Sometimes, all we want is to be exploited.
Not “exploited” in a materially oppressive sense, but exploited in a sensory/emotional/aesthetic sense.
Beginning in the 1960s – although film historians would argue it actually began earlier – a new genre of moviemaking emerged in our pop culture: exploitation films.
Exploitation films took different forms, but the basic purpose was the same: allow viewers to vicariously experience outrageous, hideous, graphic, taboo, or socially unacceptable content in cinematic form. The genre could be horror, action, science fiction, comedy, erotica, or satire. Regardless, you watched those movies – and still do – not for the storytelling, artistry, or critical accolades. You watched them because they made you feel naughty and you secretly loved feeling naughty.
Or, they made you feel emotions that you rarely get to feel in real life: Fear, dread, sexual arousal, disgust, giddiness, catharsis, and so on. Whether we love slasher horror flicks, softcore porn with gratuitous nudity, or ultraviolent action movies that generously bends the rules of physics, these movies are short on plot and character development but rich in shock value.
Popular titles include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pink Flamingos, Shaft, Foxy Brown, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Isla: She Wolf of the SS, and many other titles too numerous (or distasteful) to mention. Note that not all of these movies are alike. Some are splatter horror movies that intend to make you sick to your stomach while others are sexually titillating flicks meant to “get a rise out of you”…if you get my meaning.
There are also a few mainstream films that have won critical acclaim and Oscars that could be included in this list. The Exorcist and A Clockwork Orange immediately come to mind.
Exploitation entertainment is the direct descendent of pulp novels known as “penny dreadfuls” that emerged in the United Kingdom in the 19th century. Ghastly and forbidden stories were passed around inconspicuously to curious people desperate for that tingling sensation that comes from being naughty. They exploited our dark and dirty imaginations in ways few “mainstream” literature could. Their cheapness made it all the better. You can’t feel too guilty about sinning when it only cost you a single penny to sin!
All of this is setup for a comparison that may seem strange at first but makes complete sense when you think more about it. In a previous post about Yvette Bova, I likened her to an exploitation film. Her brashness, uncompromising style, unapologetic attitude toward her body and sexuality, and enthusiasm for participating in hardcore porn make her peerless in the world of female bodybuilding. Many FBBs will do porn. But few will do it with as much gusto as her. She doesn’t hold back. She goes all in.
If Nataliya Kuznetsova is the “Human Photoshop Illusion,” then Yvette Bova is the “Human Exploitation Film.” She does it all. Yvette indulges our fantasies in the dirtiest ways possible. It can be gross at times, but we cannot look away. And once one of her nasty videos come to an end…we do not hesitate to wait for the next one to autoplay.
But I’ve spent enough time examining Miss Bova. Let’s talk about female bodybuilders in general. In a strange way, female bodybuilders as a whole are exploitative in nature. Even to those who aren’t “into” female bodybuilders but are still fascinated by them nevertheless. Think of the laundry list of thoughts and feelings FBBs can elicit out of us:
- Cognitive dissonance
Whew. Female bodybuilders provoke strong emotional reactions out of people, regardless of how you actually feel about them. FBB fans and haters alike cannot help feel strong feelings when they see images of muscular women in action. However, this discussion really centers around the thoughts and emotions that are more positive in nature.
Generally speaking, there are very few “casual” female bodybuilder fans. Most FBB lovers are fanatical in their devotion to their beloved ladies. We get that same tingly feeling rushing up our spines every single time we scroll through our favorite FBB’s Instagram feed. We ceaselessly search for new photos and videos to satisfy our appetites. We need our “daily fix” of muscular women as if we were junkies. These behaviors certainly fit the definition of fanatical.
However, for many of us this is not enough. Sometimes, we need something more. Something stronger. Something more extreme. Something that will satiate our darkest fantasies. Something way more exploitative than we’d normally experience.
It’s one thing to see yet another photo of Cindy Landolt strutting around in sexy lingerie. It’s quite another to watch Brandi Mae Akers give two guys a hand job at the same time before both of them spurt all over her face. The former arouses us. The latter makes us feel dirty. Heck, it may not even turn us on in a traditional sense. Instead, our experience of watching Brandi Mae act filthy for the camera is pure entertainment. Not porn, but entertainment. Porn only exists to sexually arouse us. Entertainment exists to amuse our senses.
Cindy is art. Brandi Mae is smut. This isn’t a criticism, but rather an observation. Miss Akers isn’t trying to appeal to our classy high-brow sensibilities. She’s only interested in making our blood boil to the point that we really need some “alone time” by ourselves to, uh, relieve the pressure. There’s nothing inherently wrong with smut if that’s what one wants to achieve. There’s also nothing wrong with watching a Peter Jackson film festival that features both The Lord of the Rings and Bad Taste. Two completely different movies. The same director. It boggles the mind.
But even the non-smutty FBBs who prefer to keep it modest are still able to elicit strong reactions out of us. Women like Karen Zaremba, Deidre Pagnanelli, Monica Brant, and Shawn Tan have kept things fairly clean over the years. They may do some nudity – or none at all – in photoshoots that are intentionally sexy, but they try to maintain an air of classiness all throughout. Whether an FBB chooses to keep it clean or forego any façade of decency, one cannot deny the enthralling allure these ladies emanate.
That intoxicating allure can only be satiated by having our thoughts, emotions, and fantasies exploited. So, what is it about female bodybuilders in particular that cause us to react this way?
The biggest reason is that female bodybuilders, just by being who they are, are so taboo. They don’t even have to try to be taboo. That’s just who they naturally are. A woman with big muscles goes contrary to everything to think we know about men, women, gender roles, biology, culture, and history. Yet, there is a (regrettably) small number of women in this world who dare to break that mold.
Female bodybuilders challenge our perceptions of what women can achieve. If we think they’re always the “weaker sex,” Alina Popa is ready to take you to school. If you think women with muscles look gross, Shannon Courtney will gladly shift your paradigm so fast it’ll register on the Richter scale. For straight men, FBBs challenge our masculinity. They stab a dagger right into our fragile sense of superiority. They prove we are not destined to be the dominant sex and that hard work (and laziness) matter more than genetics. These assaults on our undeserved sense of supremacy can either make us feel insecure or angry. Or both. Regardless, these are strong emotions. And strangely enough, strong emotions have an odd way of turning us on.
Taking our masculine identities out of the equation, FBBs just seem like they’re bigger than life. And not just in a literal sense. Their strength, power, magnetism, personalities, and physical abilities seem superhuman. As if FBBs aren’t actually real – they’re really comic book characters manufactured in a Hollywood studio. But alas, FBBs are very real. And very beautiful. And mind-blowing. Once again, these are strong emotional responses.
As I wrote in a previous blog article about The Scarcity Principle, the fact FBBs are a rare breed also adds to their appeal. In short, we tend to value commodities that are in short supply more than ones that are in abundance. We look forward to holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving precisely because they only happen once a year. If every day were Halloween, dressing up in silly costumes and eating candy would lose its appeal. The fact we have to wait an entire year makes the heart grow fonder, as the old saying goes. Likewise, female bodybuilders are not a dime a dozen. It is extremely unusual to see a woman with big muscles under any circumstances. But when you do, you intuitively gain a deep appreciation for the experience because you know it’ll be a while until you get to experience it again.
The taboo nature of FBBs combined with basic human psychology explain why muscular women are able to exploit our senses like they do. In a world where sexuality has become so commercialized and manufactured that it’s become boring, we deep down inside crave something more raw, audacious, electrifying, and challenging. Female bodybuilders check off every single one of those boxes.
Scroll back up to that long list of emotions that FBBs are able to elicit out of us. Can you say the same for yet another photospread of a nameless and ultimately forgettable plastic surgery-enhanced Instagram model? Maybe a few of them, but certainly not most of them.
This is because female bodybuilders are not just “beautiful” in the traditional sense of that word. Many are definitely beautiful in a conventional manner, but their appeal goes well beyond that. FBBs are not for the simpleminded or faint of heart. They assault our senses and challenge our preconceived beliefs. One cannot simply look upon an FBB flexing her muscles and say “meh.” A million thoughts will start to race through your mind. You’ll get a jolt of energy that reinvigorates your soul. Certain deeply held fantasies will suddenly pop into your head that you never consciously knew you wanted to experience. You’ll want to scream from the rooftops your newfound love for muscular women for all to hear. You don’t care who knows it or what they think of you afterward.
These reactions are common for many people who love FBBs. Not everyone will feel the same way all the time, but that doesn’t have to be the case. A common theme emerges that we cannot ignore: In an increasingly dull and formulaic world, we secretly crave something that will reawaken our senses and make us feel uniquely alive.