created to judge you. Having said that, those judges do not define my confidence and attitude to create a name for myself in the industry. In 2009, I became the first Pro Indian Fitness Bikini Model having placed top 5 in a World Competition. I trained hard for 8 weeks to achieve that. However, I felt the real competition starts after that winning moment. It’s what I do with the title to help, inspire and educate others which matters to me. It is kind of like getting a University degree and either using it for your purpose to help others in society or sitting back and marvelling over once upon a time. If I cannot put my knowledge to use, than what’s the point?

After my win, I chose to author my eBook: GLAMFIT SECRETS REVEALED (, wrote columns for various magazines, opened up India as a key market to share wellness by ways of seminars, media/PR, consulting for supplement companies and am now setting up infrastructure to bring about a lifestyle shift for the better. I regard this as my rightful duty now.

A competition is just that, a competition. It’s what you do with that title which means more to me. I’ve been training for 14+ years and still am trying to achieve my ‘best body’; simply for me. I am critical, analytical, tough and disciplined. I set my own vision and goals with a very high bar. Trying to find ways to overcome any obstacles is the sweet victory of life along that journey.

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What accolades have you won?

I don’t like to be defined by others which makes you live in the past, basking in the glories others have bestowed on you. I live for the future, and set new goals for myself all the time. That being said, I am proud and do not want to minimise my efforts because at one time they were also just ideas and thoughts. I am proud that I have been recognised as the First Pro (Indian) Fitness Bikini Model worldwide, that my images have been published in international magazines to share a snapshot of my lifestyle. I have excelled with honorable distinction in my double degree of Science and Commerce. I am a President’s Club Member for private and public companies; turning around multi-million dollars in sales. I am proud to author my book and bring to life a brand close to my heart called GLAMFIT. I am grateful to have travelled the world and lived in incredible cities like Dubai, Mumbai, New York, Beverley Hills, London and Toronto. It has been an auspicious start but I believe it is only the beginning.  There is much more to come and my best times are still in the future. Hard work and persistence give me hope to achieve more accolades which I define for myself.

Since you are an Indian did you face any cultural challenges in fitness internationally?

No, I have never faced any challenges due to being Indian. In fact, it has worked to my advantage because I chose to position it that way. I am valued in the West due to my unique background and being the first internationally published Indian model within the fitness industry and equally valued in the East due to the same reason.

My journey has lasted more than 14 years due to the positive impact or inspiration on peoples’ lives. I am humbled that my actions or a love for health has helped change lives around the world for better.

Tell us about your daily training routine.

Anything worth achieving requires some element of work. Being healthy is a matter of choice and my question is why wouldn’t someone want to take care of their body and well-being? Instead of being reactive to disease why not be proactive and make smart choices for your health. This is the only vehicle we have so why not make it the best ride of your life!

The secret to your best body and beauty resides in a 3-pronged approach – eating, training and resting. There are no magic pills or potions just a dedicated decision to choose health first.

Just like every chef or baker has their signature recipe, I too have my list of ingredients for an award winning ‘Fitness Recipe’ Remember this rule of thumb, ‘a body is created in the kitchen, sculpted in the gym and beautified overnight!’

I train 6 days a week with an extra emphasis on my glutes/legs and shoulders. Training should always be done with a purpose and sculpted according to ones’ goal. Currently, high volume exercise is the trick for me. It includes a lot of resistance training with 6-7 sets and 15-20 repetitions, in some case even more reps if I am applying a pyramid structure. It’s not just about throwing heavy weights and compromising form and technique. The key secret is putting the ‘muscle under tension’.

My nutrition is synergistic to when and what time I train. All my food is centred around my training to maximise the efforts in the gym. Combining a well-planned diet with high volume workouts, gives a far better overall aesthetic. Nutrition is the key to achieving you’re desired look. We always say, ‘abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym’ and this is the ABSolute truth.

I used to be a cardio junkie for many years and for the first time and in over 10 weeks I’ve stopped all cardio. I find that women spend too much time doing cardio to lose weight, to be precise, to lose fat. I myself, wanted to test this concept of ‘no cardio’ by following a specific nutritional plan and focussing on high intensity volume training. I’m shocked! I have dropped body fat, maintained lean muscle and have a life outside the gym! I’ve had the good fortune to align with an Indian company, SQUATS, owned by Jitender Chouskey aka JC. We have taken into consideration my age, genes, lifestyle, previous training and nutritional habits to chalk out a new plan for me. It’s going against everything I have ever done before and the results are tremendous. We have increased my fat intake considerably and adjusted my macros according to the time of the day. My interest, knowledge and results are peaked every week. But what I’m even more pleased with is that this nutritional combination is making my skin soft and radiant. No blemishes anywhere and a major anti-aging solution! My hair is long, thick and lustrous while my eyelashes don’t really need mascara anymore. My hormones are in balance and my body feels healthy from the inside-out! A true integrity to the term health and wellness.

You describe your approach to fitness fashion as something that works with a woman’s natural physique and not against it. Tell us about that.

There are 4 basic body types: pear, apple, hourglass and rectangle. Most women fall into two of these categories with a dominant body shape and traits of another. My approach is to enhance your God-given physique and sculpt the best version of you. It could be to tighten and tone your existing shape, balance out body proportions to assist in symmetry or in some cases transform your body much like a fitness competitor.

Whichever category best fits you, keep in mind that they are all categories of feminine beauty, and no one is superior to any other. Each body type is beautiful.

Girls love fashion, women love fashion, Hollywood loves fashion, ramp shows love fashion; all of which can potentially be a breeding ground to achieve your ideal body weight through unhealthy measures. I want to show and educate through my fitness experiences, food choices and modeling portfolio that women can sculpt their bodies using weights, eating right and maintaining that fashion forward look!

You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in fashion. What can you tell us about those  experiences?

That I am still growing and getting better. Even after all this time every experience whether for a client or a personal project is different. No two creatives are ever alike or ever duplicated. It really is art captured in the moment. I work with an array of artists, photographers and stylists; each one talented and unique in their own discipline. I’m usually debriefed on a general concept and the rest happens organically. This is the element I have always loved!

It’s not always glamorous behind the scenes. I recall my recent shoot in Las Vegas. I was on set with some of the top talent ranging from stylists, photographers, make up/hair, videographers and production assistants. I was rather sick all day. Dealing with as much stress as we do with our busy and complex lives, the rigours of travel, and the transient nature of communicable diseases, one cannot always be as healthy as we like. But being part of a team, traveling from one studio to another, trying to get everything done at a reasonable pace is critical to me. On top of that I was dealing with environmental allergens like dust and cats everywhere we went. In an instant, my eyes became watery, contacts irritated and overall energy drained adding to an already weak immune system. As the day progressed, I could barely see due to the allergens and my commitment was challenged. But I had complete faith in the abilities of my team which was not shaken. They became my eyes and all I did was step into the frame. They were committed to the project at any cost and so was I. Our long day’s journey into the night proved very successful and all of us were proud of what we accomplished! The results speak for itself in the final images.Working with professionals, trusting in the collective abilities of others’ and knowing thateveryone assembled cares about the work is an exceptional experience.

What has been your most memorable moment so far?

I guess a major lesson in life is when I have given my power up to other people or person. Sometimes, wanting or desiring something clouds your vision and that happened to me back in 2009. It took me a few years to realise that I had slowly lost myself in another persons’ identity. It took me being lost for a while and not recognising whom I had become, that I stopped to look in the mirror. What was I doing? I was not happy! I was not listening to my soul! A much needed time out from everyone and everything was in order. After much soul-searching, I did what I have always done best – become in control, create art, connect with people and sell my own brand. In 2012, I single handedly closed a major global contract in India which opened all my doors again. The time I thought I lost due to bad decision-making was dissipated in a flash. No time was lost. I came back stronger and wiser!

To all my women followers, never ever lose yourself. There are many roles we play as a mother, wife, aunt, girlfriend and sister. Pressures of work, business and day to day survival take the lead and passions fueled with purpose pushed to the bottom or come to a screeching halt. Take time out for your existence, your voice and your calling. Reclaim your power and never become someone’s shadow. What you have inside of you is much too valuable to the world to be a faint whisper.

What is next for Amrit Dhaliwal?

Over the last decade my answer to this question has been in terms of business ventures, projects and alliances in the horizon. I have come to a point in my life where I know that will always be there because I love to create opportunities and am always on the look-out for interesting commercials.

Today, my answer is completely different. I would love to find the love of my life and settle down to start a family. As a young girl, I have always placed importance on my education, work and travel. Relationships were not a priority. A broken marriage from 11 years ago taught me that I need a strong and confident counterpart to share my journey and one who will smile when I fly. I’ve given my heart to my work and now it’s time to share that heart with one special person.

Moving in so many new directions all the time and allowing myself to be a gypsy for the past decade, I feel the need for stability and permanence. But everything is new and keeps changing, evolving as technology evolves. Doors open and close and many opportunities unfortunately are lost because they were not the right fit. I feel like I am constantly pulled in new directions that test me – new inspirations, new visions, new horizons, new puzzles meant perhaps to confuse me more than anything else. It all seems so easy on paper, and misty in real life. I hope people allow me some freedom, still at this point in my life, to reassess what is important and what I should do as I still don’t know exactly what is waiting for me.

The reality of social media is the global reach. If something wonderful does happen, you will be the first to know.

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