Beautiful Monsters

Monster - Isabelle Turell

Isabelle Turell is one beautiful Lady Hulk.

Growing up I’ve always been a huge Godzilla fan. I was first introduced to the franchise when I saw the original 1954 film on VHS as a little kid. Yes, it was the American version featuring English dubbing and Raymond Burr unnecessarily shoe-horned in for no good reason other than to give U.S. audiences a white person to identify with, but it was nevertheless the landmark film that introduced the world to Godzilla. Despite Perry Mason.

As if the Big Fella himself wasn’t enough of an attraction!

I may have been eight or nine years old when I first watched it. Then I saw several of the “Godzilla vs. <Insert Name of Random Kaiju>” movies. I believe those films are known as the Toho Showa Era. Some were better than others. I always loved Mothra and King Ghidorah (this may sound blasphemous, but I was never really a fan of Mechagodzilla), and will appreciate the underrated Gigan.

And yes, I am secretly a fan of the horrible 1998 Roland Emmerich film starring Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Sue me.

Just kidding. Don’t sue me. I have very little for you to take…

Do I like other monster movies? Of course. King Kong is a classic. I think the original 1933 film holds up pretty darn well. It’s not just a “classic movie” that deserves recognition because it’s historically important. It also works as a solid piece of entertainment. Even for our modern standards. There’s something refreshing about seeing a puppet move via old-time stop-motion animation instead of everything just being animated by CGI artists in a dark sterile room.

Both Godzilla and King Kong are not just silly monster movies. They’re allegories for societal fears of the time. Yes, the filmmakers insist that King Kong isn’t a racist archetype of black men in America, but you can insert your own meaning into a story about a wild animal being captured in the jungle and brought to “civilized” society only to run amok and go on a rampage. At the end of the day, King Kong can be interpreted as a warning against the Western world exploiting the Third World (or “exotic” world) for glamour and fame. Or it can be an allegory of immorality of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Allegory.

Godzilla is more obvious in its messaging. It’s a parable of the Atomic Age and a metaphor for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s critical of nuclear weapons, the fallout of nuclear testing on the environment, and the foolish nature of the U.S./Soviet Cold War. Godzilla is the offspring of humanity’s destructive nature, a constant reminder that death and destruction only begets more death and destruction. Not less. It was Japan’s way of coping with the traumas of World War II – both the traumas they suffered and the traumas they caused.

Monster - Godzilla

Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Need I say more?

Like Frankenstein’s monster, Godzilla is the result of mankind playing God. In this case, mankind created massive weapons of war and decided it can be the judge, jury, and executioner for no other reason than they believe that “history is on their side.” Sound familiar? To a smaller extent, the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies serve the same thematic purpose.

For American and Japanese audiences, King Kong and Godzilla are monsters who represent hidden fears that can’t always be talked about in academic terms. We all know that Nuclear War is a bad thing. Yet, when we go to the cinema and watch images of cities being destroyed by a humungous uncontrollable man-made creature, it makes the threat of Nuclear War seem both more frightening and intensely personal. We caused this mess; and we are therefore the ones who can (and should) clean it up.

In this way, movie monsters are fictional representations of our own deeply ingrained fears. King Kong is a critique of how far mankind will go for fame and fortune. Godzilla preys on our fears that we will be the cause of our own destruction. We need these monsters because they make our fears seem real. They are the physical manifestations of our nightmares. They are the nexus of bedtime stories ripped straight from the headlines. It’s a cathartic form of punishment to see helpless human beings be murdered by the millions by creatures we either created or kidnapped. And when we leave the theater we feel a sense of guilt relieved and a valuable lesson or two learned.

But monsters don’t always have to prey on our fears. They can also tap into our hopes and dreams. Our ideals. Our best intentions. Godzilla isn’t always the villain. Sometimes he’s the hero defending Earth from alien kaiju. In a twist of fate, Godzilla is the savior we need. He’s a horrifying monster, but he’s our monster. He’s on our side. So monsters are not always a negative thing. They can also be an asset.

Take female bodybuilders, for example.

You knew I was eventually going to get back to them, right?

Like King Kong, Godzilla, Jurassic Park’s Tyrannosaurus Rexes, and slasher killers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, female bodybuilders are also monsters. They’re beautiful monsters. Gorgeous monsters. Flawlessly angelic monsters.

And strangely enough, they tap into both our deepest fears and highest aspirational dreams.

Monster - King Kong

Got to give some love to King Kong too.

At casual glance, it’s a bit strange why straight guys would be attracted to muscular women. Most people assume that men would be naturally repulsed by female bodybuilders. And many are. But many are not. Conventional wisdom tells you that guys wouldn’t like female bodybuilders because they would make them feel inadequate. The sight of a woman with bigger muscles than you’ll ever achieve is enough to make you feel insecure, lazy, and a pathetic excuse-maker.

I mean, if she can get that big, what’s your excuse, buster?

This probably explains why guys are so quick to yell “Steroids, steroids, steroids!” in YouTube comments as if they were Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch. They need to remind others (and themselves) that the reason why these ladies are so big is because they’ve become so through unnatural means. It provides them psychological comfort knowing FBBs “cheat the system” by taking anabolic steroids that infuse them with an unnatural level of male hormones. And this, in turn, makes it easier to build so much muscle mass.

So if they see photos of Alina Popa or Nataliya Kuznetsova and scream “steroids!!!” as loud as they possibly can, that’s enough to protect their fragile egos from being shattered by a complete stranger they’re peculiarly stalking on Instagram.

In other words, for these Female Muscle Haters (FMH), FBBs are an attack on their masculinity. Or their title as the “Stronger Sex.” Female bodybuilders are monstrous to them not because they look freaky or weird, but because they remind themselves of how inadequate they are. They have a constant need to be better than women at every aspect of life (including professional and personal achievements) and treat every woman who is superior to them at something as a threat. It’s a sad commentary on how many people view the world, but that’s the way it is.

But for Female Muscle Fans (FMF), we choose to put our egos aside and embrace these strong beautiful ladies. We celebrate their impressive achievements and cheer them on to get bigger, stronger, and more famous. We don’t feel threatened by them. Rather, we feel an odd sense of empowerment by them. We know that we’re not as strong as them, but we don’t feel emasculated by that fact. We feel turned on. We feel – and this will sound strange to anyone who isn’t initiated into female muscle fandom – stronger because of them.

Stronger, you say? Oh yes.

Female bodybuilders inspire us to be better. They are the living embodiment of “strong independent women” that too many people claim to be but really aren’t. They give us a warm tingly feeling inside that cannot be explained. They are a reminder that women are not destined to be the “weaker sex” and that men can lose the label of being the “stronger sex” if they get complacent. It’s both scary and empowering to know that our destinies are in our own hands. We control who we are and what we become. Nobody else. That can be frightening because it makes us responsible for our own failings.

Monster - Jay Fuchs

Jay Fuchs is both beautiful and a Goddess you don’t want to anger.

Female bodybuilders take the initiative. They refuse to make excuses. When they fail, they learn from that failure and adjust accordingly. Nothing is given to them on a silver platter. They have to earn their muscles, going as far as having to work harder than men if they want to achieve the same level of muscularity. And the bodybuilding industry is doing them no favors either. They’re on an island, swimming upstream in a hostile and indifferent world.

And so when they do achieve eye-popping physiques that make our jaws drop to the floor, we are turned on by them even more knowing how damn difficult it is to look that way. I’ve written before that female bodybuilders “earn their beauty.” It feels more meritorious. An average-looking woman who isn’t born with natural beauty can transform herself into a Supreme All-Powerful Muscle Goddess by following a strict diet, workout regimen, and supplementation schedule. She can go from being an ugly duckling to an Unstoppable Muscle Queen Who Slays Her Enemies through means that are totally within her control. That’s true empowerment.

Charlize Theron hit the genetics jackpot and was born naturally drop-dead gorgeous. Not everyone is so lucky. However, bodybuilding is one way (certainly not the only way) that someone can transform themselves into a more physically beautiful person without having to resort of cosmetic surgery. I love Kathy Connors dearly, but unlike Miss Theron, she was not born with natural beauty. But right now, Miss Connors is a Devilishly Sexy Muscle Siren through her own blood, sweat, and tears. And I applaud her for it!

This is why female bodybuilders tap into both our deepest fears and highest aspirations. Depending on how we choose to view the world, FBBs can make us feel either inadequate or inspired. Emasculated or empowered. We either reject their uniqueness or we embrace it. We see their muscled physique as either a reminder of our own weakness or a celebratory example of human perfection personified. We love them for who they are or we hate them for who they remind us we aren’t.

Who knew female muscle fandom could be so complex?

That being said, like all cinematic monsters, female bodybuilders are not inherently grotesque or beautiful. Those are labels we attach to them. We could look at Godzilla as the destroyer of humankind or we can look at him as a mere animal – granted, a very large animal – doing what all animals do: try to survive. Is Michael Myers a mindless psychopath who kills people because it’s in his nature? Or is he the product of a sick and twisted society that treated him like dirt and murdering hapless teens is his way of avenging that miserable childhood?

Monster - Bride of Frankenstein

Bride of Frankenstein was created to make sure the Creature didn’t get too lonely.

Perhaps this leads to an obvious conclusion: Monsters reveal our inner most fears because deep down inside, we’re actually afraid that we deserve the punishment that monsters levy upon us. When Godzilla stomps all over downtown Tokyo and kills scores of innocent people, it’s actually poetic retribution for mankind’s carelessness with regards to the environment. Or, a valuable lesson that man’s militaristic nature will eventually come back to haunt him. Peace begets peace, while war begets more war.

The vitriol aimed at female bodybuilders can be harsh, but not unexpected. People can be terrible when they can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. Calling them “man-like” or “gross” or “freaky” may hurt their (and our) feelings, but in today’s trollish culture we must come to expect such idiocy.

Some FBBs use their haters as inspiration. Others choose to ignore them and instead focus on the people who genuinely love them. I think this is a more healthy route. Indeed, female bodybuilders are Beautiful Monsters. They are truly polarizing. Either you love them dearly or you are viscerally repulsed by them. Your reaction to seeing a photograph of a muscular woman can cause you to post bigoted misogynistic comments or unzip your pants and masturbate. I’ve received plenty of emails from fans who claim they’re “addicted” to female bodybuilders and that this fetish is so strong it’s causing their relationships with friends and family to break down.

Oof. I usually recommend they step back, take a deep breath, and seek the assistance of a counselor. That’s not healthy. That’s not fandom. That’s an obsession taken way too far.

It’s really bizarre that FBBs can elicit such totally opposing reactions.

Sexist hatred. Uncontrollable lust. Blatant misogyny. Animalistic sexual urges. Vitriolic comments. Fascination bordering on unhealthy obsession. Regardless, all of this leads to a much more disturbing but ultimately truthful assessment:

Perhaps female bodybuilders are not monsters after all.

We are.

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The Pleasure is All Mine: A Tribute to Xenia Onatopp

Xenia Onatopp. The pleasure was all hers.

Xenia Onatopp. The pleasure was all hers.

Everyone has a seminal moment that defines their youth. Alright, it may not actually “define” their youth per se, but a moment that certainly played an integral role in shaping their transition from childhood to adulthood. It may not have been a specific moment, perhaps a series of moments that culminated into an event. Or, it could’ve been a pivotal “ah ha” epiphany that forever changed how you viewed the world.

For me, it’s pretty obvious. I grew up a James Bond fan. My father introduced me to the old school 1960s Sean Connery Bond films when I was at least 8 years old. Maybe even younger. I don’t remember exactly, but the super suave British spy left an indelible mark on my childhood. Some kids wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Spider-Man or Batman. I wanted to be James Bond. And Indiana Jones, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Can you really blame me? Agent 007 can save the world from the forces of evil while enjoying all the benefits that come from being a charming and sophisticated gentleman. He can defeat agents of SPECTRE while enjoying a vodka martini (a drink I obviously did not know much about as a youngling) and making love to a beautiful woman. Even as a small child I knew that was a special perk, despite being prepubescent and not fully understanding what sex was all about.

However, my eyes opened further when I was introduced to a certain Bond girl (or rather, Bond villain) in Xenia Onatopp. It took me a while to understand the meaning behind her innuendo-laden name. But that didn’t matter. The character is featured in 1995’s GoldenEye, a fantastic Bond film that reinvigorated the franchise after the lukewarm reception to 1989’s Licence to Kill (notice I used the proper British spelling). I personally loved the second installment of Timothy Dalton’s tenure as 007, but that’s just me. Not everyone agrees. That’s fine.

But Xenia Onatopp, played by the gorgeous Dutch actress Famke Janssen, completely altered my reality. I felt my paradigm shift…even though I had no idea what that concept even meant (I still don’t). She wasn’t just a beautiful Bond girl. Nor was she just a typical megalomaniac Bond villain bent on world domination. She was…different. Exceptional. Dynamic. Memorable. Eye-popping. Charismatic.

Sexy.

Oh, yeah. Unbelievably sexy. Without question, Famke Janssen’s magnificent performance as Xenia will forever be remembered as one of the most unforgettable cinematic characters to ever grace the silver screen. Remember, she’s not just a remarkable Bond character. She’s an extraordinary movie character PERIOD. I also spent way too much time playing GoldenEye on Nintendo 64, so perhaps that added to her appeal. But Xenia Onatopp left an impact on my psyche. She definitely had a hand in formulating my love for female bodybuilders. Real life FBBs obviously pushed me over the edge, but Miss Onatopp planted a seed in my adolescent mind that bore beautiful fruit later on.

Xenia could have a classically elegant side, if you let her.

Xenia could have a classically elegant side, if you let her.

My parents didn’t let me watch GoldenEye when it was first released in movie theaters, so I saw it later in 1996 when I was nine years old. Remember the good old days of VHS cassette tapes? Yeah, of course you do! That’s how I first experienced Famke Janssen’s beautiful face and sexy Russian accent. I was quite impressed with Pierce Brosnan as the James Bond of the 90s, but I wanted to watch it over and over again purely because of Miss Janssen. Can you blame me?

No, of course you can’t.

It should be obvious why Xenia Onatopp captured my attention. She’s a beautiful and badass villainess who kills her opponents by seducing them, luring them into a sensual trap, and slaying them by choking them to death with her strong legs. Very lethal! Not only is she effective as an assassin, but she enjoys herself in the process. What’s the point of living if you can’t feel alive?

Whether she’s killing a Canadian naval admiral or attempting to do the same to James Bond in a hotel sauna, Xenia explodes on the screen. Your eyes cannot leave her whenever she’s in the frame. For an impressionable nine year old boy, her captivating presence worked its magic ten-fold. I hadn’t yet hit puberty, but I knew she was special for a reason I couldn’t quite explain. Her power enthralled me. The way she eliminated her enemies erupted an electric feeling inside me that made my heartbeat race a million miles per minute. I was aroused by her in a way only a prepubescent boy still in his latency stage could be.

As a Bond girl/Bond villain, Xenia is one of the few women who could match Bond’s physical prowess. She isn’t as muscular as a bodybuilder, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a movie, which means you have to use your imagination. Trust me, my imagination went into overdrive when it came to her!

As I got older and I started to re-watch the movie several times over, what struck me most was the realization that Xenia isn’t necessarily an evil person. Yes, she did the bidding of General Ourumov and Alec Trevelyan, but I never got the impression that she was super enthusiastic about their goals. Stealing a satellite weapon that fires an electromagnetic pulse toward a hapless target so that it can be used to rob London of a mountain-load currency? That’s fine, but wouldn’t it be better if I could also enjoy orgasmic-loaded murder sprees at the same time? That was Xenia’s self-indulgent outlook on life.

Famke Janssen was (and still is) one of the most beautiful women in the world.

Famke Janssen was (and still is) one of the most beautiful women in the world.

As a character, she was a perfect specimen for young hormone-raging boys like me. Strong, beautiful, sexy, and not afraid to have fun while killing people. How awesome is that? The rebel in me loved that she could play by her own rules (I somehow doubt her superiors specifically sanctioned her sexually-charged assassination techniques) and enjoy the ride while it lasted. It came to an end, of course (“she always did enjoy a good squeeze”). But what a glorious ride it was, huh?

Later Famke Janssen would continue her fame in the X-Men movies. But no matter how many additional film and television appearances she would make, her role in GoldenEye continues to be her signature piece of work. I don’t know what she’s up to today, but Ms. Janssen will always be my top celebrity crush. Right next to Monica Bellucci and Rena Mero, Famke forever claims a special place in my heart. No matter how old I get (and how old she gets), my whole body might start to convulse in uncontrollable tremors if I were to ever see her in person.

Obviously, the character is a chief reason why I love female bodybuilders so much. Like I said before, Xenia is not an exceedingly muscular woman, but for the sake of enjoying the movie, I suspended my disbelief momentarily and subconsciously thought of her as the strongest woman in the world. As a boy, I secretly fantasized about what it would be like to be wrapped around her strong legs and for her to squeeze as hard as she possibly could. My neck would crack for sure. Breathing would become increasingly more difficult. I might pass out or even meet my Maker right then and there. Either way, I’d be one happy camper. I didn’t know it explicitly at the time, but as a young boy I started to develop my exquisite taste for strong women.

Oddly enough, I don’t get too excited about the prospects of being crushed by a muscular woman. I’ve written before that wrestling, beat downs, and other BDSM-related activities don’t appeal to me all that much. I have nothing against these fetishes, but they just aren’t my cup of tea. I don’t judge anyone who is into that sort of thing, of course. But it’s not for me. So it’s a bit strange why my first foray into the world of muscular women would include a fictional character who kills men with her pure brute strength. Rather odd, indeed.

Other than Wai Lin in "Tomorrow Never Dies," Xenia was the only Bond girl who could match Bond in a fist fight.

Other than Wai Lin in “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Xenia was the only Bond girl who could match Bond in a fist fight.

Maybe I don’t entirely understand myself. Perhaps I do in fact fetishize being trampled upon by a woman but I just don’t know it yet. Or maybe I’m not actually into that and it’s by happy accident that my universe turned upside down the moment I discovered Miss Onatopp and her sexually wicked ways.

Outside of my own narrow perspective, Xenia Onatopp probably isn’t a character the general public will remember all that much, Bond aficionados notwithstanding. What makes her stand out above most cinematic villains is how hypersexual she is during every waking moment of her life. Violence gives her an erotic thrill. Whether she’s shooting up a room full of Russian computer programmers or asphyxiating unsuspecting male victims with her powerful legs, committing violent acts turns her on. In her own sick mind, violence may be the only thing that truly turns her on.

The world of cinema is definitely not shy from mixing sex with violence, but GoldenEye introduced us to a character who took it to the next level: Murder isn’t just an activity that gives her an orgasm; murder is the only activity that gives her an orgasm.

In books, movies and TV shows, we’re accustomed to seeing villains commit crimes for more or less “traditional” reasons: greed, vengeance, ego, hunger for power, etc. Xenia, and to an extent Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, commits acts of violence because it thrills her. I never got the impression that she ever felt any passion for Alec Trevelyan’s personal vendetta against M-16. She went along with it because it gave her an excuse to assassinate powerful men, attack innocent civilians, cook up mayhem and be a “bad girl.”

Symbolically, Xenia throws up her proverbial middle finger at society and then proceeds to masturbate with it just because she feels like it. She’ll stick it to the human race and climax over and over again while they helplessly watch – just for the hell of it.

Violence is orgasmic, a mantra I don't recommend anyone live by!

Violence is orgasmic, a mantra I don’t recommend anyone live by!

In that respect, it’s rather refreshing to see a villain commit crimes not as a means to an end but as an end unto itself. Xenia ushered in a new class of criminal; one who isn’t after anything tangible like money, power, or fame, but instead steals because she thinks it’s good sport. Alfred Pennyworth may have said something similar to Bruce Wayne, but that’s beside the point. From a storytelling perspective, Xenia exists outside of the plot. She was definitely working with the bad guys, but she really had her own agenda. She wanted to have fun. If collaborating with the Janus crime syndicate could provide her with the enough excuses to have fun, so be it.

Obviously, I do not advocate for anyone to follow Ms. Onatopp’s example and kill people for the heck of it. But her character undeniably left an impression on me. My love for female bodybuilders is the most palpable. But it’s not because of the fantasy of being crushed, squeezed and incapacitated by a strong sexy woman. That doesn’t appeal to me nearly as much as you’d think. Instead, I was drawn to her because she did what she did for reasons that are her own and hers alone. She never had to justify herself. She didn’t squeeze men to death because she wanted to prove that she could do it. She did it because she enjoyed it.

In a perverted kind of way, Xenia is one of the greatest feminist characters modern cinema has churned out in recent decades. She exists purely for her own sake. She doesn’t hate men or hold a grudge against them; she uses them for her own pleasure. Xenia is a hedonist in every sense of the word. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Whether she’s conspiring with evil forces to plot an international terrorist attack or she’s screeching in delight from an earth-shattering orgasm seconds after killing a man, everything she did could be summarized in one simple line:

The pleasure was all hers.