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 Year That Was 2016: Muscular Women Will Bring Us Together

Debbie Leung would like to wish you a happy new year!

Debbie Leung would like to wish you a happy new year!

If you were to ask a random person on the street whether 2016 was a good year or a bad year, I’d wager a guess that the vast majority of respondents would say it was an atrocious year.

What would prompt someone to say such a thing, you might ask? Let’s count the ways why 2016 could be considered a disappointing year for all of us:

  • Beloved celebrities passing away
  • Political and social unrest
  • Undesirable election outcomes
  • Mass shootings, riots, bombings, terror attacks, and random acts of violence that threaten our sense of safety and stability
  • International conflicts like war, famine, genocide, territorial disputes, religious conflict, etc.
  • Terrorism, despotism, and rising civil conflicts
  • Technological advancements that threaten the job prospects of working class people
  • Uneasiness about environmental issues
  • Eroding distrust in governments, media, and academic institutions
  • Economic insecurity
  • Rumors of war, belligerence, and frightening socio-political trends
  • Dissipating freedoms of speech, choice, religion, and association
  • Disintegrating sense of “national unity” and “common culture”
  • General feelings of anger, anxiety, and cynicism on a global scale

Yikes. You may not necessarily feel all of these things, but certainly if you’ve been paying attention to the news – regardless of where on planet Earth you live – you must recognize at least a few of the tribulations listed above. Some historians (and quasi-historians) compare the times we’re currently living in to the 1930s when we were on the cusp of World War II, which caused devastation on a scale never before seen in human history. I tend to not buy into a lot of that hype and fearmongering, but I sympathize with people who do. That’s not me being snarky or dismissive.

I’m not an expert in international relations, social psychology or foreseeing the future. However, I am someone who is keen on attempting to clarify the unexplainable. Perhaps this is why I started my blog in the first place. Yeah, I wanted an avenue for publishing my fiction writing, but as it turns out my essays are what drive traffic to my humble website. My audience spans the globe, a reality that still has not set in yet. Can you believe that? Wow!

Wow, indeed. So in a futile attempt to wrap a somewhat positive bow on the year 2016 Anno Domini, which hasn’t been so positive for far too many of us, I’ll try to talk about how muscular women can bring us together. Maybe not all of us, but certainly some of us.

Muscular women are, in many respects, the ultimate symbol of postmodernism. In case you need a quick refresher, “postmodernism” was essentially a social, artistic, and cultural movement in the 20th Century that rejected and challenged previously held assumptions about the world. It’s unfair to think about postmodernism as being over, because it definitely is not. Even in the 21st Century, we’re still questioning how we traditionally think about things like gender constructs, science, political movements, sexual identities, philosophy, religion, aesthetics, and social cooperation. So postmodernism isn’t dead and buried by any stretch of the imagination.

I hope Annie Rivieccio becomes famous one day.

I hope Annie Rivieccio becomes famous one day.

If you want to point to one facet of modern life that encompasses so much of the conversation surrounding postmodern thought, it would be the world of female bodybuilding. The existence of muscular women challenge so many of our previously held assumptions about gender, biology, sex roles, femininity, masculinity, identity, and lust. A woman with big muscles would have been unthinkable 200 years ago. Or 100 years ago. Even today many of us have a hard time believing a woman can get that muscular without freakish genetics or a comical amount of steroids.

Let’s spin this another way: Consider the way our culture celebrates the concept of the “strong independent woman.” It’s a motif that we see everywhere: novels, movies, comic books, television shows, music, political campaigns, social media, and everyday casual conversations with friends. We saw Britain appoint its second ever female prime minister. The United States saw a woman run for president for the first time. Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwan’s first female president, a country that exists in the shadows of an increasingly confrontational China.

Yet, the concept of the “strong independent woman” has more or less been watered down by pop culture to mean a woman who uses the right hashtags and properly criticizes Donald Trump. It’s more of a rallying cry than an actual archetype that’s justifiably acknowledged. Most of the women in the world who are creating significant social change are scientists, teachers, engineers, data analysts, and investors whom most of us have never heard of before. The visible “strong independent women” celebrated by pop culture are usually pampered celebrities who don’t actually deserve such accolades.

How funny it is that real “strong independent women” like female bodybuilders are largely ignored by our society while a pop singer like Beyoncé is heralded as the lady version of Alexander the Great or William the Conqueror. I have nothing against the Queen Bey (her music is okay), but being a major celebrity isn’t that much of an accomplishment considering there are countless anonymous female scientists out there who are working to find cures to cancer.

Isabelle Turell is a genuine strong independent woman.

Isabelle Turell is a genuine strong independent woman.

Likewise, female bodybuilders are, for the most part, anonymous. Not to readers of this blog, of course, but to the general public. It’s too bad that women like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande will always be more famous than Shawn Tan and Annie Rivieccio, but that’s the way it is. There’s no use complaining about something that’ll never change.

However, that’s not something worth fretting over. Seriously. Muscular women may not be able to change the entire world, but they can definitely change our world. As we transition from 2016 to 2017, this is a fantastic opportunity to remind ourselves that at the end of the day, we are in control over our own destinies. It may not always seem that way, but it’s true for the most part. Consider the lessons female bodybuilders can offer us:

FBBs live in a hostile world. They are women who break convention, defy our traditional definitions of femininity, and forge their own paths despite what others say. They face obstacles that are both seen and unseen, spoken and unspoken, obvious and not-so-obvious. They are at a biological disadvantage, as well as a social disadvantage. How many times have FBBs heard the pestering question “do you really want to look that way?

Well, yes they do. They do in fact want to look that way, thank you very much. But despite the peer pressure to resist building up muscle mass, there are plenty of women in this world who ignore the noise and pursue their dreams regardless of what others say. We should applaud them, as many of us often do. Let this be a crucial lesson to all of us that you can do whatever you dream of doing – no matter how many people tell you it’s unacceptable, irresponsible or improper. I completely understand that there’s a fine line between doing foolishly stupid things (like dreaming of becoming a world famous stunt motorcycle driver) and things that are merely “frowned upon” in polite company. I get that. But there’s nothing terribly risky about being a bodybuilder, unless you recklessly put God-knows-what kind of chemicals into your body to get “gains.” That’s a whole other matter.

Female bodybuilders don’t aspire to attain the impossible. They strive to attain the possible, though far too many of us think it’s impossible. There’s the difference. It is possible for a woman to be both irresistibly sexy and ridiculously muscular concurrently. Most of us don’t think it’s possible, therefore we look down upon those who pursue this path. That being said, no matter how rocky the road will be and how choppy the waters will seem, FBBs prevail at the end.

Kim Perez is like she's from my dreams.

Kim Perez is like she’s from my dreams.

They exist. Female bodybuilders exist. And that’s all they need to do to defy an unsympathetic society that treats them with unfair skepticism. In this regard, FBBs personify a thought-provoking paradigm: Muscular women aren’t supposed to be real. But they are. Period.

This is the essence of the postmodern worldview. Whatever assumptions we previously held about the nature of femininity, biology, and human sexual attraction must be questioned and subsequently tossed out the window. Not only do muscular women exist, but they should exist. They need to exist. It’s critical that the world be able to bear witness to a group of human beings who’ve chosen to ignore thousands of years of conventional wisdom and cultivate a new reality. There isn’t a logical reason why a woman (or man) should choose to build superhuman-sized muscles, but there doesn’t have to be. People do things because we can. We create goals and try to reach them even though it doesn’t provide any apparent utility.

We climb Mount Everest because we can. We sent a rocket ship to the moon because we can. We landed a spacecraft on Mars because we can. We don’t need to, but we want to. Want. That’s all this is about. The desire to accomplish something awesome and the will to go for it.

I’m not naïve. Female bodybuilders won’t become more popular in 2017. I don’t know if they’ll become less popular (as if such a standard can be adequately measured), but certainly I don’t foresee muscular women popping up everywhere in the media. But that’s irrelevant to this discussion. FBBs will never – although it may be imprudent to use the word “never” – achieve a high degree of popularity in our mass culture. However, they’ve been able to carve out a fine little niche with folks like you and I. It’s better to have a thousand passionate supporters than one million casual onlookers.

This is how female bodybuilders continue to exist. The support from their tiny army of rabid fans will sustain their lifestyles more than being featured as a token extra on Game of Thrones or the next Avengers flick. This business arrangement won’t be radically different in 2017 than it was in 2016 (or 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and so on), but that’s just fine. It doesn’t have to be. Economic prospects for female bodybuilders could always be better, naturally. The same could be said for any industry. But until we reach a point of financial unsustainability, I wouldn’t sweat it too much.

Will Jennifer Thomas be a breakout star in 2017? One could only hope...

Will Jennifer Thomas be a breakout star in 2017? One could only hope…

The truth is, the changing of years don’t really matter all that much. The universe won’t look profoundly different on January 1 than it did on December 31. A year is just an artificial benchmark we use to signify when the Earth makes a full rotation around the Sun. So for as bad as we think 2016 was, it makes no difference whatsoever. Events (both good and bad) happen to us regardless of what day, month, or year it is. That’s just the way it is. The concept of New Year’s Day is just a fun excuse to party too much, drink too much, and watch a crystal ball drop in Times Square. For what it’s worth, that’s okay with me.

Contrary to the title of this blog post, muscular women won’t actually bring us together. At least, they won’t bring billions of people across all cultures, languages, religious convictions, and skin colors together. Realistically, they can bring hope and joy to certain individuals who are feeling down on their luck. Sadly, there are way too many folks in this world who are feeling that way. Perhaps when it seems like optimism is lost and everything is spiraling out of control, we’ll suddenly remember ladies like Denise Masino and Brandi Mae Akers who are unapologetically sexy and don’t seem to be ready to quit anytime soon.

Remember what they have to go through every single day to achieve their dreams. Keep in mind how emotionally and physically strenuous it is to maintain a muscular body – especially for a woman. When the going gets tough, FBBs worldwide don’t just get going…they look damn good while doing it.

Oh yeah, they sure do. So here’s to another year of female muscle fandom. May 2017 bring you peace, love, joy, and unbridled sexiness.