The “Alternate Femininity” of Female Bodybuilders

A striking pose by Karen Garrett.

A striking pose by Karen Garrett.

The unfair stereotypes associated with female bodybuilders are both too numerous to list and cringe-worthy when heard aloud.

“Female bodybuilders are gross because they don’t look like women!”

“Female bodybuilders are disgusting because they secretly want to be men!”

“Female bodybuilders are unappealing because women aren’t supposed to be that muscular!”

“Female bodybuilders aren’t real women because…well, isn’t it obvious?”

How many times have you heard opinions like these? Maybe not word-for-word, but generally speaking does any of this sound familiar? In all likelihood, fans of female bodybuilders and female bodybuilders themselves have probably come across vitriol like this way too often.

In an attempt to shatter some of these negative stereotypes, let’s discuss a concept that a student of gender/sexuality studies should be well versed in: gender as a social construct.

The theory goes that the idea we’ve come to know as “gender” is an arbitrary set of rules, roles and beliefs that is artificially created by culture rather than inherent biology. The differences between men and women are considered “differences” because “we say it’s so.” While certain physiological characteristics separate the male and female sexes (genitalia, hormone levels, reproductive system, etc.), other factors like behavior, intellectual abilities and hierarchal positions in society are nothing more than just a product of the paradigms we’ve created over time.

If we assume this theory to have at least a certain degree of validity, this somewhat debunks the above mentioned stereotypes as, simply put, a bunch of hogwash.

Of course female bodybuilders are real women! They aren’t men. Men are men and women are women. A woman with muscles is still a woman, despite how (admittedly) unusual it is. Who says women aren’t supposed to be that muscular? Just because we don’t see that sort of thing every day doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.

The idea that female bodybuilders aren’t “feminine” plays into traditional gender roles that most human societies have adapted to a point. Yes, it’s true there are certain cultures out there where women are more of the “hunters” than the “gatherers,” but these types of societies are far and few between. For the sake of debate, let’s just assume that the “men are the stronger sex, women are the weaker sex” dichotomy is universally agreed upon.

Famke Janssen might be the most gorgeous woman on the planet.

Famke Janssen might be the most gorgeous woman on the planet.

It should be mentioned that “femininity” can have a fluid definition. Is “feminine” simply defined as any characteristics that a woman displays, or does there have to be a certain level of “social agreement” on these characteristics? For example, even though weightlifting is traditionally regarded as a male pastime, if more women took up the hobby, over time wouldn’t we start to associate the activity as more “gender neutral?”

Smoking was once seen as strictly a male-dominated activity. Then women started to smoke as well once feminism took off as a major social force. At the time, a woman having the right to smoke in public was a real feminist issue. Our society once upon a time ago looked down upon that suggestion. Then, things changed and both genders were given the “right” to light up a cigarette (now, ironically, smoking is looked down upon not for reasons based on gender, but health).

Perhaps it might be fair to say that female bodybuilders are part of an “alternate femininity.” They’re still feminine, but not in a traditional sense.

One could argue the decision of a woman to take up the sport of bodybuilding is unto itself a feminist act. It’s an act of a woman defying social expectations to achieve results that are both self-empowering and openly defiant of the “weaker sex” label. While many real life FBBs may not actively consider themselves “feminists,” no one can argue that the sport by itself creates problems in how we define traditional femininity.

A lovely pose by Alana Shipp.

A lovely pose by Alana Shipp.

But not “alternate femininity.” The sport of female bodybuilding doesn’t contradict gender roles; it makes it more inclusive of other roles. Men are not the only ones allowed to be physically strong. Women can too. This doesn’t violate the gender divide, rather it challenges us to reconsider whether a divide really exists in the first place (or should exist). Thus, gender roles can’t be contradicted if there is nothing at all to contradict.

The “alternate femininity” theory is based on the idea that if gender is a social construct, everyone is allowed to define gender in their own way. How can you be wrong in your own personal opinion?

So, we can now define “feminine” (and its counterpart “masculine”) in a new way:

Feminine is anything a woman is or does.

This definition completely eliminates the factors of social expectations and cultural rituals. Feminine is not defined as anything a woman is or does as defined by society, but instead anything a woman is or does PERIOD.

For example, if a particular woman likes to drink beer, watch football and play violent videogames, all these activities are “feminine” simply because a woman is doing it. It doesn’t matter that most of us associate these activities with the male species. What matters is what happens on an individual level, nothing more and nothing less.

Who wouldn't go gaga over Sofia Vergara?

Who wouldn’t go gaga over Sofia Vergara?

When we view the world of female bodybuilding through this lens, then theoretically we shouldn’t have any issues here. If a woman wants to bulk herself up, she has every right to. But not only does she have the right to do this, she isn’t betraying her sex, her femininity or her relationship with masculinity. A female bodybuilder isn’t seeking to become masculine. She’s still feminine. Just a different kind of feminine.

It begs to be mentioned that “separate but equal” is not what this is about. “Alternate femininity” is not a separate kind of femininity, but rather a substitute for how we commonly define as conventional femininity.

Alright. So…what’s really the point of all this nonsense?

The main purpose of this conversation is to prove the point that there’s nothing really unusual about straight men being attracted to muscular women. While on the surface this does indeed seem strange, when you logically play out this scenario from beginning to end, this is really much ado about nothing.

Straight men are attracted to women. This simple fact has been accepted for generations upon generations. But if we add the condition of “straight men are attracted to muscular women,” why does everyone suddenly become irrational and think this is some kind of abomination?

I want to be poolside by Simone Sousa!

I want to be poolside by Simone Sousa!

If one of your male buddies told you while you were hanging out over drinks that he thinks “Sofia Vergara is hot,” well, I can’t think of too many guys who would disagree. So why is it considered weird when that same guy also says “Alina Popa is hot”? It’s a matter of personal preference, not some arbitrary set of hard-and-fast rules about what kinds of women men are allowed to be attracted to.

This dispels the rumor that we love female bodybuilders because “they look like men” or that “we’re secretly gay.” This cannot be further from the truth. Our sexuality is not in question. When I fantasize about being with a woman like Amber DeLuca, I’m not thinking about her as one of my guy friends. I don’t daydream about downing cheap lagers with her while we shoot pool or go bowling. Instead, I’m imagining a scenario involving a romantic candlelit dinner, expensive red wine, flowers, an idyllic beach-side resort and hours and hours of very hot and sensual lovemaking.

Oh yeah!

I want to connect with her emotionally and intellectually, not just physically. My romantic fantasies involving an FBB would not seem out of place in a sappy Nicholas Sparks novel. Just the amount of weight the leading lady can bench press might differ a tad!

To summarize, let’s attempt to reduce this discussion to its most basic elements:

Men are attracted to beautiful women.

Sound crazy? Nope. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. As a straight guy myself, I can attest to how accurate this sentence is. Men are attracted to beautiful women. Who can possibly argue with that?

The caveat, of course, is that men define “beautiful” in different ways. And guess what? They have every right to! No man should ever constrict himself over what kinds of beauty he appreciates in the world. Life is too short to limit yourself. Never box yourself in. If there’s something in life that really gets your gears running, don’t shy away from it. Embrace it!

Aaaaaaaand finally, a much-anticipated photo of Adriana Lima.

Aaaaaaaand finally, a much-anticipated photo of Adriana Lima.

I am attracted to women like Lisa Cross and Lindsay Mulinazzi not just because of their muscles. You see, it’s not just about the muscles, or her strength, or her bulk. It’s everything about her. Their personalities. Their intellect. Their drive, dedication, motivation and desires. It’s the total package that makes me go gaga for them.

Simply put, I’m attracted to Miss Cross and Miss Mulinazzi because they’re beautiful women.

Denise Masino is a beautiful woman.

Gayle Moher is a beautiful woman.

Victoria Dominguez is a beautiful woman.

Iris Kyle is a beautiful woman.

Kate Upton is a beautiful woman.

Halle Berry is a beautiful woman.

Katy Perry is a beautiful woman.

They are all beautiful women. The only difference is how universally regarded their beauty is. It’s as simple as that. Most of us can agree that Bar Refaeli is super gorgeous. But not everyone can agree that Monica Martin is equally gorgeous. But the truth is that both opinions are correct. Who is to say that they’re wrong? To each his own, right?

Too often, when we discuss the subject of female bodybuilders and the men who love them, we get way too caught up in talking about an FBB’s muscles. Yes, her muscles are very important, but that misses the mark. To reiterate a previous point, it’s not just about her muscles. Her muscles are just part of why many men are attracted to her. Her muscles are not the “be-all and end-all” of her beauty. They are part of a larger package.

And what package is that? Simple. She’s a woman.

A woman. That’s right. A woman. A very beautiful (and muscular) woman, but a woman nevertheless.

Adriana Lima and Alina Popa are both gorgeous; no if, ands, or buts about it. They just are. No need to explain why. No need to put either of them in a separate category of gorgeousness. No need to justify Miss Popa’s beauty compared to Miss Lima’s. Nope. Both are stunning. End of story.

The “alternate femininity” theory of female bodybuilders really boils down to the simple idea that men are attracted to them because they’re women. We find them beautiful. We love their femininity. Granted, we may define “femininity” differently from the general population, but the essential idea remains the same:

Men are attracted to beautiful women.

This core concept is at the heart of why men like me and countless others love female bodybuilders. We find them beautiful. There’s no way I can reduce this argument any further. It is what it is.

Is there any ambiguity left?

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