Female Bodybuilders in Limbo

Monique Hayes is out-of-this-world.

Female bodybuilders seem to exist in a world all by themselves, don’t they?

Mainstream culture certainly doesn’t fully recognize their impressive accomplishments. The IFBB doesn’t seem to care about female competitors nearly as much as their male counterparts. Feminists, for whatever reason, don’t loudly embrace them as examples of “strong independent women” (even though they are undoubtedly exactly that). Sports media will celebrate a few physically gifted female athletes, but usually only go as far as the Williams sisters and a few MMA fighters. And even then, they still need to be traditionally feminine, beautiful, and not be too muscular.

The only group of people in our society who truly embrace female bodybuilders with any sort of passion would be…a very small subculture that consists of folks like me and those of you who read this blog.

Hm.

Female bodybuilders do appear to exist in limbo, don’t they?

They live in a strange, isolated world. We fans also exist in this world, but we are certainly not on the same plane as them. Celebrities and their fans will always exist in the same universe, but no one can deny that there’s always going to be a clear separation between the two cohorts. And in this case, female bodybuilders are celebrities as far as we’re concerned. Maybe not according to our mainstream culture, but in our hearts they’re as revered as any Hollywood icon or pop singer.

If female bodybuilders live on one continent on Planet FBB, fans like you and I live on a different continent on the other side of the hemisphere. Same planet, but different environments. Way different environments.

FBBs are not lonely, but they don’t have too many advocates on their side. Their list of partners, associates, allies, and lobbyists (not necessarily in the political sense) are few and far between. And it appears to be shrinking as the years go on. This might be an exaggeration, or maybe it is not. But what we can say for sure is that FBBs exist in probably one of the most bizarre cultural environments possible.

Female bodybuilders are sort of like Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, or Furries. We’re all aware that these sort of people exist, even though we may never come into contact with one of them. We might have a buddy from high school who may have implied on Facebook that he/she is into that sort of thing, but other than that these folks exist mostly on a theoretical level. I’ve never personally met a practicing Scientologist, but they sure do claim that they’re the “world’s fastest growing religion.” Maybe I need to get out of my apartment more.

Sherry Mayumi is a former U.S, Marine who will kick your ass…if she had reason to, that is.

Most people in the world know that female bodybuilders exist. But only an infinitesimal number of those people could name at least one current (or past, for that matter) athlete. If you were to ask a random person on the street what they thought about female bodybuilders, most of the responses – regardless if they come from a man or a woman – probably won’t be too positive. Or they’ll laugh it off and say they don’t know enough about them to make a comment. Fair enough.

It goes without saying that the vast majority of us don’t personally know a female bodybuilder, never mind being on a first-name basis with one. Even those of us who love female bodybuilders more than anything else probably can’t call one a friend or even an acquaintance. FBBs tend to know (or at least know of) each other very well, which makes sense when you consider how intimate of a community they belong to. But their numbers are small – unfortunately – while the number of their fans is larger…but still remarkably small.

According to Catholic theology, “Limbo” is a speculative place where souls go after their worldly bodies die if they did not receive the Christian baptism. Without getting into further detail, this basically means your soul is stuck in an environment that is neither Heaven, Hell, nor Earth. You exist in “no man’s land.” You don’t have a home because no one wants to claim you. It’s pretty darn depressing when you think about it.

Female bodybuilders, therefore, exist in a similar – albeit without the element of “spiritual damnation” attached to it – situation. No one is willing to openly embrace them. Not sports journalists. Not feminists. Not fellow non-bodybuilding athletes. Not Hollywood producers. Not hot shot talent agents. Not even some powerful people within the bodybuilding industry. And those of us who do love them do so in secret. I don’t tell my friends, family, and co-workers that I love muscular women. And I know for a fact I am not alone in making this decision.

So even the most enthusiastic supporters of female bodybuilding aren’t willing to be vocal about it. I try to be as vocal as I can, but I choose to do so under the guise as an anonymous blogger. I’d like to think of myself as a “friend of FBBs,” but can I really stake this claim when I’m too embarrassed to publicly declare my admiration for them? What kind of an ally is that?

Georgina McConnell is like the girl next door. If you happen to live next to a House of Muscle Goddesses.

This isn’t meant to shame anyone or spur any of you to take a specific action. Although if you feel compelled to take matters into your own hands, be my guest. Rather, this is meant to point out a strange yet fascinating aspect of female bodybuilding: They have no home, but that’s okay because they don’t need one.

Huh?

Female bodybuilders don’t need a massive amount of public adoration in order to justify their existence. Nor do they need that to validate their considerable accomplishments. FBBs have carved out a small yet not insignificant niche market for themselves. Their biggest fans may not feel comfortable expressing their fandom quite like football fans or cosplayers do, but that’s perfectly fine. That’s not entirely necessary. Female bodybuilding fans are able to live out their fandom with complete anonymity if they so choose – and many do.

Likewise, female bodybuilders do not have to conduct all their business in broad daylight. Obviously, activities such as competing, endorsing corporate products, running a business, modeling, personal training, and acting are done publicly. In fact, the more publicized these activities can be, the better. Obviously.

However, there are other entrepreneurial actions that do not need to be so public. Offering muscle worship/wrestling sessions and performing in “adult” entertainment media can fly more under the radar. These activities are not a “secret” in the dictionary definition sense of the word, but they aren’t exactly ones that all FBBs are willing to blast out to the world. Also, every FBB is different. Some are very open about the seedier sides of their lives. Others prefer to keep a more “clean” public image and leave the other stuff behind closed doors. To each her own.

Therefore, FBBs exist in multiple worlds. They exist in the open, but also in the shadows. You can read their biographies on Wikipedia or their own websites, but you’re only seeing a fraction of the truth. You can follow them on Instagram, but you need to go behind a paid subscription firewall to really see what kind of photography they like to participate in. You may see that they offer “sessions” to paying customers, but you actually need to set one up in order to truly know what goes on in those hotel rooms.

Lightness and darkness. Truth and secrets. Openness and guarded candidness. Experienced reality and unsubstantiated rumors. The tip of the iceberg and whatever exists below it.

Female bodybuilders live in all of these worlds, often at the same time. They simultaneously write an email to a personal training client to remind them to eat more kale while sitting in a cheap motel wearing a sexy BDSM outfit. They chat on the phone with one of their protein supplement sponsors minutes after wiping a random guy’s semen off her chest. They send a loving text to their children wishing them “good night” just moments before filming a gang bang porno on an amateur movie set.

Not all FBBs can relate to these hypothetical scenarios, but many can. Or at least some of them. For female bodybuilders who wish to make a living doing what they do, they have to live in both worlds – whether they like it or not. Only the elite of the elite can make enough money doing competitions, working part-time or full-time, and endorsing products. Most FBBs have to add to their income through, ahem, “nontraditional” means.

And that means living in a world that is, as explained earlier, simultaneously in the light and in the shadows. Or, it means living in a world that is neither completely in the light nor completely in the shadows. It’s both at the same time. Or neither.

Essentially, they got to do what they got to do. No matter what form it takes, a paycheck is a paycheck that subsidizes the rent and puts food on the table (and bodybuilders have to eat a lot of food to remain that big). Money earned under the table is still money that you can deposit in the bank. Uncle Sam just isn’t able to tax it.

The elegant Elise Penn.

Also, fans of FBBs – like FBBs themselves – want to keep their fandom as under the radar as possible. You don’t just casually declare on Facebook that you’re about to meet a female bodybuilder for fantasy wrestling, muscle worship, and (hopefully) a hand job at the end. That’s just not what most of us do. Instead, we also live in the darkness, albeit for a temporary amount of time. But that’s not all bad. FBBs with families and public reputations want to keep the more erotic side of their business a secret. Guys (and gals) who engage in these erotic activities also want it to be kept a secret. So confidentiality is desired by both parties. Both sides benefit. Both sides consent to what is happening. Both sides want it kept hush-hush. It’s not only a win-win, it’s a situation in which “losing” is considered unacceptable by both sides.

“Losing” means risking public ridicule. It means embarrassment. It means lost sponsorships. It could mean jail time. It could also mean being ostracized by your own industry. Whatever the case may be, this sordid world existing in limbo is in everyone’s best interests.

One more observation about public adoration. It’s overrated. Big time.

Sure, many FBBs love it when peers, fans, and friends compliment their looks. After all, what’s the point of all that hard work if nobody is around to appreciate it? While more eyeballs on you could mean more lucrative opportunities down the road, FBBs don’t necessarily need hundreds of millions of rabid fans frothing at the mouth, hanging on your every word and action. Rather, all they need are a few dedicated but respectful supporters who will pay them $400 per hour doing perfectly legal activities in complete secrecy. These folks will not just verbally compliment you, they will worship you. They will lay their fingers on your body and admire your handiwork without words. Yet, their silence speaks volumes.

These fans aren’t just casually expressing their fondness for an FBB’s work. They’re treating it like a quasi-spiritual experience. Or maybe it’s a full on spiritual experience in the literal sense. Touching a muscular woman’s body is much different than clicking the “like” button or leaving a nonsensical comment on Instagram using the appropriate hashtags. Look at it from the perspective of the session provider: her clients aren’t casual participants, like someone turning on the TV to the baseball game just for the background noise. They’re giving her a significant portion of their month’s wages for the opportunity to see her for just one single hour.

That’s quite a sacrifice. And showering her with verbal and physical compliments on top of it all proves that this is no joke (what exactly is a “physical compliment?” That’s up to your imagination to decide…). Public adoration is fine. It really is. But it can’t beat the kind of adoration that’s more intimate, quieter, deeper, and meaningful. One cannot easily replicate that outside of the context of an erotic session.

It’s one thing to download Beyoncé’s albums and follow her on Twitter. It’s quite another thing to pay a quarter of your hard-earned paycheck to an FBB, meet her at a hotel somewhere far away, and make yourself vulnerable to each other. These sessions are extremely vulnerable for both parties. Probably more so for the provider, but it is as well for the client. An FBB opens up her body – her most treasured asset – to a complete stranger. A client expresses their inner most desires to someone who might – or might not – be judging them; often times these desires being uncomfortable to talk about.

Erin Tolen is showing us that baby got back.

In my experience, when I first started participating in muscle worship sessions I had to give myself permission to enjoy the experience. I had to repeatedly remind myself that it’s okay to be indulgent every once in a while. It’s okay to be selfish. It’s okay to seek what you want and not apologize for it. So there is without question a high degree of vulnerability required to be a participant. As there is to be the one opening her own body to be touched in the most intimate ways imaginable…and the possibility of pain, injury, and violation.

Therefore, FBBs should be living in limbo. They don’t need to live in a black and white world where there are definitive rules that govern what people should and should not be allowed to enjoy. Of course, there are reasonable parameters that should be observed. But when both sides are consenting to everything that is going on, it’s best for all involved to not think about whether what’s transpiring is considered “socially acceptable” or “popular.” Those are superficial labels we attach to behaviors that don’t encompass the full spectrum of what makes people happy.

At the end of the day, that’s what it all boils down to. Whatever makes you happy. Whatever makes female bodybuilders and fans of female bodybuilders happy is alright, regardless of whether they exist in the light or the dark. Lightness and darkness are boundaries we arbitrarily place on things that we are comfortable acknowledging. It has nothing to do with what the actual truth is.

The Truth with a capital “T” is somewhere in between. Or somewhere else. Or both. Whatever.

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