By Erica Willick
The Tale of Two Trailblazers
As your beloved GORGO has transformed in the past couple of years into a glowing vision of strength, beauty, and power she was always rooted in, we reflect simultaneously on our roots and our future.
These cover models of GORGO embody our fiery roots and trailblazing future. Doris Barrilleaux, pictured here at 84-years-old first lady of bodybuilding, pioneered the sport of recognizing women for their efforts in physique. She gracefully flexes beside visionary Valerie Solomon, Editor-In-Chief of the publication you’re reading right now. Both are driving forces behind the unwavering belief that we as women can change the landscape of fitness and health for ourselves.
So what makes someone a “trailblazer”? A trailblazer sees the world through different eyes and chooses to not shy away from the criticism and challenges that comes with doing things differently. They tame a wild trail through a forest for other people to follow.
These two women have trail blazed a path for us first Gorgo Girls, us women who know deep down we have power and strength beyond what is currently expected of us. Not because “strong is the new sexy”, but because feminine strength is timeless and a universal right for all women.
Trailblazer: Doris Barrilleaux (Aug. 11, 1931 - May 12, 2018)
Doris was confident, empowered, strong, and well into her 80’s, maintained a deep passion for women’s equality. Doris raised a family, worked as a flight attendant, became a successful photographer, pioneered women’s bodybuilding and worked hard for female control of it. She also put a tremendous amount of energy into spreading the news of the sport as well as promoting the benefits of strength training to the masses.
Doris remains active on social media and posts regularly about her annoyance of images of helpless women in real life or media. You could call her a Feminist. “Not the man hating kind” she says, “I only hate a few of them…just a few of those that were determined to control the women’s sport from the very beginning.”
Doris is called “the First Lady of Body Building” for her tireless work spearheading the movement to make women’s bodybuilding competitions a reality. In 2011, Doris was inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame at the Arnold Sports Festival for playing such an important role in women’s bodybuilding.
Doris envisioned a sport in which women were recognized for being in superior ‘natural’ shape and still very feminine. She envisioned a respected sport in which women were recognized for being healthy and strong. Many times in her autobiography Doris expressed that “the men took over” or that was the “man’s version”. The quest for bigger and the oversexualized poses in some classes she questions - Is this what women want for their sport? Doris saw the sport as art and one that symmetry and aesthetics were awarded, not merely size or sexiness.
Doris had almost lost hope in the work she and other female pioneers had put into the inception of women’s recognition for their efforts of being in good shape, until she met and developed a strong bond with GORGO Magazine’s editor, Valerie Solomon through a special feature that Valerie spearheaded in 2013. Valerie’s research for the feature, led to an in person visit and the two women, born decades apart, united in a vision for telling the world about the healthful benefits of strength training and a fit lifestyle.
Trailblazer: Valerie Solomon
A teen mom at the age of 19, Valerie Solomon, has seen her children as reasons, not excuses before most of us grew into adulthood and attempted to discover our identities. A mother to 4 boys now, she is known to hundreds of thousands on social media as Busy Mom Gets Fit.
Valerie started into the fitness industry simply by sharing her journey that resonated with so many busy moms: trying to raise a gaggle of children, maintain our passion for fitness, keep our families running smoothly, work, support our husbands in their work, go after our crazy dreams, and deal with life’s challenges.
Yet she stands apart from the noise of the mainstream by choosing to stay true to her beliefs in herself and belief in other women, and then acting on those beliefs. Valerie believes we do not need to bend to what others want us to be just because it is more acceptable in current day’s norms. Whether those norms are skinnier or more submissive. She believes that we can be more, that we are equals. The mantra Valerie has coined for her fans is “I’m not beautiful like you, I’m beautiful like me.” Valerie encourages her community to post photos with these words written on photos that they feel represents their unique body. You can see a gallery of these powerful photos by searching #beautifullikeme in Instagram.
Throughout regular attacks on her large social media page for a “too muscular physique” or “selfish” mom gym time, Valerie has become further rooted in her beliefs instead of changing colors like a chameleon to hide. Instead, Valerie pursued her vision of a stronger voice for women like her and co-created GORGO Magazine in 2013.
Valerie craved more from women’s fitness content and was tired of fluff-filled articles crammed with fat burner advertisements, amongst sexualized airbrushed female images. She knew there were other women who felt the same, and put forward the ancient Spartan Queen Gorgo as the namesake for the magazine. At the brainstorming table, “Gorgo” (pronounced Gor-GO) wasn’t well received initially as the word sounded a bit ugly and strange to the test group of women used to “pretty” or traditional titles. However, Valerie stood her ground and insisted that the brand was timeless and required a unique title to represent the movement.
GORGO Magazine was published in November 2013 with Valerie overseeing all publications since it’s inception. Each cover model and article, has been scrutinized by Valerie to ensure it was “Gorgo-enough” for the readers and women she was committed to reach. Her unique ability to rally others to join the cause has resulted in the growth of the GORGO tribe to tens of thousands of women, and contributions from top writers and experts in the industry with powerful and thought-provoking articles.
The birth and growth of GORGO didn’t happen in a vacuum. Life challenges still happened to Valerie, like it does to all of us. Yet, giving up was never an option. No matter how challenging life becomes, a trailblazer doesn’t ever quit.
Passing of the Torch
Valerie flew to attend Doris’s 84th birthday party, amongst the pioneers of women’s bodybuilding. Doris says of Valerie, “Our dreams and goals, while several generations apart, were identical. The more I learned of Valerie’s dedication, determination, and success in the women’s cause for being physically fit, I saw her as the new generation to carry the torch we lit with our first women’s physique contest in 1979.”
At the party, a ceremony was held where Doris passed the “Torch” to Valerie with a physical representation of a torch. Doris, a woman who had dedicated her life to the cause of equality of women in fitness and recognition for those efforts, sees hope in the movement with Valerie and GORGO.
Trailblazers clear the path for so many of us. Yet there is something weaved through the fabric of Doris Barrilleaux and Valerie Solomon that is weaved through millions of women, and weaved through our Spartan Queen, Gorgo. Strong women with a desire to live and do things a little bigger than their stature might lead you to believe is possible.
See the ripple effect of Valerie Solomon’s vision and YOUR power to impact others as part of Camp Gorgo banquet speech.