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‘Girlboss Mentality’: Penn State Junior Builds Brand Through Bodybuilding & Spray Tan Business

Penn State junior Veronica Zelner is making the best of both worlds by competing in bodybuilding competitions while also running her own spray tan business.

A political science major, Zelner has always kept a “girlboss mentality,” which has pushed her to become her best self over the past few years.

Growing up, Zelner tried every sport in the books, however, she couldn’t find her cup of tea. Meanwhile, she spent most of her life struggling with binge eating and was on the line of pre-obesity.

“I felt as though I wasn’t good in my routines,” Zelner said. “I wasn’t good at sticking to things that I said that I was going to do, and I wanted to be better time-wise. I wanted to be better in my eating. I wanted to feel like I can trust myself. I think that’s a really hard thing for a lot of people — this idea of trusting yourself.”

Before entering college, Zelner realized it was time to take action and made it her mission to become the best version of herself.

“I started eating healthy, which turned into me going to the gym, and then from there I started to get really into it,” Zelner said. “It was this idea of being able to see the changes, even if they were really minor… I kind of got addicted to that process.”

As she began both her college journey and healthy lifestyle, Zelner started off her Penn State career at Altoona, where she started to build a brand for herself with her Instagram account, “theblondeunit,” her sophomore year. At the time, she had a year and a half worth of lifting under her belt and from there, continued to build endurance and consistency.

Zelner utilized her social media presence not only to promote body positivity, but to also hold herself accountable. The power of social media has allowed her to optimize her workouts while consistently motivating her to improve more through other gym and bodybuilding influencers. She even had several collab opportunities with influencers such as Penn State’s “academic weapon” Brad Kraut.

“I would go on Instagram and see these women that make this a professional career, and I became infatuated with it,” Zelner said. “I ended up seeing photos of these women on stage in these sparkly bikinis… I was so far off from anything of bodybuilding… I saw those photos and I was like, ‘I’m gonna do that.’ I just loved the pageantry and the glamour of it all.”

From that moment on, Zelner had her eyes on the prize and set a new goal for herself: to compete in a bodybuilding show before her 21st birthday. This new change in her life excited her and made her optimistic about the future.

“I told myself that I was going to give myself my dream physique,” Zelner said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I can do what I set my mind to.”

As she started training for her first competition, Zelner quickly realized that the process not only helped further develop her strength and appearance, but it also allowed her to develop mentally, giving her the right headspace she sought.

Once this past summer was underway, Zelner met with her first-ever bodybuilding coach, who gave her insights on how to achieve these goals successfully and safely.

“We got right to work,” Zelner said. “He assigned my macros, my meals, my nutrient intake, water intake, recommended sleep, my workouts. Then, I would do weekly check-ins… A bodybuilding check-in consists of you posing in your show bikini and then you send photos of your mandatory poses, which would be a front pose, a back pose, and a side pose.”

Zelner stuck with her routine through October 2022 until she started show prep, which typically ranges from 12 to 20 weeks and consists of extremely strict diets, cardio, and an “extremely regimented lifestyle.” During this process, Zelner worked on lowering her caloric intake, while maintaining a high intake of protein, in order to create a dominant stage presence.

While keeping a consistent prep routine, Zelner soon realized that bodybuilding is an expensive hobby to partake in. Being a typical college student, she didn’t fully understand the concept of financial literacy quite yet.

After a heated argument with her parents about the financial side of competing in bodybuilding shows, Zelner knew she had to start making a significant amount of income to ensure she meets her goals.

“They said ‘Veronica, it’s like you’re allergic to money,'” Zelner said. ” I literally lost sleep over that… I wanted to make a lot of money, and I wanted success for myself no matter what facet I did. And so I hear that from them as people who I really look up to and are very entrepreneurial. I felt really defeated.”

From there, Zelner started to brainstorm ways she could make money to support everything that comes along with bodybuilding competitions, from her show bikini to competition dues to travel expenses.

Finally, an idea struck, and Zelner decided to start her spray tan business, Tan Luxe. Since then, the business has been wildly successful with customers coming in weekly to get fresh tans for formals and sorority fundraisers benefitting THON.

Being a frequent spray tan client herself and having a family full of entrepreneurs, Zelner knew she had what it took to run her own business.

To ensure she could balance both her business and her weekly workout and show prep routine, Zelner managed to make operating a business easier on herself by setting up an automatic service, which has allowed her to run things smoothly.

“It’s been really convenient because I can live my bodybuilding lifestyle, while this is all automated for me,” Zelner added. “At first it was hard because I was constantly answering DMs on Instagram… Once I got it all automated, it became mindless.”

While maintaining a steady income, Zelner also created a space where girls feel safe, welcome, and comfortable in their own bodies. Promoting self-confidence and ensuring the well-being of her clients is what has made the business so special to Zelner.

Flash forward to this past February, Zelner entered her first bodybuilding competition, where she placed third in her division, while still operating Tan Luxe.

From there, she competed in yet another bikini show, in which she placed second in the wellness juniors and wellness novice divisions, as well as third overall.

After all that hard work and time put into the craft, it all paid off in the end and has left Zelner hopeful for her future as an amateur bodybuilding competitor.

“I started this journey at 18 because I wanted to give myself all the things that I lacked as a child or fix the things I struggled with growing up with binge eating and with not being athletic,” Zelner said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could beat all the things that I saw wrong with me and become the best me possible. That’s exactly what I have done. And it was all for me.”

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's writers. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your suggestions, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @e.evan.halfen.n or email: [email protected]

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