Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Female Bodybuilding and Steroids

Don't inject yourself with anything the shady guy on Facebook gives you. The sketchy guy on Twitter, on the other hand, is probably more reputable.

Don’t inject yourself with anything the shady guy on Facebook gives you. The sketchy guy on Twitter, on the other hand, is probably more reputable.

There’s a large elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

No, it’s not Dumbo. Or Babar. Or any of the ones that carried historical figures like Hannibal or Alexander the Great into battle. We’re addressing a different kind of elephant, one that’s taking up entirely too much space but none of us are willing to acknowledge.

Sigh. As a female muscle fan, I’m not against talking about this subject, but it’s unavoidable. So here it goes.

Steroids.

There. I said it. Steroids. Steroids. Steroids. Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeroooooooooooooooids.

Steroids.

According to the world-famous online encyclopedia known as Wikipedia, steroids – or, in this case, anabolic steroids – are defined as:

“Anabolic steroids, technically known as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are drugs that are structurally related to the cyclic steroid rings system and have similar effects to testosterone in the body. They increase protein within cells, especially in skeletal muscles. Anabolic steroids also have androgenic and virilizing properties, including the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics such as the growth of the vocal cords, testicles (primary sexual characteristics) and body hair (secondary sexual characteristics).”

Got all that? I am not a scientist, so I don’t entirely understand the biological properties of anabolic steroids and what exactly they do to the human body. However, we basically all know what they do. They are drugs that help you develop muscle mass. They aren’t a magic pill that transforms you into Ronnie Coleman overnight, but they sure can help you get “big” if maximizing your size is your primary goal.

I will also admit that I am not an expert on the issue of drug use in the sport of professional bodybuilding. If you ask me questions about what policies the IFBB should change, how many pro bodybuilders (both male and female) use steroids, how to technically define “steroids,” or anything like that, I will shrug my shoulders and honestly tell you “I have no f***ing clue.”

I may not be that rude, but you get the point. I don’t have the time, patience, or inclination to diligently research this topic before writing this article. So I am no expert. Alright. Let’s move on.

None of us are naïve. We know many of our favorite bodybuilders and athletes “dope” in order to become and remain top elite competitors. When I look back upon the baseball legends I grew up watching during the 1990s and early 2000s, I now know many of them were “juicing” their way to 50+ home runs, 120+ RBIs and other statistics that earned them Hall of Fame consideration. Some of them are enshrined in Cooperstown, many of them are not – and may never will.

Does juicing still go on in pro sports? Of course. Without a doubt. Methods of testing have definitely improved, but no system is perfect. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. A few people are going to slip through the cracks here and there. Whatever. Just as long as we enjoy watching them play, does it really matter what substances they choose to put into their bodies?

Poor Barry Bonds. The poster child for steroid use in professional sports. He was one heck of a ballplayer regardless.

Poor Barry Bonds. The poster child for steroid use in professional sports. He was one heck of a ballplayer regardless.

Before I get too off track, let’s break down the topic of female bodybuilding and steroids in the most logical and honest way possible. Please, feel free to comment down below or send me an e-mail at ryantakahashi87 (at) yahoo (dot) com to provide your thoughts. Perhaps your perspective will differ from mine.

Whew. Okay, let’s dive into this deep swimming pool of mixed emotions head-first. Onward!

1. A lot of female bodybuilders take steroids, and that’s perfectly okay

It is a fact that many of our favorite FBBs take steroids to help them get big. It’s an undeniable fact. The reaction many people glean from this most likely sounds something like this:

See? She’s not that strong at all! The only reason why she’s bigger than most guys is because she juices, just like Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds. I told you so! She’s not really that strong!!!

Fair point. Without the help of synthetic drugs, many FBBs would not be able to become bigger than a lot of men. But I think this criticism misses the larger point about why a lot of guys love female bodybuilders.

We love their beautiful bodies. We love looking at their hard work put on display. Steroids may enhance the fruits of your labor, but they do not replace your labor. No matter what drugs they take or how strategic they are in taking them, no FBB got to be that big without commitment, arduous hard work, dedication, smart planning and making enormous personal sacrifices. As mentioned before, steroids are not a magic pill that can transform Taylor Swift into Debi Laszewski with the flip of a switch.

Granted, lots of us who love FBBs admire them because they’ve achieved a level of muscle mass unmatched by guys who take the “natural” route. So I guess in that respect, we have to burst their bubble. Sorry. It’s not what you think it is.

But nevertheless, that’s not the point here. At the end of the day, we love muscular women because we think they’re tremendously beautiful. Regardless of how they got there, we appreciate the finished product with a degree of awe that’s unmatchable. In my opinion, it’s perfectly okay for a woman to take steroids if they will help her achieve her desired physique. Just as long as she’s safe and always takes her long-term health into consideration, I have no issue here. The elite bodybuilders have professional trainers and doctors advising them on which drugs to take, how many to take, when to take them, and how to determine when enough is enough. It becomes supremely dangerous when someone goes rogue and recklessly pops pills or injects themselves with God-knows-what without consulting an expert.

Don’t do that. It won’t end well.

I perfectly understand that a lot of huge muscular women take drugs. In fact, a few of the FBBs I’ve met in real life admit to taking drugs. But that doesn’t change my opinion of them one iota. They’re still strong gorgeous women who deserve immense praise for their hard work, steadfast belief in themselves and willingness to break social taboos in pursuit of their personal definition of “beautiful.”

As female bodybuilding fans, we’re not arbiters of truth and justice. We’re admirers of beauty. We love these women because they’re so incredibly beautiful. We know they would not be able to achieve that kind of muscularity without “help,” but what difference does that make? Just as we’re aware that many of our favorite celebrities undergo plastic surgery to look younger, slimmer or more beautiful, we love FBBs despite knowing their look may not be 100 percent “natural.”

2. Drugs is only an issue of ethics when we’re dealing with athletic competition

Overall, if a woman decides to use drugs to help her achieve an abnormal level of muscle mass, do we care if that helps her land photo gigs, video shoots and erotic session clients? No, we don’t. So at the end of the day, what difference does it make if our favorite female muscle celebrities (in our world, they’re totally celebrities!) are taking drugs to help them look a certain way? None whatsoever.

However, admittedly things change when we’re dealing with athletic competition. And not just bodybuilding – this includes basketball, tennis, MMA, softball, volleyball, sprinting, etc. No one wants a cheater to win the Gold Medal at the Olympics. But if that same person wants to earn a living becoming a muscle dominatrix to consenting adult clients, that doesn’t nearly matter as much.

So in reality, we only care about the ethics of doping when it comes to high stakes athletic competition. We all want a fair playing field. Whether we’re talking about HGH, spitting on baseballs or deflating footballs, no one wants to see a cheater win. It sucks. It makes you angry and lose faith in the integrity of the sport. Therefore, any professional league that wants to see itself exist in 20 years should vehemently crack down on illegal drug use to weed out the cheaters. It makes business sense.

If such a button existed where you could transform Taylor Swift into Debi Laszewski instantaneously, I would do it before you could finish your sentence.

If such a button existed where you could transform Taylor Swift into Debi Laszewski instantaneously, I would do it before you could finish your sentence.

But a female bodybuilder who uses her body to sell muscle worship appointments, video views and website memberships? She can do whatever the hell she wants with her body. It’s her body and her business. Let her take whatever she wants if she feels like it will help her earn a living. As female muscle fans, we don’t care. We love these women and their beautiful physiques. We shell out our hard earned dollars because we feel they’re worth it.

Know why? Because they totally are.

But when it comes to the business of professional (and high profile amateur) sports, where winners and losers are determined solely by head-to-head competition, we want fairness to be guaranteed in every conceivable way. It isn’t unethical to take drugs, unless you do so to earn an unfair advantage over someone who chooses not to. It’s as simple as that.

3. Repeated use of steroids do have side effects, but we’re totally fine with that

It’s no mystery the effects steroids can have on a woman’s body. Increased muscle mass and levels of testosterone can lead to a deepened voice, more body hair, shrunken breasts, more “masculine” facial features, balding, an enlarged clitoris (which, for the record, is not a penis), aggressive behavior, and other physical/emotional changes.

In fact, these side effects are what turn people off the most from female bodybuilders. Arguably, if female bodybuilders could maintain large muscle mass without having to sacrifice a single degree of traditional “femininity,” one could foresee a reality where FBBs would be way more popular in mainstream culture than they currently are. However, this is not the reality. So, society is stuck in this weird grey area of treating female bodybuilders as women who aren’t fully “women.” We know they are by definition, but there’s enough ambiguity going on to give us major pause.

It sucks for these women, but it is what it is. People have their prejudices. Changing them can be an almost unconquerable challenge.

But, alas, most female bodybuilding fans would argue the side effects inherent in steroid use are not that big of a deal. Or, more precisely, they’re not a deal breaker. Side effects are fine, just as long as they don’t cross certain boundaries.

This is perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about female muscle fetishism. Those of us who love muscular women don’t like all muscular women. Just because you love Italian food doesn’t mean you love every single Italian restaurant in existence. Truth be told, you probably despise more Italian restaurants than you love because of the fact that you’re such a snob. I can tell you from personal experience that there are a few prominent female bodybuilders whom I do not feel attracted to. While I can find a certain degree of beauty in almost all muscular women, overly masculine facial features and other “freaky” side effects totally turn me off. But that is usually the exception and not the rule.

Some people are disgusted by the masculinization effects of steroid use in muscular women. I get that. But the larger point is that female muscle fans are not unaware of that. We know that, accept it, and still find them beautiful despite their unconventional appearances.

4. Fantasy is almost always more appealing than reality

The truth is, the vast majority of guys who love female bodybuilders understand that many of them didn’t achieve high levels of muscularity “naturally.” We’re not naïve about how the world operates. We understand biological restrictions are almost impossible to break through. But this somewhat miss the point about a female bodybuilder’s appeal.

For a lot of us, we love female bodybuilders mostly because we love to fantasize about them. Who they are in real life is not as important as what exists in our imaginations. Of course, once we get to actually meet a few FBBs, we almost always end up liking them as people. But from a distance, fantasy is a powerful driving force in female muscle fandom.

Everyone’s fantasy is different. Worshipping her muscles. Treating her like a Goddess. Being her slave. Being punished for our naughty behavior. Finding out who the real “weaker sex” truly is. And so on. The fantasies may be different, but the general takeaway stays the same: reality isn’t that important.

Reality has its place, but not always. The vast majority of female muscle fans rarely get to personally meet (either in a public or private setting) their idols. Therefore, our fandom mostly consists of what’s in our imaginations. We love strong women for a variety of reasons. Whether there are elements of fantasy, BDSM, curiosity, sexual fetishism or something else entirely at play, who they really are, and how they got to be that big and strong, are secondary to us.

Some people are into Female Muscle Growth (FMG) stories and art. I am not really one of them. But if you are into that sort of thing, go for it.

Some people are into Female Muscle Growth (FMG) stories and art. I am not really one of them. But if you are into that sort of thing, go for it. Illustration by Grissse.

That isn’t to say that we disrespect who they are as people. On the contrary, most FBB fans have a tremendous amount of genuine respect for the women they idolize. I’d go as far as to say that we treat these women just the way modern day feminists want all women to be treated. So we aren’t indifferent toward who FBBs are as human beings. Rather, their drawing power is derived from the deep recesses of our imaginations.

So if we find out an FBB takes steroids, growth hormones and other supplements to achieve their superhuman muscularity, that isn’t an issue with us. We love the finished product. We love what their beautiful bodies do for our creative minds. The “spark” they provide us cannot be put into words, but rather images, thoughts and feelings that are almost impossible to articulate.

For many of us, the steroid issue isn’t an issue at all. We’re not ignorant about it. We’re not neglecting it. We just don’t care. People love to fantasize even though they know the foundation of their fantasies is built on a house of cards. It doesn’t matter. Reality has its place. So does fantasy. The lines shouldn’t always have to cross.

5. There will always be a little bit of denial going on

Admittedly, denial will always happen. Some people embrace the “ignorance is bliss” mantra. They know it’s happening but choose to either downplay or ignore it. I’m probably a bit in this category. I know many of my favorite FBBs take drugs. I know they might regret it in the future if (or when) the negative side effects come back to haunt them. I know it’s practically impossible for a woman to develop muscle mass that would make a male bodybuilder jealous without some “assistance.”

I get it. But I don’t always want to think about that. I love fantasizing about these strong beautiful women dominating the bullies who taunt them with sexist remarks. I love imagining what it would be like to make love to a gorgeous muscular woman without having to think about excess body hair or stinky odor that comes with taking steroids. I love thinking about all these things…knowing full well reality doesn’t always match up with fantasy.

When we live life through rose tinted glasses, we tend to idealize those we love. We hold them in higher regards than they deserve. We put them on a pedestal and worship the very ground they walk on. This leads, inevitably, to us overlooking their flaws. We justify their bad behavior. We pick-and-choose which parts of them to celebrate and which parts to ignore. In terms of muscular women, we revel in their strength without fully thinking about what it took for them to achieve that strength. We’re not stupid. We just don’t want to let facts get in the way of our fun.

Facts. Such an inconvenient cog in the engine, am I right? But alas, we know the deal. We know a woman cannot achieve that elite level of muscular development without “help.” We know freaky genetics, maniacal hard work, hardcore dieting and sheer willpower is not enough. We know natural biology cannot be altered overnight. Perhaps thousands of years from now women will evolve to become physically superior to men, but today is not that day. Whatever. Why spoil the fun?

6. What is the actual harm of using steroids?

This point is not meant to be scientific. I am perfectly aware that unwise steroid use can lead to cardiac problems, high blood pressure, liver issues and other negative health consequences. What I’m really trying to say is this:

What’s the big deal if woman uses steroids responsibly?

The answer is simple. It feels like cheating. In point #2, I discuss that steroids only really matter within the context of athletic competitions. That still rings true. But from a cultural perspective, using steroids to get big still feels like you’re “cheating the system.” Or, at the very least, cheating your natural biology.

Bodybuilding, whether you do it professionally or not, is the ultimate personalized sport. Victory or loss, however you define it, is purely determined by your own merit. Unlike team sports, a bad fumble or blown save by a teammate won’t cost you the game. You’re not even competing directly against anyone, such as in tennis or racquetball. The best comparison is golf, a sport in which you compete against others, but you’re mostly competing against yourself. But golf has elements such as weather and course conditions affecting the outcomes of games. Bodybuilding is a sport more based on preparation than game-day performance.

But more than that, a lot of us are amateur bodybuilders, whether we think of ourselves in those terms or not. Let’s face it. We don’t just go to the gym because we want to “stay healthy” or “shed a few pounds.” Some of us may think that way, but most of us workout because…well, we want to look good. We want to look good naked, as Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty states. He’s telling the truth. That’s 99 percent of the reason why we exert so much of our time and energy in the gym. We may not have any genuine aspirations to compete, but in our own little world, we’re all trying to develop biceps like Phil Heath.

I cannot confirm that Karen Zaremba was a "natural" bodybuilder, but I suspect she was.

I cannot confirm that Karen Zaremba was a “natural” bodybuilder, but I suspect she was.

This explains the backlash against steroid use in general, not just in the context of female bodybuilding. When we see someone walking around with bigger guns than us, we feel jealous. When we find out they had “help” building those huge arms, we feel a little better about ourselves knowing our inadequate gains can be explained by the fact we don’t “cheat.”

This simply explains why we get such a visceral gut reaction when we find out an FBB takes steroids. It feels like they’ve broken our trust. We feel betrayed that their impressive strength wasn’t achieved fairly. It makes us feel more secure about our own bodies knowing their superiority has an alternative explanation.

In conclusion, what is the actual harm of an FBB taking steroids responsibly? Well, not much. If it helps her advance her career, so be it. That’s none of our business. Is she betraying our trust? No, unless she explicitly lied about not taking drugs. Does that make her any less of a strong woman? Of course not. Steroids are not a magic pill that transforms you into a ripped comic book character with the snap of your fingers. Hard work still matters.

The “Steroid Issue” will always haunt bodybuilders, athletes and gym rats, both male and female. It’s unavoidable. In today’s world, it’s understandable why we’d all be suspicious. The proliferation of the underground drug market has expanded well beyond dark alleys and dimly lit parking lots. Online marketplaces, both on the so-called “surface web” and the nefarious-sounding “deep web,” make acquiring drugs as easy as it’s ever been.

But the flip side of the issue is this: As long as no one is getting hurt or gaining an unfair competitive advantage, what harm do steroids actually cause? Scientific issues aside, it’s mostly a blow to one’s personal sense of integrity.

Integrity. There we are. There’s the core of the problem. Integrity.

At the end of the day, we feel a bodybuilder’s integrity should be called into question if we discover they take steroids to help them get big. Personally, this knowledge does not make me change my opinion about any particular male or female bodybuilder. After all, building muscle is their primary goal. If they receive biomedical “assistance” along the way, so be it. I won’t judge them too harshly, especially when we live in an age where much worse crimes are being committed on a daily basis.

So there you have it. Undoubtedly, we will never settle this issue. Some will always feel uncomfortable by the presence of steroids in bodybuilding. Others will have no problem with it whatsoever. And there will be those who are either indifferent or undecided. Whatever. You can feel however you feel about it. Just know this: Everyone makes choices in their lives. These choices are made to help maximize how much they can get out of life. What jobs we work at, where we live, what foods we eat, who we choose to love, who we hang out with, what entertainment we partake in, etc. If a bodybuilder, male or female, believes taking drugs will help him or her maximize their own personal definition of “happiness” or “fulfillment,” I say we should let them. Of course, every choice has pros and cons. Taking steroids has drawbacks. It’s not a decision that comes risk-free. On the contrary, human growth hormones and the like can be very dangerous if they’re taken without proper medical consultation. This is why you should never trust the shady guy standing on a street corner or the anonymous vendor who sends you a cryptic message on Facebook.

Steroids are here to stay. Judge the people who take them however you want to. But keep this in mind: They take them for a reason. Do you fully understand that reason?

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6 thoughts on “Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Female Bodybuilding and Steroids

  1. Don’t some of these FBBs & other athletes know about a simple 4 – syllable word – ” Moderation ” ?
    Then again, steroids are a drug. Use of any such substance – be it mind or physique – altering – can help a person or destroy their lives. & I don’t know HOW responsible ( or ethical ) some sports physicians are. There might be a few physicians in the mold of ” Dr. Nick ” Nicopolous, Elvis’ personal physician, around.
    This can be a sensitive subject.

  2. I am attracted to female bodybuilders because they are strong, muscular AND feminine. I find male characteristics caused by steroid use – such as facial hair and square jaws – a huge turn-off. I think ‘natural’ bodybuilding achieves the best look.

  3. I confess I’m in the secret admirer crowd, I play like I ignore but honestly I really am jealous maybe even envious, Getting caught looking is my biggest fear. I think I would be embarrassed if I was ever in close proximity like in an elevator with one of these exceptional babes. I can’t bring myself to tell anybody, I do feel safe here because it seems I can relate to you Ryan. I agree GH doesn’t really bother me, but I used to use that as the excuse for putting them down if anybody asked the question, what do you think of the really big girls, I’m not sure I could tell somebody just how big those bigger girls can melt my brain. I don’t get it, I think it was a bug or something that got to me and I just liked it. Thank you for the blog, I’m new to blogging so I’m not really sure how all this works.

  4. I’m in agreement with this last poster, most guys feel something, or so it seems, they want to admire what it is but they feel less, this person obviously feels less. I see it more on the street especially here in Florida, not so much at the beach just in general out and about, maybe at the vitamin shop or just grocery shopping. Guys will double take maybe curious not sure how to react, a lot of cross fit around here more than hardcore bodybuilding. Actually I’d like to find a site or blog for serious athletic girls who are more serious about working out than curious. The social sites are a waste of time. Forget the cam sites, that’s just a trap for the curious.

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