Beauty and Power

Women are so deeply conditioned to seeing feminine beauty as something fragile that doesn’t take up space, which is why I love seeing representations of femininity that isn’t that of a delicate orchid. It’s interesting to me that many female body builders who work on attaining what are considered masculine traits play up their feminine characteristics, perhaps to counteract the kind of physique that is usually culturally marked male, sometimes to an extreme that appears to be a conscious genderfuck. Whatever the case, the human body is so, so cool.

But a warning: Even though the website is in what appears to be Russian, please don’t bother reading the comments, many of which are vile, and in English.

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Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
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75 Responses

  1. sasha
    sasha November 24, 2008 at 1:29 am |

    I’m sorry but body builders look disgusting to me, men and women. I simply don’t find that type of body attractive at all.

  2. FeministReview
    FeministReview November 24, 2008 at 1:34 am |

    Leslie Heywood, a feminist and bodybuilder, writes about this in Built to Win: The Female Athlete As Cultural Icon and Bodymakers: A Cultural Anatomy of Women’s Body Building. Her analysis is quite intriguing, seeing “female body building as a metaphor for how women fare in our current political and cultural climate.”

  3. RacyT
    RacyT November 24, 2008 at 1:39 am |

    Sasha, I think you might sort of be missing the point. I’m not into body builders either… but come on.

  4. Jadelyn
    Jadelyn November 24, 2008 at 1:59 am |

    RacyT, I actually think Sasha got the point and is responding to it in a perfectly valid way. As I understood it, this picture (and the others like it) were supposed to be a representation of a female beauty that is strong rather than delicate. In that case, is it not still relevant and on the point to say that one does not, in fact, think this is a representation of any kind of beauty; that it seems rather to be a representation of grotesquerie? Sasha’s qualifying that her distaste for bodybuilders’ physiques extends to both male and female seemed to me to be preemptively staving off criticism that she was only pointing out how unbeautiful she finds this because she’s used to traditional representations (delicate types) of female beauty.

    And I have to say, I agree with her. I don’t think this is beautiful at all; on the other hand, I think a lot of female athletes’ physiques are absolutely gorgeous, and far from the “delicate” sort of soft beauty we’re trained to expect. I’ve just always felt that bodybuilding as a whole is an exercise in grotesqueness. So putting this out there as a non-traditional female beauty doesn’t make any kind of sense to me, because it just isn’t beautiful in my eyes at all.

  5. astrid
    astrid November 24, 2008 at 2:32 am |

    i agree about bodybuilding tending to the grotesque in women and men, but i think some of these pictures go to show how personal the formation/gendering/sexing of one’s body is to a person. these exercises obviously deplete any curves (in the traditional hip/breast sense) that most of these women may have had, yet some of them have felt the need to get implants, seemingly to retain an aesthetic in a particular part of themselves. while we can’t say whether the some would have done this (getting implants) without their surrounding culture, we can see that it is a decision some of them have made, and some of them have not. this could demonstrate negotiating a gendered/sexed body on the terms of one’s self and society, and/or also the real/legit feelings some people have to embody different traits of what our culture labels “different genders/sexes”.

    (i think “gender” and “sex” are used too interchangeably, as i’m sure many would agree, when they are different. i tried to keep things accurate in my above statements, but things can always become tricky in statements like my “…negotiating a ____ body…” statement since we’re talking about society’s perception, in part, and society often blends the two so that woman=female, etc)

  6. Angry Black-White Girl
    Angry Black-White Girl November 24, 2008 at 2:46 am |

    I definitely find women with meat on their bones more attractive than those that don’t, but isn’t describing women who meet the dominant (white) standard of beauty as “frail, delicate orchids” kind of (dis)ableist?

  7. Gene
    Gene November 24, 2008 at 2:50 am |

    It is an interesting set of contrasts; the large muscles and strong jawlines set against the spangly bikini tops, makeup, dyed hair and jewelry. Another thing that caught my attention is that almost none of these women are smiling. With the exception of women advertising very expensive goods, most pictures of women show them smiling, open, accessible and non-threatening. Also, pictures of women tend to show them tilting their heads or holding some unusual posture. The body-builders in these photos aren’t smiling, and they look directly at the camera.

  8. Tom
    Tom November 24, 2008 at 3:17 am |

    Ugh! I’m with Sasha on this one. Neither men nor women look attractive when they’re pumped so full of ‘roids that they look like gorillas. This isn’t a genderfuck, it’s a speciesfuck.

  9. Mina
    Mina November 24, 2008 at 4:02 am |

    You don’t really get to that point without steroids, and body building doesn’t have to be taken to that extreme. The extreme that your body can be pushed to ‘naturally’ IS attractive most of the time. As an example.

  10. talknormal
    talknormal November 24, 2008 at 4:21 am |

    Damn, I’m sort of surprised by how negative most of the response here has been so far–I might be with RacyT on this one… I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t pondered the politics of bodybuilding in any substantial way, but I *do* wonder if we’re reserving a special place of condemnation for bodybuilding that we might not be so quick to impute upon other forms of body modification. I mean personally, I don’t find stretched ears to be super attractive but I don’t see my aesthetic preferences as relevant to any kind of broad-based condemnation. By what criteria, exactly, do we classify a practice as categorically “grotesque” rather than “beautiful,” and who gets to do that? I also wonder if the seemingly visceral reactions expressed (“ugh,” “disgusting,” the implication that bodybuilding renders you inhuman somehow) are the kinds of reactions that some folks might express against individuals who might engage in other unconventional bodily practices such as–oh i dunno just to throw one out there–say surgical modification for the purposes of gender reassignment (obvs I’m not in any way wanting to conflate bodybuilding with transgenderism, I’m just using the most immediate frame of reference that came to mind as someone who’s tried to think through before what it means that the sheer unexpectedness of my body simply repulses people sometimes).

    Anyway someone be sure to let me know if I’m way out of left field here. Also, personally, I think the photos look pretty neat.

  11. Jadelyn
    Jadelyn November 24, 2008 at 4:50 am |

    talknormal, as one who is quite partial to some bodymods – tattoos and piercings mostly – I hear your argument. For the record, I didn’t say anything that implied everyone should or must or would find bodybuilders grotesque; I was pretty specific that that’s how *I* personally feel about it.

    As far as why I see grotesquerie in bodybuilding, but not in my favorite forms of bodymod, I’d say it’s because I look at the bodies of bodybuilders and they just don’t look fully human anymore. People with tats, or piercings, still look human. Those overmuscled, bulging bodies don’t. Have any of you played Fallout 3? Bodybuilder physiques make me think of the Super Mutant Brutes in that game.

    However, Gene, I think you have an interesting point about the style of photography in these pictures. Definitely different from your usual photos of women, and in that I’ll say this is potentially a more positive depiction. But that has everything to do with the styling of the photos, not so much the women in them.

  12. Natalia
    Natalia November 24, 2008 at 5:16 am |

    Thank you for the cool pictures! I’m into muscle on women (not body-building muscle, just regular ol’ muscle), and not so much on men. I think female bodybuilders still represent a fascinating aesthetic. I think Chyna looks pretty cool – she’s not nearly as buff as these ladies, but she looks like she has a lot of strength in her body, and that just makes me want to stare. I am riveted.

  13. transgenmom
    transgenmom November 24, 2008 at 7:24 am |

    It’s interesting to me that many female body builders who work on attaining what are considered masculine traits play up their feminine characteristics

    Its probably more to just let other people know that they expect to be treated as a woman. If they wore androgynous clothing and haircuts they would look like any average body building man.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the time they simply do dress androgynous and go out on a daily basis as presenting as men. I don’t think they would really be believed if they told people they were women.

  14. Maria P.
    Maria P. November 24, 2008 at 7:52 am |

    My heroine as a kid was one of my mother’s friends from the church choir. She was a bodybuilder who competed in the steroid-free contests and my first real encounter with genderfuckiness. She was old enough that her hair was fully grey, and she kept it in a buzz-cut. Not hugely muscular like the woman above, but you knew you didn’t want to mess with her. And there she was on Sunday in a knee-length gauzy red dress, chatting with the other church ladies about cookie recipes, holiday plans and how excited she was about her next solo survival camping expedition.

    Summary: female bodybuilders rock and can be great role models.

  15. preying mantis
    preying mantis November 24, 2008 at 8:24 am |

    “If they wore androgynous clothing and haircuts they would look like any average body building man.”

    They’d actually wind up looking like small bodybuilding men, which isn’t really the desired thing in that set. It would probably more interesting to focus on natural bodybuilding competitions, female powerlifters, etc. The signal to noise ratio is better when you’re looking at what someone is doing with their body without having to compensate for a massively fucked-up hormone profile. It might be harder to find such information, though. There’ve been a couple articles on (I think) here and Feministing about female athletes who don’t perform femininity or pose in revealing outfits like bikinis and haven’t gotten the same press time or print space as female athletes who do, even with similar or more impressive accomplishments.

  16. Natasha
    Natasha November 24, 2008 at 8:36 am |

    I find nothing beautiful or “cool” about disfiguring one’s self by taking massive doses of hormones proved to have significant, sometimes life-threatening, health effects.

    The comparisons with forms of body modification like piercing, tattooing, and even sex reassignment don’t really hold up since those modifications are not actually physically harmful to the person undergoing them. Since prolonged steroid use often causes irreparable organ and skeletal damage, a more apt comparison might be to those who amputate functioning limbs without medical cause.

    I find many of these photos as disturbing as I would photos of women trying to achieve the waifish, “delicate orchid” look through anorexia. There’s got to be a more life-affirming representation of powerful femininity out there…there ARE female (and male) bodybuilders who train without steroids.

    Fascinating pictures, either way.

  17. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz November 24, 2008 at 8:51 am |

    The comparisons with forms of body modification like piercing, tattooing, and even sex reassignment don’t really hold up since those modifications are not actually physically harmful to the person undergoing them. Since prolonged steroid use often causes irreparable organ and skeletal damage, a more apt comparison might be to those who amputate functioning limbs without medical cause.

    Is there some sort of conclusive evidence here that these particular women are taking massive quantities of steroids? Or is this an argument just based on their physique and the assumption that the must be doped to the gills?

  18. La Lubu
    La Lubu November 24, 2008 at 9:21 am |

    Wow. I’m surprised at the negative commentary on this post. Here’s the thing:

    While there are women in bodybuilding who use steroids, there is a general conflation of female bodybuilder = woman on ‘roids that doesn’t exist for other sports. There are many, many women who bodybuild (including women who have no desire to compete in a bodybuilding contest) who don’t use steroids. Whether or not a woman is assumed to be on steroids usually has less to do with her muscle development and/or amount of weight she lifts than her body-fat percentage.

    And this is critical, because women in the gym are “policed”—somehow, women are supposed to be fit and slender, but aren’t supposed to look “too” fit or slender, lest we lose our femininity. Like in this comment above:

    these exercises obviously deplete any curves (in the traditional hip/breast sense) that most of these women may have had,

    Come on!!! I’ve been lifting weights off-and-on since I was fifteen years old. Know why? Because this was one avenue I had where the attributes of the body I already had could be developed and thought of as beautiful. I mean, I was a sicilian-american teenager in the land of willowy midwestern blondes. The local (and face it, national) cultural ideal was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed tall, skinny-but-big-breasted no-ass and super-skinny thighs white woman. And yet, in Muscle and Fitness magazine, the women most often featured were short (like me!), broad-shouldered, with muscular asses and thighs (like me!), dark-haired and olive-toned (like me!). Hell yeah! It was liberating to find that niche, y’know? Gladys Portuguese was my hero!

    Now, I’ve never gotten “cut” like the women in these pictures. I love food too much, and have no desire to separate myself from glorious carbs (pasta and rice are my friends). You can still tell I lift weights. Most competitive female bodybuilders do not walk around on a daily basis with that level of “cut”. That’s the result of a super-strict diet and purging water from the body. It’s only done for photo shoots or competition. Most of the time, women bodybuilders just look like me—like they visibly work out on a regular basis, but not noticibly different in size from any random woman on the street. More definition on the thighs and calves, more definition of the delts, but really nothing to write home about.

    Yet you can’t open up a women’s fitness magazine or training book without the first section being dedicated to “oh, don’t worry, you won’t look like Arnold Schwarznegger if you lift weights, you’ll still be feminine, yadda yadda”. After two goddamn decades of weightlifting being a regular part of women’s workouts. Why is that? Why is our physical appearance so micromanaged? Come on, despite the fact folks here are saying “oh, bodybuilders just aren’t attractive to me—men or women” it sure the hell isn’t the men at the gym being asked, “Aren’t you worried women will stop finding you attractive? That your muscles will be too big?”

  19. Natasha
    Natasha November 24, 2008 at 9:33 am |

    evil_fizz, there is just no question that the women pictured are on steroids–women (and for that matter, men) just can’t look like that without using drugs. For contrast, here are a couple examples of award-winning “natural” (i.e. steroid-free) female bodybuilders:

    http://www.seriousaboutfitness.com/edge/pics/200301_emmanuela.jpg
    http://mightykat.net/index.cgi

    That’s why there are separate contests for natural bodybuilders–once steroids enter the picture, those who don’t take them just can’t compete.

  20. GottaBeMe
    GottaBeMe November 24, 2008 at 10:07 am |

    The first thing that came to my mind was “obvious use of steroids”. I also do not find male or female bodybuilders aesthetically pleasing. There are certainly women with athletic bodies that I think are very attractive – I always loved seeing Gabrielle Reese adn Mia Hamm in commercials and ads because they were athletic and proud of it. It was nice seeing women who did not conform to stereotypical ideas of beauty.

    Honestly, this woman’s breasts look pretty obviously fake, and I don’t find that beautiful. Her skin has a yellow tint, and jaundice is a side effect of steroid use. Whole thing, not attractive.

  21. Onymous
    Onymous November 24, 2008 at 10:39 am |

    couple things
    1. I’mma throw my hat in the ring for the ‘body builders are hot’ camp.

    2. These pictures don’t really do these women justice in real life, between, like la lubu said about diet and water purging prior to comp time, AND the ridiculous oil and high contrast (in these photos looks florescent) lighting are designed to make every muscle pop out in high relief, this also means that every little blemish, vein or wrinkle stands out too.

    3. I’d hesitate to compare these women to some of the previously linked “natural” pics. Skinny female body builders don’t prove that these women must be full of steroids. Women body builders are still to a degree discouraged from massive physiques, and of course there’s the “fitness” and “figure” categories in women’s body building that you never see in mens, which is to say there’s a lot of space in womens body building for more lithe figures and the biggest best formed women on the floor isn’t the shoe in even IN the straight body building comps, because they’re still being judged by men who think it’s “gross”

  22. Sarah in Chicago
    Sarah in Chicago November 24, 2008 at 10:53 am |

    Wow, but I can’t believe the negativity and outright nasty behaviour targeted at these women in a number of the comments here.

    I’m an athletic woman, having done numerous sports from very young, and as a result, I put on muscle very easily (its something the body learns to do; those that have been athletic growing up have a way easier time putting on muscle as adults than those that do not; men and women both), and I’ve developed an ‘athletic’ body-type and swimmers build as a result.

    At the moment I haven’t been working out all that much, as my focus has been on my studies, lecturing, and finishing my doctorate, so long hours go towards that rather than getting to the gym unfortunately. But I can put effort in and develop quite nicely (like La Lubu above, I love my rice and crusty european breads too much).

    But these are beautiful women. Now, as a lesbian am I personally attracted to that amount of muscle development on a woman? Nope, I like a more toned approach. However, it’s really easy for me to separate my own personal taste from what can be beautiful and attractive. I don’t personally find larger heavier women attractive, but would I say they’re unattractive and not beautiful in their own right? Hell no, because they really can be. The first comment in this thread was just disgusting.

    And I adore the presumption that “of course” these women are on steriods *snort* These women are having upper-body photo shots being taken when they are in competition shape; ie when they have pumped up their muscles through repeated exercise, dropped their water-intake to virtually nothing, and reduced their carb consumption to virtually nothing. This produces the cut look, and is only done temporarily around competition time.

    You can not tell a woman is taking steriods merely from looking at her. Talk about imposing “feminine” body standards on women … it buys into the idea that women can’t be strong or powerful and not be “real” women.

    Thanks ever so much for posting this Lauren. It shows really beautiful women really screwing with gender-norms, destabilising the expectations on women’s bodies.

  23. spacedcowgirl
    spacedcowgirl November 24, 2008 at 11:17 am |

    I don’t see any way the women pictured aren’t on steroids, and I do personally find the “natural” pics more beautiful (though I think that’s beside the point), but I have to say that it makes me sad to see that there seems to be a dichotomy between “ugly, gross, huge” and “beautiful, smaller, not like those manly brutes” in the split from the “natural” vs. … I guess “unnatural”?… competition circuits. I mean, again, the pictures of Kat Ricker are beautiful IMO, but 5’10” and 114? That would be quite thin if you didn’t have way more muscle than the average woman. If that’s her body type, then great, but it seems like more than a coincidence that so many women on the natural circuit are so thin (or routinely lie about their weights like women in other performance fields, which would amount to the same thing). I wish “natural strength” could be idealized without also idealizing thinness/smallness/sleekness to the exclusion of other body types. It seems like bodybuilding ought to be the one field where you can get away with taking up space as a woman.

    I do have to say that I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with skepticism that women can get as big as the women linked in the post without some kind of artificial “boost” (not big period, just THAT big). I’m sure a few women have that genetic capacity, but most wouldn’t, would they? Personally when I express that skepticism, I’m not thinking “big is bad” (far from it; I lift weights and love the idea of being big and strong and powerful) or “oh gross, they look like men,” but there are limits to what most women can physically achieve in the gym without steroids, and IMO that is separate from the repugnant “just try to get toned, don’t get too big, don’t get too strong” messages that do also exist.

  24. Thomas
    Thomas November 24, 2008 at 11:27 am |

    Lauren, I’ve been thinking about women and muscle and what it means since I was a teen and found Mapplethorpe’s photos (NSFW) of Lisa Lyon on a bookstore shelf. (She is small by today’s standards, and even in her own era she was small compared to the first really big woman, Bev Francis.)

    I’ll admit that I am very attracted to physically powerful women: Raye Hollit was an early crush, and I’ve always liked women powerlifters, power sprinters, sprint swimmers (I preferred Van Dyken to Thompson, actually, because I liked her attitude problem), throwers and strength athletes, as well as wrestlers and fighters. I was struck early on by the hyperfeminization, especially the ubiquity of breast implants, which look odd on a physique stripped of all excess fat and moisture.

    The big problem I have is that we live in a culture where the female body in all its forms is so often presented for male sexual consumption, whether the woman fits the more typical appearence norms or rebels against them. Maybe a couple of years ago I watched the documentary Supersize She, about Joanna Thomas. She, like many women bodybuilders at the pro level, have little in the way of endorsements available, but there is a community of fetishists who will pay them to be sexual. So Thomas ran (and still runs–NSFW) a website where she poses nude and chats. In the documentary, she talked about feeling like hell and not very sexual while cutting down for competition, but getting online and chatting with the fans anyway because that’s how she supported a sport that was a full-time job. (She’s not the only one — photographer Bill Dobbins has made a career of nude and erotic photos of female bodybuilders, and a little looking will turn up more women bodybuilder porn than any but the most devoted fan would ever need.)

    Now, I find women with these physiques really attractive (and I recognize that at the top levels roids are rampant, and that’s a problem, but I’d be lying if I said I only liked the natural physiques). And if what they want to do is show these hard-earned creations in a sexual context, great. But I have to wonder if many female bodybuilders really want to present themselves in a sexualized way like that, or if they just don’t have better options. This isn’t specific to bodybuilding. It’s the same old generalized problem about women publicly presenting themselves in sexualized ways: in a culture full of huge pressures to perform and be sexual, are they doing what they want? Based just on women I know, some are and some are not, and it’s very hard to tell the difference.

  25. ACG
    ACG November 24, 2008 at 12:30 pm |

    For me, it’s not a matter of whether or not I find these women (or bodybuilding men, for that matter) aesthetically pleasing. I do think the decision to throw off the usual societally imposed physical expectations is a really brave thing, and I have to applaud them for that. But at the same time, what I see when I look at those pictures is something that I struggled with for a long time (in the opposite direction), which is body-image obsession almost to the point of unhealthiness.

    I used to work with a bodybuilder, and she was inspiring. Having never worked out before, she started bodybuilding to get back in shape after having her second kid, and she fell so in love with the feeling of being strong that she kept at it. Her body was sick (as she described it, meaning the good kind of sick), and she was rightfully proud of what it could do.

    But she never competed, and she said it was because some of the women who worked out with her were getting “scary.” They were becoming so obsessed with getting big and popping veins and looking good in bikinis that it consumed their lives and they started doing unhealthy things to get there. Eating too much protein and not enough carbs, for instance, can be bad for the kidneys. Dehydrating yourself to look more muscular for a competition can be dangerous. Having too little body fat can be dangerous. Steroids (not that these women are necessarily using them) can be incredibly harmful.

    Of course, we have no way of knowing that these women are that obsessive. They could be doing their time at the gym, going home, having dinner, walking the dog, and falling asleep in front of Eli Stone. But I guess I just feel that manipulating your body to satisfy “the gaze” — whether it’s male or female, sexual or not — isn’t a positive thing, and that it’s possible to throw off traditional gender constraints and pursue strength for its own sake without developing an unhealthy body image fixation.

  26. shah8
    shah8 November 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm |

    /me snickers…

    All this ‘roid talk is pretty much like all those people who believe white people can’t jump. Biological impossibility, y’see? Black people have all those cheatin’ advantages ’cause they had to run from lions, see?

    ’cause d00ds, y’all can’t tell a steroid user from normal people. If that were true, then nobody would need drug tests! Moreover, too many people seems to attribute these magical *puff* success powers to those injections. Steroids only work with the material they are given. In the hands of Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, they just turn even more world-class than they *already* are. In the hands of Ken Caminiti and plenty of other mere mortals, well…

    In any event, it’s actually fully possible for the woman in the provided picture to achieve that look without drugs. Steroids are about putting on muscle mass, and (I should know this–I weigh much more than people tend to think) that has little to do with the actual “cut” look that you see on bodybuilding mags. That look has to do with insane hours of workouts–most of which has to do with actual *sculpting*, which is the actual sport. Then all the prep for the big day, diets, liquids, rubber hose, whatever happens before the lights show off your muscles. Again, it’s quite possible to look at least like the pictured without steroids.

    I get pissed about much of this kind of attitude, not just because I like big, strong, athletic women (whose looks really should be appreciated more, not just small women like Mia Hamm, ferchristsakes), but because there are so many women like La Lubu who would benefit so much from regular weightlifting and are discouraged from trying it out by this kind of social consensus. The way so many people say it, it’s much like an *anti-large* phobia, regardless of whether that big woman is fatter, or stronger, or faster than you are. Thin is good, even when it’s unhealthy…

    Ever think why Dirk Nowitzski and Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobilli seems to be so much better than the local great white hopes like Keith Van Horne? Think about it.

  27. Onymous
    Onymous November 24, 2008 at 1:36 pm |

    spacedcowgirl says:
    “I’m sure a few women have that genetic capacity, but most wouldn’t, would they?”

    Most women aren’t body builders are they?

  28. Kyra
    Kyra November 24, 2008 at 2:10 pm |

    Her skin has a yellow tint, and jaundice is a side effect of steroid use.

    Her skin has also got some serious spray-tanning going on. They all do. That also tends to run overmuch into the orangey-yellow tints.

  29. Thomas
    Thomas November 24, 2008 at 2:47 pm |

    Just in case folks don’t know: the way bodybuilders look for competition and how they look in their everyday lives are very different. Their skins are dankened with heavy bronzer for competition, because it shows better under the lights. They alter their diets and workouts to cut fat and dehydrate, until the skin sucks right into the muscle striations and shows the texture. It leaves them feeling spent. It’s an unnatural look that they only maintain for a short while. Then they rehydrate, wash off the bronzer and look much less ripped up.

    Steroids are epidemic in high-end competetive bodybuilding, just like EPO is epidemic in cycling. But we don’t look at every skinny guy on a bicycle and expect him to keel over from an embolism.

  30. Thomas
    Thomas November 24, 2008 at 3:07 pm |

    BTW, there is a literature of women bodybuilders as a socially deviant identity in sociology. I’m aware of Robert Duff and Lawrence Hong, who have a few papers, including a chapter in this book. I read it many years ago.

    There’s also an explicitly feminist analysis here. However, I don’t know where to get any of that for free, unless one has a university library handy.

  31. ephraim
    ephraim November 24, 2008 at 3:17 pm |

    this argument might be better served by even less cliched images of female athleticism, such as shot putters or deadlifters.

  32. Thomas
    Thomas November 24, 2008 at 3:33 pm |

    ephraim, since you brought it up: powerlifter, strongwoman and Scottish Heavy Athletics competitor Shannon Hartnett.

  33. spacedcowgirl
    spacedcowgirl November 24, 2008 at 3:35 pm |

    Most women aren’t body builders are they?

    I don’t think that matters (based on the existence of/need for “natural” competitions and the fact that the women who compete in those are by and large not that big despite working out all the time just as the “mainstream” competitors do) but I also feel I am in danger of lending my voice to a point that (as I said earlier) I’m definitely not trying to make. I don’t think big is bad at all and that’s not what’s fueling my argument. I still think steroids are terrible for people and are rampant in both men’s and women’s bodybuilding, but I’ll concede that (of course) I have no proof one way or the other on the specific women whose images were linked. And you might argue that perhaps women who are genetically disposed to put on muscle easily might be more likely to get into bodybuilding because they have an aptitude for it, so certainly I don’t mean to argue that it isn’t a big gray area or that individual women should be attacked for steroid use when it’s not known for sure.

  34. octogalore
    octogalore November 24, 2008 at 3:41 pm |

    I agree with a number of people above who believe the majority of the female bodybuilders featured are indeed on steroids. I cannot claim to know this across the board or with respect to any particular woman (except one who I do know is, who’s featured, won’t go any further). I used to train at Golds Venice, as do many competitive bodybuilders of both genders and have some good authority as to % of male and female bodybuilders who do indeed dose.

    I’m with Mina on preferring a look that is typical of what can be achieved naturally. This still is kind of a genderfuck — even I have been accused of having “man arms,” and I’m not even close to the pics here. But I don’t think genderfuck, or at least the kind we celebrate, comes with taking illegal drugs with health risks. I’d recommend Oxygen or Women’s Health for examples of what women can do naturally with Okinawa diet principles and bodybuilding.

  35. spacedcowgirl
    spacedcowgirl November 24, 2008 at 6:32 pm |

    (I looked back at my original comment and saw that I wrote “I don’t see any way the women pictured aren’t on steroids,” which is an overshoot and of course I don’t know that for sure. So I’m sorry for stating that so unequivocally.)

  36. Laura Ross
    Laura Ross November 24, 2008 at 6:32 pm |

    Hey, I think the bodybuilder you have pictured in your article had a small part in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.” I could be wrong, but she looks like the Sensei Rex’s wife Starla, who after Uncle Rico tried to get her to read a testimonial about how large her bosoms grew, said she was uncomfortable, so he held two saucepans in front of her chest. I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular bodybuilder every time I have seen her since, as it took a lot of bravery to play this part when most of the audience thought she was a man in drag.

  37. Ellestar
    Ellestar November 24, 2008 at 7:44 pm |

    Wow.

    After reading most of the comments here, I went to the website expecting something completely different.

    I thought those women were absolutely gorgeous. The only thing that gave me pause was light blue contacts on one of the Black bodybuilders.

    I actually didn’t see a lot of slabbed muscle. As someone who’s naturally muscular, myself, I bet I could get pretty close to the physique of these women if I had the desire and nothing else to do with my day. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m already 1/4 of the way there.

    Again, I thought they were all beautiful.

  38. kb
    kb November 24, 2008 at 8:46 pm |

    spaced cowgirl-exactly(about the women who naturally are more likely to put on muscle being more likely to compete in this) I mean, yes, there’s obviously a lot of work being done, but even so, these are on one extreme end of the genetic spectrum-just like, for example fashion models, who while yes have to work very hard to maintain the opposite type of body, still have to have some very rare genetics as well. but that’s not particularly what struck me about this thread-when seeing an unconventional image of women, the best thing a feminist can say is “eww, they’re ugly?” that is disappointing. I do find these pictures pretty inspiring, just simply because I also will never really fit the delicate orchid model of femininity. I mean, no, the spray tan for competition is not necessarily a flattering look, but good grief. the insults on this board are pretty harsh. and from what I’ve read of people willing to blog about preparing for figure competitons, weight loss and being small still seems to be emphasized. I feel like it’s just taking even something that ought to allow women to break a little bit out of the roles defined for them and making it patriarchy safe. great.

  39. Tom
    Tom November 24, 2008 at 9:48 pm |

    One would have to be willfully blind not to realize that these women have been taking large doses of steroids, and possibly HGH to boot. It isn’t just the massive and disproportionate muscle mass and significant diminishment of secondary sex characteristics. The coarse skin, the bone structure that looks like they have pituitary gland disorders, it all just looks fundamentally off. And this is in a sport which essentially doesn’t exist without steroids at this level. And this is the case not just with one or two, but all 12 of them.

    Granted, we could spin out all the fanciful hypotheticals and explanations we can think of as to how these women aren’t juicing: intense and targeted training regimens, pre-competition diets, the lighting, the spray-on tan, genetic potential, falling outside stereotypes, three wishes from the big-muscles-and-big-jaws fairy, whatever. It’s always possible to “play ostrich” and opt out of using critical faculties and common sense and knowledge if one wishes, assuming that one possesses such things. It just isn’t very convincing to anyone else.

    That’s no argument for why anyone should or should not find these women attractive. That’s an entirely subjective and personal assessment. One can find someone with disproportionately augmented breasts or lips attractive as well (I don’t, but some people obviously do), and that’s just as artificial as the women in these pictures. There isn’t an objective argument for why everyone, each and every single person, could or could not find attractive any particular possible physical attribute or aspect of personal appearance (though one probably could make the case that most people will or will not find at least some things attractive).

  40. shah8
    shah8 November 24, 2008 at 11:18 pm |

    Fight fire with fire, I say…

    http://www.fitnessatlantic.com/Rachelle-Cannon.htm

    and there are plenty of other women if you care to google for it–who proportedly have worked on their physique naturally, presumably without steroids. And yup, they can bulk it up just fine.

    Maybe it’s strange to Tom, but I’ve always been around big women, to the point that I don’t really consider 6′ tall women abnormal, the way Ezra Klein does. So I’ve always known women who have *really* big bones, see, and somehow, they’ve managed to carry that with grace.

    One of the things that seriously bugs me about social perceptions of elite athletes is the narcissic attitudes that permeates the bystander’s stance towards athletes. Bodybuilding is an accessible sport! Pretty much anyone can enjoy it and bulk (or just tone) up to whatever your body can handle. Just like sprinting, or bicycling, or any of the other simple sport. However, professional competition will require good genes to really get anywheres–along with tons of hard work. Steroids will never make someone who wasn’t ever going to be a serious contender into a contender, however much that all of the serious bodybuilders use them. On the flip side, nobody should be tarnishing the efforts of anyone who bulks up, without knowing for sure! It is not an assured thing that all of those women were doping, certainly not fanciful hypotheticals!

  41. Emma
    Emma November 25, 2008 at 1:39 am |

    I’m curious about the health effects of very low body fat (osteoporosis), huge amounts of time spent training, deliberately dehydrating oneself before competitions (heart attacks, seizures and so on), a disproportionately high protein diet (kidneys), and a major focus on appearance, whether steroids or being used or not. Illnesses like anorexia and bulimia involve some similarly unhealthy behaviours, and despite the fact that the desired body type is very different, muscular and strong rather than frail and waif-like, I feel like it’s still problematic to be compromising one’s health for any physical ideal.

    (This interests me largely because I had an eating disorder for many years.)

  42. William
    William November 25, 2008 at 10:19 am |

    Wow, let me second (third, umpteen, whatever) the shock at all the negative comments. I’ll admit it, these women aren’t particularly attractive to me. But thats perfectly OK because I’m pretty sure none of them are doing this for me, they don’t have to fit my aesthetic of beauty. This is something they’re doing for themselves and the limits to which they’ve voluntarily pushed their bodies is both impressive and, to my mind, commendable.

    What disturbed me most about this thread were the tone some of the negative comments took. Why is “speciesfuck” a bad thing? Why is choosing to appear in a way that offends your notion of what a human should look like (and all the baggage you’re bringing into that determination) a problem? Why compare people to animals and monsters in video games because they fail to meet your expectations?

    As for the concerns about steroid use, eating disorders, and health effects again, whose life is this? I understand the concern, but this kind of radical body alteration is something these women (and men who bodybuild) have chosen. There are lots of things that individuals do which give me pause (spend a couple of weeks reading BME’s ModBlog, for example), but I simply do not understand the oftentimes aggressive devaluation of the choices people make and the assumption that there must be something wrong with them for them to live by a different analysis of costs and benefits.

  43. kb
    kb November 25, 2008 at 11:55 am |

    Tom-I think very few people are denying the possibility, even likelihood of steriod use. I know among really high level competitors of both genders it happens a lot. but a-as william said above how is that your buisness? and b-how do you know it beyond “I know what a woman is supposed to look like” even if you make it gender neutral-which I’m not totally sold is what’s going on in some of the comments on this thread, but I have no good specific instances, and someone did use the term speciesfuck, so lets make it “I know what a human is supposed to look like.” Do you really in 100% of cases? who made you the final authority? I would ask that of everyone on this thread who makes those comments. who made you the final authority on what its possible for a human to look like? are you really saying these women aren’t human? that’s about as textbook a definition of dehumanization as there is.

  44. Thomas
    Thomas November 25, 2008 at 12:28 pm |

    But thats perfectly OK because I’m pretty sure none of them are doing this for me, they don’t have to fit my aesthetic of beauty.

    Well said, William.

    To me, what this post mostly highlights is that we live in a culture where women’s physical appearances are objects, public property, contested political terrain … where everything about how a woman presents herself is held up for approval or disapproval by public acclimation. And, of course, we’re all participating in that.

    (So, in that climate, can any woman do anything regarding her appearance “just for herself”? Maybe not in a pure sense, but to analyze it that way is so destructive to women’s own sense of agency. Can it be that we both analyze why women present themselves a certain way, and acknowledge their agency in choosing their appearance?)

  45. gothchiq
    gothchiq November 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm |

    aieeee! Steroids! orange skin! Breast implants visible under the skin as circles!

    There are, as others have mentioned, strong and muscular and beautiful female athletes who do not disfigure themselves like that. Tennis players, runners, gymnasts.

  46. William
    William November 25, 2008 at 2:30 pm |

    aieeee! Steroids! orange skin! Breast implants visible under the skin as circles!

    There are, as others have mentioned, strong and muscular and beautiful female athletes who do not disfigure themselves like that. Tennis players, runners, gymnasts.

    Disfigure? Really? Care to unpack that a bit?

    You say these women are disfigured which, I’m assuming, means that their forms have deviated far enough from the 50th percentile to be considered abnormal. Moreover from the context and tone of your post you find that variance, that abnormality, to be a bad thing. So disgusting that it’s worth screaming and elaborate punctuation. You also place, as a counter to these women, other women who you consider to be “beautiful.” Why is it that you feel the need to degrade these women who have made an aesthetic choice different to the one you have? Why is it that you feel you have the right to sit in judgment and mock their appearance?

    What, exactly, was the point of your post? It seems to me that all you managed to do was express your disgust at someone who doesn’t look the way you like people to look (I believe the technical term for that is “being an asshat”) and reinforce the rules society has for what a woman ought to look like through verbal aggression. On a feminist blog. In a post about gender conformity and social expectations.

  47. William
    William November 25, 2008 at 2:36 pm |

    Oh, and as an addendum, gothchiq. Your statement about disfiguring is about as shallow and superficial as it can get. Comparing body builder to runners, tennis players, and gymnasts? Do a bit of research into what happens to the bodies of female gymnasts who compete. Look into what happens to the joints of tennis players. Perhaps investigate some of the things the human body does after it’s been asked to run a marathon. None of it is particularly pretty, but it is something that the people engaged in those activities accept as part of the costs of their passion.

    Then, think about what your athletic women have in common that those body builders you’re so disgusted by lack. First things that pop into my head are shape, build, and traditional gender appearance.

  48. Lauren
    Lauren November 25, 2008 at 2:46 pm |

    But thats perfectly OK because I’m pretty sure none of them are doing this for me, they don’t have to fit my aesthetic of beauty.

    Which is exactly what I told the husband after he recoiled at the pictures. And exactly what I told my mom when she recoiled at my piercings and tattoos.

    To me, what this post mostly highlights is that we live in a culture where women’s physical appearances are objects, public property, contested political terrain … where everything about how a woman presents herself is held up for approval or disapproval by public acclimation. And, of course, we’re all participating in that.

    Exactly.

    I have to say I’m a little disappointed at the level of vitriol being leveled at these women’s photos, much of which is couched in the kind of health-based concern trolling that we see over the overweight, the underweight, and now, apparently, the “too-” fit.

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  50. ACG
    ACG November 25, 2008 at 3:41 pm |

    As for the concerns about steroid use, eating disorders, and health effects again, whose life is this? I understand the concern, but this kind of radical body alteration is something these women (and men who bodybuild) have chosen.

    I don’t think “whose life is this” is an acceptable blanket argument. We debate other people’s choices all the time – wear/not wear makeup, self-identify/not self-identify as feminists, go to work/stay at home, have/not have an abortion under certain circumstances. We debate both the wisdom (from our individual perspectives) of those decisions and the potential impact of those decisions on the rest of society.

    Where body image is concerned, the debate gets particularly passionate because it goes beyond personal choice. When an actress diets down to a dangerously low weight, do we dismiss it as “her life” and her choice, or do we discuss the influence she might have on young fans? When someone’s strict diet devolves into anorexia – or a workout routine develops into body dysmorphia – do we still argue that they’re making their own choices?

    Like I said before, I’m not saying that all of these women are doing unhealthy things, that they’re working from unhealthy motivations, or that there’s anything wrong with throwing off gender conventions and looking the way that they do. It’s certainly not ours to dictate anyone else’s personal aesthetics. But it’s possible to discuss their choices without passing judgment or being labeled as shallow.

  51. William
    William November 25, 2008 at 4:05 pm |

    I don’t think “whose life is this” is an acceptable blanket argument. We debate other people’s choices all the time – wear/not wear makeup, self-identify/not self-identify as feminists, go to work/stay at home, have/not have an abortion under certain circumstances.

    And I think a lot of people (myself included) would argue that all of those things you just mentioned are none of anyone’s damn business but the person making the decision. Seriously, your opinion about what someone ought to do with their life is not only meaningless but invasive. Worse, it inevitably leads to people thinking that the fact that they have an opinion necessarily means that theirs is the right opinion (as if you could ever have a “right” answer about something subject) and can thus be rammed down others throats with impunity. Take a look at the tenor of most of the negative responses here. Do they look like a a discussion about the impact of person decisions or do they look like the policing of social norms through derision and disgust?

    Where body image is concerned, the debate gets particularly passionate because it goes beyond personal choice.

    Interesting premise. If it goes beyond personal choice what power ought society have to ensure that the correct choice is made? Or are you simply advocating social exclusion and pariah status for people who have offended your sensibilities?

    When an actress diets down to a dangerously low weight, do we dismiss it as “her life” and her choice, or do we discuss the influence she might have on young fans?

    We can do both, provided we take care to remember that an actress is a person, not a foil for a political agenda. My objection is to demonizing, dehumanizing, or otherwise vilifying the actress in question by assuming that she has a) done something wrong, and b) that her body is a point for public discussion because society has chosen to objectify it.

    When someone’s strict diet devolves into anorexia – or a workout routine develops into body dysmorphia – do we still argue that they’re making their own choices?

    Are you a health care provider? Have you personally treated any of the women in question? Do you know anything about them other than the fact that they don’t look the way you expect women to look? You’re projecting your beliefs about how people should look into someone else in order to make a point about society as a whole. Worse, you’re doing it with absolutely no information. As for the issue of dysmorphia, that has nothing to do with size, dimension, or work out regimen and everything to do with perceptions about one’s body. If these women look in the mirror and think they’re fat, then perhaps we’re talking about dysmorphia, but thats something we have no way of knowing and that is none of our damn business. Besides, dysmorphia is a DSM diagnosis, not an objective criteria.

    Even beyond your assumption of pathology, I still take issue with your implication that someone someone’s private behavior and relationship with their body is fair play for public scrutiny. Thats the kinda bullshit that leads to eating and body perception disorders in the first place.

    Like I said before, I’m not saying that all of these women are doing unhealthy things, that they’re working from unhealthy motivations, or that there’s anything wrong with throwing off gender conventions and looking the way that they do.

    Thats exactly what you’re saying by using them and their bodies as objects to make a point or starting points for discussion about social values.

    It’s certainly not ours to dictate anyone else’s personal aesthetics.

    But by discussing their bodies in the context of pathology thats what you’re doing. You’re sending the message that if someone exists outside of a certain arbitrary set of boundaries they will become fair play for public ridicule, assumption of illness, or at the very least public scrutiny. You cannot have it both ways. As soon as you bring their bodies in as exhibits in your dialog you are both passing judgment and attempting to dictate behavior by telling these women and others that it is not OK to look like that. Not all oppression and coercive norming comes in the form of public beatings and ballot propositions, a lot of it comes from implicit beliefs and subtle messages.

    But it’s possible to discuss their choices without passing judgment or being labeled as shallow.

    Its possible, yes. It is not possible so long as the discussion is wrapped up with our own baggage and consists of disgust and revulsion.

  52. The Amazing(ly tired) Kim
    The Amazing(ly tired) Kim November 26, 2008 at 12:25 am |

    I find many of these photos as disturbing as I would photos of women trying to achieve the waifish, “delicate orchid” look through anorexia.

    Er, that’s not really what anorexia’s about…

    But I second Gene’s comment about women in the media, and the effects of the genderf**k. How did this thread become a bunch of people stating their individual sexual preferences? What’ s interesting about that?

  53. Tom
    Tom November 26, 2008 at 12:43 am |

    kb, appreciate you engaging directly. I was the one using the term “speciesfuck”. Maybe inartful, it was my gut reaction.

    I made the point that the suggestion that these women aren’t on steroids is not credible. I’ll concede that I’m coming at this somewhat uninitiated, as it were, but in so far as I know about the long-term effects of steroids and the consequences of pushing the human body this far beyond it’s natural limits, I am not a supporter of this type of bodybuilding, either for men or women. It encourages its participants to unhealthy behaviors, and it promotes an unrealistic and artificial ideal of the human form, which makes it not unlike the fashion, beauty and mainstream porn industries, by the way. That it may have the incidental virtue of challenging gender stereotypes and norms doesn’t change that basic underlying fact.

    By the bye, if anyone around here does have direct experience with artificially-enhanced bodybuilding and has a positive alternative view on the subject, please share.

  54. Roy
    Roy November 26, 2008 at 10:34 am |

    I just read this thread, but count me with the surprised at the negativity group. This is just amazing to me, because it’s exactly the same as the fat-shaming that happens in other threads, only to the other extreme. I mean, look at the arguments being presented. We’ve got people calling these women disgusting, grosteque, and disturbing… Oh! And let us not forget the “But what about their health?!” comments. Now, where have we heard those arguments before? Ooooh, right… In just about any thread about fat.

    I’m just going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re not their doctors, and that they’re probably not doing the body building thing for your benefit, so why should they care that you do or do not find them attractive? There’s a world of difference between talking about the social forces that lead us to view our bodies the way we do, and saying “Oh, that woman is gross”.

    I mean, seriously… in what context is it ever okay to call a woman a “grotesquerie” because you don’t happen to find her body attractive?

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  56. William
    William November 26, 2008 at 7:19 pm |

    . I was the one using the term “speciesfuck”. Maybe inartful, it was my gut reaction.

    Hey, your natural reaction is your natural reaction. Nothing to apologize for. I like the term “speciesfuck,” though for different reasons. I think that your reaction tells us something about where you’re coming from and what your bias might be.

    I’ll concede that I’m coming at this somewhat uninitiated, as it were, but in so far as I know about the long-term effects of steroids and the consequences of pushing the human body this far beyond it’s natural limits, I am not a supporter of this type of bodybuilding, either for men or women.

    That would seem to be your bias though, Tom. You have a view of what people naturally ought to look like. The problem you have with it is that people are pushing their bodies beyond their natural limits and that they are striving towards an unrealistic or unnatural goal. You’re essentially making an appeal to the Order of Things, arguing that things simply naturally are a certain way and that human beings shouldn’t be stepping outside of what nature has carved for them. Perhaps you believe that this is only the case when that stepping out is somehow harmful to the individual, but thats your own analysis of the relative costs and benefits. Clearly these individuals have come to a different conclusion of what they value in their lives and why. I personally applaud them for having managed to push their bodies to such an extreme, just as I applaud someone who finished a triathlon or a guitarist who is almost sure to end up with carpal tunnel because of the incredible things they make their hands do.

    It encourages its participants to unhealthy behaviors,

    With what definition of health? Health isn’t an objective standard, it is a subjective system of physical values. Even at the edges where most of us would agree the issue of personal values weighs heavily when we consider quality of life versus quantity. If you could choose between having 50 years of prime physical condition but only a 60 year life span or 100 years of life with a slow slide from 40, which would be the “healthier” option? More importantly, do you think you’d ever manage to build a consensus?

    and it promotes an unrealistic and artificial ideal of the human form, which makes it not unlike the fashion, beauty and mainstream porn industries, by the way.

    I’d argue that bodybuilding is closer to the radical body modification crowd than to the porn or fashion industries. Pornstars and fashion models seek extreme bodies because they know that thats what society finds (or claims to find) desirable and by meeting that ideal they will be able to make a living. Body builders, like radical modders, are pushing their bodies to the edges of human potential. For the most part no one makes a living being a body builder. Even beyond that I think there is something fundamentally different between pushing your body in a direction that you know most of society will find repugnant (see most of this thread) because you find it beautiful and pushing your body to an extreme because that is what society is demanding of you.

  57. Lenda
    Lenda November 27, 2008 at 7:12 am |

    I find strong woman just b e a u t i f u l !!!
    De gustibus non disputandum.

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  61. jennny
    jennny November 30, 2008 at 4:19 pm |

    Wow… I’m surprised that on a feminist website so many people are slamming these women for their personal choices. Don’t they have the right to pursue that body type, if they want to? Who cares if you don’t like it. It’s their choice, their life, their body. I don’t like the look, but they’re not doing it for me! I can still look at those pics and think “Wow, they work really hard!” its ALOT of hard work. Even with steroids (which I can’t claim to know if they’re taking) its so much hard work and dedication for a woman to put on that kind of muscle. Good for them!

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  63. dana
    dana December 1, 2008 at 11:03 am |

    One can’t tell steroid use just by looking at pictures; one can tell that there is a low body-fat percentage, implants, dehydration, and a fake tanner. But steroid use isn’t visible to the naked eye, and it doesn’t magically create bulging muscles absent hard work in any case. Even the steroid users would have to cut back on body fat and water intake to achieve that kind of definition; at non-competition levels of body fat, this woman probably wouldn’t look out of place at all.

    I’m really surprised by the turn the discussion has taken, because whether someone’s appearance is appropriately sexy surely isn’t a standard discussion around here.

  64. Jenny
    Jenny December 1, 2008 at 11:34 am |

    I think what these women are doing is really cool – it takes a lot of courage to break out of gender roles this visibly. It’s unfortunate that so many people have reacted so negatively. I wouldn’t – and probably couldn’t – push my body to this extreme, nor do I find it particularly attractive, but that’s really not the point at all.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the whole “genderfuck” concept – be it through bodybuilding, hairstyle, or dress. It’s a shame it’s so difficult to have an intelligent conversation about it.

  65. geekgirl99
    geekgirl99 December 1, 2008 at 12:47 pm |

    William, you win. Thanks for taking the time to leave those comments.

  66. Bunny
    Bunny December 1, 2008 at 2:08 pm |

    I have always had a love for the bodybuilder physique on women- mainly for how impressive and strong such women seem; such balance and poise, they seem so aware of and assure of their own physical capabilities.

    As has repeatedly been stated above, the oiled, cut and tightly defined muscular look in promotional images is mainly produced by very strict regimes, emphasized with fake tan, applied lotions to the skin and other techniques, and isn’t something that is visible everyday- just compare Arnie’s bodybuilding pics to his nude image in Terminator- still big, still defined, but very very different.

    But you know what? I feel so angry that it is even necessary on a FEMINIST blog to qualify the above image by even saying that. “Oh don’t worry, she looks much more acceptable usually!”

    I’m a short, stocky, fat person myself, and I naturally gain muscle pretty easily. Repeating back problems are currently stopping me from taking weightlifting to the level I want to, but if I ever manage to fix that I dream one day of looking like Ross Campbell’s Mountain Girl. Not physically possible to that extent, I don’t think, but that sort of broad, stocky, solid physique is probably what my body would tend towards. And anyone who wants to call me grotesque, inhuman, unfeminine… meh, people call me that now for having a gut.

  67. Emily
    Emily December 1, 2008 at 2:30 pm |

    I haven’t been following the comments thread, but here’s a translation of the site’s Russian text:

    Один из самых успешных фотографов-портретистов в мире Мартин Шоллер (Martin Schoeller) в сотрудничестве с издательством Pond Press Books представил книгу-фотоальбом под названием «Female Bodybuilders». Фотоальбом представляет собой коллекцию портретов женщин, которые занимаются профессиональным бодибилдингом. Каждая фотография сопровождена небольшим автобиографическим рассказом женщины-бодибилдера.

    One of the most successful photographers and portrait artists in the world, Martin Schoeller, in collaboration with the publisher Pond Press Books, presented a photo album book under the title “Female Bodybuilders.” The album presents a collection of portraits of women engaged in professional bodybuilding. Each photograph is accompanied by a brief autobiographical sketch by the female bodybuilder.

  68. GottaBeMe
    GottaBeMe December 2, 2008 at 10:14 am |

    What I don’t like about the bodybuilding “industry” (for lack of a better term) is the same thing that I don’t like about the modeling and acting industries: women are pressured to look a certain way, and to focus on their bodies above all else, and to make their bodies fit someone’s idea of what a female bodybuilder’s body “should” look like. How is that different or better than the pressure that female models and actresses are under to look a certain way?

    Why is it okay to make that criticism about the modeling industry and the acting industry, but not about the bodybuilding industry?

    And just because someone says “the bodybuilding look is not my thing” does not make them a sexist jerk. I do think it’s jerky to criticize anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with the person who posted the photos, regardless of how nicely they express their difference of opinion.

  69. kb
    kb December 2, 2008 at 12:19 pm |

    gottabeme-they may or may not be a sexist jerk, but you’re missing the point about how nobody owes it to anyone to be attractive. Nobody owes you pretty. Nobody owes you feminine. got it? and, nobody says that the body building industry is beyond criticism, and the issue you point out is a good one. but, as with the modeling industry, the answer to the issue is not to say “these women are ugly. . . . oops, I mean unhealthy” That is the complaint people here have been making.

  70. William
    William December 2, 2008 at 4:48 pm |

    How is that different or better than the pressure that female models and actresses are under to look a certain way?

    Really? Well, first off the top of my head is that bodybuilders don’t really make money body building unless they’re at the absolute highest levels of competition. Even then the costs of spending that much time in the gym, the incredible caloric intake required to maintain that kind of mass, and the price of jetting around to competitions is rarely covered by whatever winnings might be available. Actresses and models have to look a certain way in order to be successful in their careers and in order to continue to have jobs. Being an actress or a model is a profession. Bodybuilders don’t really profit monetarily from being body builders, nor do they have the social incentives to conform to a societal beauty norm. In fact, being a female bodybuilder actually carries significant social disincentives. In the face of all that some women choose to develop their bodies in a manner they know others will find disgusting. They know that significant portions of society will seem them as unnatural or unwomanly. They just don’t care.

    Thats the difference. Models and actresses force themselves to conform to beauty standards in order to survive. Female bodybuilders ignore those standards because their vision of beauty is different.

    Why is it okay to make that criticism about the modeling industry and the acting industry, but not about the bodybuilding industry?

    Because it isn’t an industry and it isn’t the same thing. Vogue doesn’t have a “Really Ripped Women” edition, Playboy doesn’t do “Women who could bench you” spreads, Maxim doesn’t feature bulging female biceps, and society in general does not point to female body builders and say “this is what you need to look like if you want to be loved and accepted.”

    Too often, and this thread as been as good an example as any, the criticisms leveled at female bodybuilders are rooted in the disgust of the person making the criticism. Female bodybuilders are not a major facet of society or pop culture, no one is inundated with their images day in and day out. The criticisms of modeling and acting are about concern for the messages that are sent and the effects those messages have on society as a whole. You can’t make the same argument about bodybuilding because bodybuilding doesn’t really have much of an effect on society. That leaves either a belief that you know better for others (which is, you know, generally horseshit), or a smoke screen to allow you to voice your disgust in an “acceptable” manner.

    And just because someone says “the bodybuilding look is not my thing” does not make them a sexist jerk.

    Agreed. The thing is, no one has actually, you know, said that. No one is arguing that you have to find these women beautiful if they do not fit your perception of beauty, just that no one has a right to suggest that these women ought to look different.

    I do think it’s jerky to criticize anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with the person who posted the photos,

    Well, I never claimed to be a saint. Would it be jerky of me to point out that you can tell a lot about what a person is thinking by how they defend against criticisms that aren’t being leveled? Yeah, probably is kinda jerky. ;)

  71. Holly
    Holly December 2, 2008 at 5:24 pm |

    There are a lot of smaller niches within our larger society that have their own rules and pressures and standards of attractiveness, or how to look, or propriety of appearance. I certainly agree that those standards should always be subject to questioning, especially when there might be health risks involved. Even if an idea of beauty is an alternative vision that defies some or all of what mainstream beauty standards dictate, it’s still possible for an alternative vision to become its own straightjacket — for people within those communities to be bullied or oppressed in a microcosmic way. When you find solace and acceptance and self-expression in a microcosm, that can be very damaging indeed.

    The beauty standards of a niche, however, are always in tension with the rest of society, which has beauty standards that are far more pervasive, broadcast, uncritically accepted, and institutionalized. This is what you absolutely cannot forget if you are going to comment about a small subculture’s ideas of beauty — especially if you have a closer personal relationship to more conventional norms than to those you’re commenting on. I may not be traditionally gendered myself, but I’m far more conventional and unremarkable looking than most of these women, even if we were all wearing the same dress.

    If I were to criticize or evince disgust, without really understanding or being part of the formulation of this alternative idea of beauty, without really being qualified to opine on the medical issues at hand (which I’m not) then what I end up doing, regardless of whether it’s just my “personal, private, aesthetic opinion,” is to reinforce the larger societal beauty standards that this subculture is tension with. Sure, go ahead, have your own opinion about whether you find these women attractive. I certainly have my own opinion, but I don’t find it necessary to publicize it in a political forum about feminism like this one.

    Here’s another way to look at it. What if this thread were about butch lesbians? There are certainly plenty of scenes across the world in which you can find group opinions of what is and isn’t acceptable for butch women to look like. Although it’s loose and slippery and often resisted, there are definitions out there of “what’s butch” and “what’s not butch.” There are social rules, although many butch women are conscious of them, dislike the idea, bend or break them. At the same time, obviously butch women don’t have gender expressions that are socially approved. Butch women are discriminated against and targeted fir harassment specifically for non-standard gender expressions.

    If this had been a post with images from a book like Female Masculinity would you all be saying “ugh, these women look disgusting to me” if butch ladies are not to your taste? “Wow, it’s so unnatural and grotesque for women to try to make their bodies look that way.” You’d be duplicating homophobic internet trolls. I doubt any of you would comment like that, because it’s clearer in this particular milieu that gender-transgressions of a different sort, involving clothing and hairstyles and attitudes, are a protected species. Bodybuilding isn’t associated with a politics of oppression. Heck, the way these women are treated is probably quite different than other flavors of gender non-conforming people, but it’s still quite clear that they are on the outside of beauty standards, and to me that means I watch my tongue when publicly commenting about their appearance.

    All the comments about steroids are shots in the dark. How about people who are elsewhere on the so-called “trans-masculine spectrum?” If you see a group of genderqueers, do you speculate about who’s taking hormones? Comment about how trans guys who are taking testosterone are damaging their bodies? Again, you don’t, because we’ve developed a politics here around that, to explain why you don’t. But seriously, think a little bit more about the underlying ethics of local vs. global beauty standards and your own position in the system vs. outsider subcultures.

  72. Mau de Katt
    Mau de Katt December 3, 2008 at 6:06 pm |

    Well, one reason why bodybuilder photographs, these and others of the “showcase ” or competition sort, is that the models shown are severely, albeit temporarily, dehydrated. My initial impression of them, looking at their faces at least, was “skeletal.” (Odd, given the amount of muscle built up ~on~ those skeletons, but true nonetheless.)

    A friend of mine is a bodybuilder (non-steroid-using), and he told me that part of what is involved in getting those “every muscle clearly delineated” shots, or getting into competition form, is a very delicately-balanced and timed dosing of diuretics to dump out as much water from the subcutaneous fat layer as possible, resulting in that “skin stretched super-tight over nothing but muscle and bone” look in those pictures. If you catch bodybuilders away from the cameras or competitions, they’d still have the same ginormous muscles, but they’d be smoothed-out and wouldn’t look as super-gaunt and grotesque.

  73. Bill Dobbins
    Bill Dobbins December 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm |

    It’s interesting to read the above comments. Some people want to comment on female bodybuilding but say they don’t like it. Are we interested in opinions about opera from people who don’t like opera? What is the point of that?

    Bodybuilding is a very specialized sport, a specialized look. It’s not for everyone, but no sport or look or body type or activity is for everyone. What else is new? The new understanding that women can build muscle and info on how to do it has lead to fitness and figure competition, where women have muscle but are not so extreme. It has allowed athletes, actors, models and everyone else to gain muscle, depending on their commitment and genetics. The fact that working out to build muscle and watching your diet to get leaner is also good for your health is a bonus.

    There are also comments from people about steroids. But most people don’t even know what steroids are, what they do, how much difference they make and are unaware of how little danger is involved if they are used correctly. But this is all about to become moot since genetic engineering will allow us to all gain a lot of muscle easily in the future and steroids, GH and other anabolics will be obsolete.

    But it seems to be that being “offended” by female bodybuilders is like being offended by the fact that pro basketball players are so tall or track athletes run so fast. Women bodybuilders look as they do because they are bodybuilders. Simple as that.

    My advice to people is enjoy what you enjoy but don’t feel compelled to make judgements about things you don’t like – and probably don’t understand.

  74. IthacaSkinhead
    IthacaSkinhead January 17, 2009 at 4:55 am |

    Female body builders prove that gender is more than society deep. Women can rarely build muscle mass beyond a certain point; usually the photographs shown on that site are the upper limit that most women will not reach. Also, if you notice their faces are worn and haggard looking. This is because body-building takes such an immense toll on women’s body’s that they actually age quicker. It also takes them *that long* to build a physique like that, while a man could surpass that level in 2 – 5 years.

  75. La BellaDonna
    La BellaDonna June 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm |

    Hunh. I think I spent too much of my formative years watching and reading science fiction; I like variety in the way people look. Variety in the way they dress, variety in skin colours, variety in hair colours, variety in body types…. all manner of variety. Like flowers; it’s perfectly possible to have a flower bed with only one type of flower in it, and it can be a lovely flower bed; but I enjoy the variety available. I got older, and found people who do all manner of body modifications. Even if it’s not something I choose to do myself, I’m glad the option is there for the people who want to do it.

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