TV STAR. TOMBOY. TOTAL BABE.
TOMBOYS AND TIARAS
A lot has changed for Melinda in five years. For starters, she married former Mr South Africa Adriaan Bergh, whom she could only officially start dating after handing over the Miss SA crown (Miss SA is not allowed to have romantic attachments during her reign). She made the top 10 in the Miss Universe pageant and became national executive for the Miss SA Pageant, where she was able to coach a new generation of aspiring young women. She started two businesses – a swimwear label for all body shapes that produced two collections and Womentality, a series of empowering workshops for women. She also launched a successful TV career, becoming a presenter on Pasella and, more recently, her Via reality show Wie’s Jou Poppie? (WJP), where each episode features Melinda and a guest female celeb doing something challenging and adventurous. “I want to show that we can also have the grit to do adventurous things, push ourselves, work hard and sweat... And then still wear heels,” says Melinda, who describes women empowerment as being the essence of everything she’s done – yes, including pageants, which she used as a springboard to future success. “I always thought, growing up, that being a woman was kind of being second best,” she admits. “So I tried to fit in and change myself – I wanted to be ‘one of the boys’ and became a tomboy in order to be taken seriously.” But it bothered her that she wasn’t being true to herself. “I realised that, as we’re constantly fighting to fit into a man’s world, we’re dismissing the fact that it’s also supposed to be a woman’s world. Women should never sacrifice their womanhood, their femininity, because that’s where we draw our strength from. We can be soft and gentle, but we can still be strong. And perceiving life as beautiful, being optimistic, not being pessimistic or hardened... Those are strengths.”
CHALLENGE IS GOOD
Melinda was initially approached to be a guest on the show that would ultimately become WJP. But, in true Melinda style, she spotted an opportunity to do something better. “I said, it’s one thing to try to make women do all sorts of silly things; it’s a whole different thing to try to put a purpose behind it.” The show, which started filming its second season in January, is genuinely tough. The first season saw Melinda and her guests taking on challenges like skydiving, shooting, sorting recycling and felling trees. “The episode where we worked at a pig farm was my favourite, just because I feel like I conquered a fear of my own,” says Melinda. “I’ve got a fear of needles and I had to inject piglets and it was just a horrid and gross experience and I cried. But I think it’s good sometimes for people to see that unexpected side of you, the side where you’re not rehearsed and you can just be yourself and be candid and show real emotion and embarrass yourself. The world sometimes needs to see that you’re also just human.” Being challenged on the show taught Melinda that she’s more capable and adventurous than she’d previously thought. It’s a lesson that she believes
The crew exchanges an uncertain glance. “Uh, yes... That okay?” “Yes! Yes! Very okay!” Melinda rubs her hands together, bouncing with excitement. It’s been five years since the former Miss SA rocked a striped bikini on the cover of WH. The woman on that cover was slim, petite and gorgeous – the quintessential beauty queen. The Melinda we’re shooting today is all of those things, but with a massive dose of strength and capability thrown in. Looking at her visible muscle tone and the energy with which the 28-year-old bounds around set, you can believe she’ll handle those battle ropes and any other challenge we might throw her way. And if there’s any lingering doubt, when she hops onto a set of parallel bars between shots and starts banging out triceps dips with perfect form, it’s quickly dispelled.
all women should learn. “Adventures keep things interesting. It makes time almost stand still sometimes,” she says. “As soon as you do things that put you in a rut and a routine, life just goes by in one big blur. Doing things out of the ordinary is what makes life have its bright and stand-out moments.”
BUILT ON GRIT
What hasn’t changed at all is Melinda’s dogged determination. The day of our cover shoot, she’s preparing to jet off to the Maldives to film the eighth season of Tropika Island of Treasure (airing now on SABC 3, Mondays at 19:30). The reality show sees celebs teaming up with members of the public to compete in a series of physical elimination challenges with a R1-million cash prize up for grabs. And that brings us back to that killer bod. Melinda spent three gruelling months getting into competitive shape for the show. And while she’s no stranger to exercise – she’s a keen runner and cyclist and completed the Sun City To The Table Bay Cycle Tour with Adriaan in 2012 – the training meant pushing her body in ways she never had before. “Looking back at Miss SA, I don’t know how I managed to be so tiny,” she says. “I weighed five kilos lighter than I weigh now, but I felt strong and healthy. Now I feel like I’m actually functionally fit – I can pick things up and I can run and squat and throw things and climb things and I can carry my body weight.” It wasn’t easy to get to this point. Melinda trains six days a week, with special focus on areas she knows are her weaknesses. “For example, swimming. I’ve never done a competitive lap in my life, so I realised, okay, I need to spend a little bit of time in the pool and just feel like I’ve prepared myself.” That “little time in the pool” has since turned into two-hour sessions with a swimming coach, which includes a mix of drills, sprints and endurance. “I’m at the point now where my favourite part is respiratory drills – so you do a sprint lap and then a lap underwater and repeat.” She also enlisted the help of a trainer for strength work. “Overall endurance and fitness have always been something that I enjoyed, so that part I did on my own. But strength training... I was completely clueless. I thought heavy weights were a girl’s arch-enemy, but it ended up being my best friend.” Her sessions include not only heavy weights, but functional movements as well – like tyre flips, rope climbs, medicine ball track sprints, monkey bars and hanging one-handed from a bar to build grip strength. One endurance exercise involves nine continuous minutes of 12-kilo kettlebell swings. Sjoe. The results are evident: Melinda is not just fit, she’s packing serious, nomessing-around muscle. “When I was Miss SA, my training was very different. I focused on being slender and lean and all of that, but being stronger has been a lot more fun. My arms are not just two sticks hanging on the sides of my body anymore – they can actually do something; they’re useful.” That said, Melinda admits that, aesthetically, her stronger physique is “a tad more on the muscular side” than she’d prefer. “But I know it’s going to serve me well on Tropika,” she says. “It’s not just about the training and the aesthetic part of it, it’s about being able to push your mind where your body hasn’t gone yet. Doing weird things that kind of scare you – like when you hear you need to climb up a rope! – it’s great. It’s nice being able to do stuff that surprises you.”