St. Petersburg — In Russia, where a holiday originally intended to honor women’s struggle for equality has become a celebration of their femininity, Olga Utkina knows that a woman doing a “man’s job” is often viewed with suspicion. Utkina, 27, is a professional bodyguard.
Alexandr Belenky / MT
Olga Utkina, a professional bodyguard, says she dresses well so as to blend in with her clients, who tend to be wealthy women.
Even as a young girl, she fought to protect her classmates and wrestled in sports clubs. Her childhood dream was to become a police officer. “I know that that’s atypical for women, but I felt the need to defend people,” Utkina said in a recent interview. “I was simply born that way, and there was nothing I could do, or wanted to do, about it.”
In grade school, she remembers being infuriated by seeing girls being endlessly tormented — pinched, pushed and kicked — by the boys. So she fought back. “I was amazed how quickly the boys would back off when they met with a rebuff,” she said. “I looked boyish as well; people would often address me as ‘boy’ on the bus, for instance.”
She does not look boyish now, with long, brightly painted nails and long, elegantly styled dark hair. “Conflicts rarely grow into physical fights, but I only grow my nails on vacation, just in case,” she said. “As for my hairstyle, my clients are generally wealthy women so, when I accompany them, I should blend in. … I should look like one of their friends or relatives, like a person from the same circles of society.”
When she finished school, she studied at St. Petersburg’s Lesgaft Physical Training Institute, where she was in the wrestling department. After graduating, she taught karate in private schools, but was already eyeing a job as a bodyguard. Utkina took a special course at the Divo Agency, which subsequently hired her.
She had classes in wrestling and shooting and also in how to dress and apply make-up. Divo head Mark Sazonov said female bodyguards are not seen as an abnormality within the profession, and most of the clients who ask for a female bodyguard are women in business. “The crucial moment when the prevailing mentality toward female bodyguard changed came in the late 1990s,” Sazonov said. “That was when ‘fighters’ were replaced by ‘shooters,'” as clients came to value shooting skills over physical strength.
In her private life, Utkina’s profession has become something of a litmus test for her male admirers. She said there are two typical reactions when they find out what she does for a living. “They either retreat almost immediately or treat me as some kind of exotic fruit,” she said. “What both reactions have in common is that the men don’t really try to find out what sort of a person I am.”
Even Sazonov betrayed a touch of sexism when commenting on his female bodyguards. “Of course, a housewife type wouldn’t go into bodyguarding,” he said. “Female bodyguards are purposeful, self-disciplined, confident and mature, and their lifestyle makes it difficult to have families, as most husbands would want their spouse to be at home more regularly.”
Utkina said she does not make many demands of prospective boyfriends. Unlike many women, she said physical strength and determination are not among the qualities she looks for. “I just want him to be kind and good-natured,” she said. “It’s that simple.” Professionally, Utkina said, men tend to be skeptical from the start.
“They just start flirting with me, saying silly things like, ‘Oh, what a cutie, she can’t be a bodyguard,'” she said. “Women are surprised as well, but it takes them so much less time to get used to it.” Utkina said she’ll stay in the bodyguarding business “as long as it’s fun.” “I know a bodyguard who’s almost of retirement age who is great at what he does. But I don’t think I’ll still enjoy my job as much when I’m, say, 40,” she said. “I’ll need something else then.”
By Galina Stolyarova,
The Moscow Times