In the Palm of Her Calloused Hand: Female Bodybuilders and Exhibitionism

Seeing Gillian Kovack wearing that dress in public would definitely make me stop dead in my tracks.

Seeing Gillian Kovack wearing that dress in public would definitely make me stop dead in my tracks.

When a female bodybuilder walks into a crowded shopping mall, how can you not stop whatever you’re doing and just stare at her?

After you pick your jaw up from the floor, you might need to sit down on a nearby bench to prevent your heart from going into overdrive. You wouldn’t want to die from cardiac arrest right then and there, huh?

Well, if a brief moment of regarding upon the stunning physique of a beautiful female bodybuilder happens to be your final life experience before the Almighty claims you, at least you died happy!

But consider this: The moment our hypothetical female bodybuilder walks into that public space, does she want people to notice her? Does she want people to freeze in place and do nothing but stare at her body? Does she want her muscles to be the center of attention?

Obviously, the answer more often than not is “no.” Female bodybuilders, like celebrities and other famous people, want to be able to enjoy their lives with a minimal amount of disruptions. She wants to be able to go to the movies without being harassed. She wants to be able to take her dog out for a walk without being the unintended cause of a fender bender caused by a negligent driver who was distracted by her and took his eyes off the road. She wants to be able to be in public without seeing people whisper to each other about her, gossip about her, or creepily fetishize her. These are all things non-bodybuilders and non-famous people take for granted.

Yet, it is interesting to wonder whether or not if, deep down inside, a female bodybuilder wants people to stare at her. Maybe not all the time, but at certain moments. If she’s going out to a popular nightclub and is wearing a sexy revealing dress, that’s certainly an example of her wanting people to notice her body. She obviously doesn’t want people to harass her, but perhaps she’d welcome a few conspicuous stares of admiration, awe, and lust.

On this blog there is an article discussing the fact that female bodybuilders are always nude in public, even when fully clothed. Please read that column before reading this one. To summarize, it discusses the idea that because large muscular women are rare in our society, she stands out like a sore thumb. So even if she has no intention of being seen or noticed in public, she can’t help but be seen and noticed in public. She can’t wear an oversized parka for the rest of her life. So she’s always nude (in a symbolic sense, of course) whether she wants to be or not.

This article is a sort of follow-up piece to the previous one. This time, we’re going to discuss the flip side of the coin. We now know a female bodybuilder will inevitably receive unwelcomed and unsolicited attention from complete strangers purely because of the shape of her body. Most of the time, our culture would interpret this as her being in a vulnerable position. Our society teaches us not to judge other people by their looks, but a female bodybuilder is constantly being judged by her looks.

In fact, if she’s a competitive bodybuilder (or physique/fitness/bikini competitor) she intentionally goes out of her way to be judged by her looks. Therefore, the other side of the issue is this: Instead of a female bodybuilder being in a position of vulnerability when she’s in public, is she instead in a position of immense and total power?

Sophie Arvebrink has a body that can cause time to stop.

Sophie Arvebrink has a body that can cause time to stop.

Her body can cause car accidents. Her body can make men (and women and children) stop dead in their tracks and lose all sense of appropriate social behavior. Her body can make guys shell out hundreds of their hard-earned dollars just for the opportunity to touch it. Her body can spark arguments over the Internet. Her body alone can provide her hundreds of thousands of social media followers. Her body can give her a stable career, money in her pocket, and adoration from fans across the globe.

That’s power. That is a tremendous amount of power. A muscular woman’s body is so powerful she can gain massive amounts of attention with little to no effort toward promoting herself. An anonymous woman with an affinity toward exercise and fitness could post a selfie taken in her wretched bathroom on Instagram, use the right hashtags, and find herself in front of thousands of eyeballs around the world within minutes. And she didn’t have to spend a single dime to gather that kind of international attention.

Wow. What a world we live in these days!

A woman with a muscular body has an asset (or several assets, if you get my meaning) that’s indispensable. Her body can be as financially lucrative as she wants it to be. If our hypothetical female bodybuilder wants to offer muscle worship sessions, she can easily earn $1,000 of tax-free income (yay for avoiding government regulations!) for one evening’s worth of work. If you take traveling expenses out of the equation, that’s a significant chunk of change.

But let’s talk about this from another angle. Does there exist deep within her psyche a hidden streak of exhibitionism? In case you need a refresher, exhibitionism is defined as:

  1. A perversion in which sexual gratification is obtained from the indecent exposure of one’s genitals (as to a stranger).
  2. The act or practice of behaving so as to attract attention to oneself.

Psychologically speaking, exhibitionism is when someone fetishizes the act of exposing himself or herself to the public. Streakers at professional sporting games or creepy people who flash their genitals to complete strangers are prime examples. Theoretically, one could also include people who like to send unsolicited “dick pics,” web cam performers, and Tumblr users who enjoy uploading their own amateurish porn. But in this context, we’re talking about exhibitionism in a more casual sense.

We’re dealing with definition #2 instead of definition #1. Deep down inside, are female bodybuilders inherently exhibitionistic? It’s an interesting question; one that doesn’t have a definitive answer but should be explored nevertheless.

There probably isn’t any concrete scientific research to back this up either way, but it seems like a small streak of exhibitionism is sort of inevitable when we’re dealing with female bodybuilders. As mentioned earlier, FBBs exist in a world that runs counter to what our society is currently teaching us not to do.

Remember those ads launched by Unilever (an Anglo-Dutch multinational consumer goods company that specializes in creating food, beverage, cleaning agents, and personal care products) called The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty? The marketing campaign aimed to show what “real women” looked like, which was presumably supposed to provide a counterbalance to the countless Photoshopped supermodels we traditionally see in mainstream advertising. Despite its criticism, the ads were effective in changing the national conversation around beauty standards and how we should (or shouldn’t) judge women’s bodies.

This national and international movement to change people’s minds around beauty standards has caught fire in the past few decades. Anyone who values self-worth should applaud these developments. The creators of these marketing campaigns are right that the images of women (and men) you see in mass media do not accurately represent the entirety of womanhood. These images that are reinforced everywhere – movies, television, billboards, magazines, books, Internet ads, pornography, etc. – have the unfortunate symptom of creating self-esteem issues for women of all ages, shapes, and sizes.

Every body is beautiful. Especially the body of Coco Crush.

Every body is beautiful. Especially the body of Coco Crush.

But standing in stark contrast to this – but not in opposition to, it should be noted – is the industry of bodybuilding. We are taught to not judge women by their looks, but female bodybuilders are encouraging people (or more specifically, a panel of judges) to do exactly that. Competitive FBBs train, diet, and work for years and years on end for the purpose of gaining certain people’s approval. It’s a strange juxtaposition, but that’s the nature of the business.

So logically, it follows that female bodybuilders, to a certain extent, want to be noticed by people. She wants to be judged. She wants the public to observe her physicality. She wants all her hard work to be put on display and appreciated by others. A female bodybuilder doesn’t just sculpt her body for the sake of a few judges. She sculpts her body for a whole host of people to see: Fellow bodybuilders, customers, fans of the sport, the media, corporate sponsors, friends and family, and so on.

Lindsay Mulinazzi doesn’t bust her tail just for a small select number of people to see her fabulous figure. Rather, she wants as many people as possible to see the fruits of her innumerable hours of sweat and labor. Many FBBs proudly display their bodies on social media and other places on the web. Obviously, we are grateful for such presentations of their beautiful bodies. Debi Laszewski doesn’t hide her hard work. She makes damn sure we all know she’s a bodybuilder. Whether we’re disgusted by her or aroused by her, she doesn’t apologize for her muscles. Nor does she go out of her way to shield her muscles from public view.

Whether it’s a small child or a Catholic nun walking by her, it doesn’t matter. Debi will not hide who she is. She’s a muscular woman. Deal with it.

Yes, there definitely is an element of exhibitionism inherent in the sport of bodybuilding. Whether an FBB receives any sexual thrills from displaying her body is almost beside the point. She wouldn’t be doing what she’s doing unless she enjoys people noticing her work.

A classically trained pianist doesn’t practice for hours upon hours just to play their instrument in complete solitude. He or she wants to eventually play at Carnegie Hall. A painter doesn’t dedicate his or her life to creating gorgeous canvases just to allow their artwork to collect dust in their basements. They dream of having their work hung up in The Louvre. No little kid grows up dreaming of playing basketball in the driveway with their buddies. They aspire to make slam dunks in front of thousands of screaming fans in jam packed stadiums across the country.

Likewise, a female bodybuilder doesn’t endure the daily grind of being a bodybuilder just to wear baggy clothing all day and be anti-social. She craves the attention. She feeds off of the jealousy, lust, and admiration her body instigates. Her body is a catalyst for sparking strong societal reactions – both negative and positive – whether she intends it to or not. And this isn’t necessarily an intentional choice; it’s an inevitable outcome.

Karen Zaremba is a woman who inspired me to start this blog four years ago. I highly doubt it was ever Miss Zaremba’s intention to motivate a random guy like me to launch a website dedicated to talking about female muscle. But whether she knows it or not (I highly doubt Karen even knows this website exists), she did indeed inspire that kind of action. She never asked me to do this. She’s never spoken with me or communicated with me in any way. All she did was display her gorgeous body on the Internet. And the rest is history.

However, I do wonder if FBBs care about the ramifications of their bodies being displayed in public. I wonder how often Pamela Anderson (who will be 50 next year!) ever thinks about the hundreds of thousands of adolescent boys and young men (and older men) over the years who have masturbated while thinking about her. Think about how many millions of self-induced orgasms Miss Anderson has encouraged throughout the past few decades. Count me in as someone who has contributed to this phenomenon.

Does Pamela Anderson get an erotic thrill knowing she solicits this kind of reaction out of people? Or for that matter, any high profile female celebrity who puts herself out there? It’s an interesting question. Female bodybuilders should be included in this conversation as well. But, to add fuel to the fire, unlike most mainstream female celebrities, the reactions elicited from an FBB’s body can be polarizing. To be fair, every celebrity is going to have their fair share of critics, but without a doubt muscular women will have much more.

They may not have the sheer volume of passionate vitriol thrown their way, but within mainstream culture muscular women are polarizing. To add an additional layer to this conversation, not only are muscular women primed to be noticed by the public, they also frequently spark debate, arguments, and raging fits of jealousy. I wonder how a lot of FBBs feel about that.

A lineup of gorgeous ladies at the 2015 Arnold Classic Australia.

A lineup of gorgeous ladies at the 2015 Arnold Classic Australia.

When a female athlete decides to pursue the life of a bodybuilder, she’s making a bold choice. She isn’t just signing herself up for radically changing her exercise, diet, and sleep habits. She’s agreeing to put up with everything we just talked about: people will react to her with admiration, repulsion, respect, jealousy, fascination, lust, perplexity, confusion, cognitive dissonance, irrationality, etc. One cannot avoid this; it’s deeply embedded within the reality of being a female bodybuilder.

Thus, is it fair to say that some FBBs enjoy doing this to people? Do they welcome the “haters” just as much as they appreciate their adoring fans? Do they relish the fact there are guys and gals around her who are envious of her and wish for nothing but her downfall? Do they secretly get a thrill from knowing there are large numbers of men scattered around the world who masturbate to photos of them on the Internet? They obviously know this happens, but do they delight in all of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly?

The answers to these questions differ from FBB to FBB, of course. But even to the slightest degree, I’m sure every single muscular woman has a streak of exhibitionism residing inside her. There may not be a sexual component to this. Maybe she just loves the attention. It feeds her ego. It makes her feel empowered and emboldened. She loves the compliments. She loves seeing the looks on the faces of jealous girlfriends who cannot stop their boyfriends from staring at her. It’s just another day at the office.

The power a female bodybuilder has over the people around her cannot be underestimated. She holds more influence over people’s thoughts and feelings than she probably realizes. But undoubtedly there are plenty of FBBs who fully understand this power. And they stop at nothing to capitalize on it. These are the FBBs who are financially successful. They are the real winners, whether they formally compete or not.

Cindy Phillips is making many bold statements with her muscular body.

Cindy Phillips is making many bold statements with her muscular body.

So when a muscular woman goes to the gym and pumps iron, she’s not just making herself physically stronger. She’s also making her entire presence stronger. Her grip on other people’s minds becomes stronger and stronger with every muscle fiber growing in size. When she walks into a room, she has everyone inside it in the palm of her calloused hand. She controls how they think, what they think about, and even how they choose to behave.

Will the guy lifting next to her be able to concentrate on his workout…or will he be distracted and accidentally drop a dumbbell on his foot? When she goes out to eat at a fancy restaurant, will an infatuated waiter bump into an unsuspecting patron and drop $250 worth of steak and lobster on the floor? When she goes home and makes love to her husband, will a Peeping Tom neighbor try to sneak a peek through the semi-closed blinds?

That type of power isn’t given. It’s earned. Earned with blood, sweat, and tears. If power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, female bodybuilders must be constantly turned on every single moment of their waking lives.

Whoa. Now there’s a thought! No matter how many blog posts I write about female bodybuilders, I will always find more material to talk about. That’s another indication of the power they have over people like me.

And you know what? I’m not complaining one bit!

In closing, female bodybuilders may or may not be exhibitionistic. It’s impossible to assess who has that fetish and who doesn’t. But that’s not nearly as important as recognizing that FBBs are always being watched. And the people doing the watching often times cannot control their behavior, no matter how rational or sexually mature they think they are. When she’s being watched, she’s not in a position of vulnerability. She’s in a prime position of power. If that turns her on, so be it. If it doesn’t, I understand why. But no matter who we’re dealing with, even the most sexually prudent female bodybuilder must receive some kind of thrill from knowing she’s at the center of attention every damn time she’s in public.

Even if she doesn’t, we can all sleep well at night knowing there are millions of people on planet Earth who get a thrill from seeing her. That I can guarantee!

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One thought on “In the Palm of Her Calloused Hand: Female Bodybuilders and Exhibitionism

  1. Pingback: Naked, Proud, and Defiant: The Fantasy of Seeing a Nude Muscular Woman in Public | The Adventures of Ryan Takahashi

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