Pin Me, Wrestle Me, Abuse Me, Dominate Me: The Uncomfortable Association of Female Bodybuilders with Violence

Uncomfortable with Mistress Treasure and Yvette Bova? Yeah, neither am I.

The association of female muscle fetishism with violence is an uncomfortable reality that cannot be overlooked. Anyone with even a casual level of knowledge of female bodybuilders and the men who love them can see this relationship underscored everywhere.

Guys who love female bodybuilders often fantasize about being dominated by them, disciplined by them, trampled by them, tied up by them, punched by them, pinned to the ground by them, verbally abused by them, and having other physically demeaning activities done to them. This is not to put all female muscle fantasies in the same boat, however. This is merely an observation of a trend that cannot be denied.

Nothing about this is inherently wrong. Nor is anything about this explicitly scandalous, surprising, or unethical. As far as I can tell, as long as all the parties are consenting, openly communicating, and enjoying these activities, there isn’t anything to complain about. I have no quarrel with a guy who becomes aroused by a female muscle dominatrix teasing him, pouring hot candle wax on his skin, and calling him all sorts of filthy names. I’m not personally into that, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to.

Whatever floats your boat, as the old saying goes.

However, I must be completely honest. I am a bit uncomfortable with the close association of female muscle fetishism with violence. Any decent human being should abhor violence in any form. We live in a particularly violent world filled with shootings, riots, terrorism, war, political repression, rape, abuse, genocide, and a whole host of other unspeakable acts of brutality. I’d like to think we live in a more peaceful world today than our ancestors did hundreds of years ago, but it only takes reading the news for five minutes to have that belief shaken to its core.

This is why the mixing of sex with violence should make any free thinking person squirm a little. You don’t have to be an ardent critic of “50 Shades of Grey” to hop on board this train. While experienced BDSM practitioners are, for the most part, intelligent people who define their sexual play with meticulous rules that ensure safety and mutual consent, accidents do happen. But more than that, it’s the root of BDSM fetishism that can create a cause for concern.

Why does sexuality have a violent component to it that seems, well, unavoidable? Surely, I am not the first person to have ever raised this question. Critics have argued that the proliferation of BDSM into pop culture could have the unintended effect of “justifying” rape and sexual assault in the eyes of people who are already prone to commit such atrocities. I cannot speak to how warranted these concerns are, but they are definitely worth mentioning. How can you not fear such a backlash?

Our pop culture reinforces these messages in other ways as well. I love the James Bond movie franchise just as much as anybody else, but it is clear what 007’s two chief pastimes are: Making love to beautiful women and shooting/punching/blowing up the bad guys. He also happens to participate in both activities in immodest quantities. And worst of all – to put myself in the shoes of a feminist media critic – Bond is “rewarded” with the former after doing the latter.

American football games feature scantily clad cheerleaders right next to big burly men pummeling each other to a pulp. The “Sex and Violence” motif is found everywhere: sports, movies, TV shows, video games, music, literature, advertisements, religious texts, folk tales, and so on. It even infests the evening news. Bombings in Baghdad are shown side-by-side with stories of young female teachers having sex with her teenage male students. It’s everywhere you look. It’s so pervasive it’s sometimes hard to see it because of how saturated it is in our culture. Because it’s everywhere you don’t actually notice it.

Who wants to be put in a headlock by Melody Spetko?

This motif is also deeply embedded within the world of female muscle fetishism. Of course, I’m referring more to the fantasy aspect of the fetish. In no way shape or form are female bodybuilders more inherently aggressive than non-muscular women. But maybe there exists in the imaginations of some of us the belief – or the desire – that this is somehow true. Or that we want it to be true because it titillates a part of our deeply held kinkiness.

One of the reasons why many people in society look down upon guys who love muscular women is because they’re also uncomfortable with how this fetish is played out. Perhaps they’re just as unnerved by the undertones of violence as I am – although I am less troubled by it than others are, for sure. But it is completely understandable why this uncomfortable reality exists…and why we need to talk about it.

I am not of the belief that sadomasochistic sexual activities are explicitly dangerous, oppressive, or dehumanizing. If it’s safe, consensual, and enjoyable by all parties involved, I have no bad words to say about it. But on the other side of the equation, I get why this makes some of us cringe. So I’m not trying to make a point so much as I’m trying to articulate a topic that I think needs to be discussed.

It should be stated that very rarely is any single act, interest, hobby, or creative endeavor inherently evil. Unless we’re talking about terrorism, overt political repression or murder, most activities exist in a gray area. Whether it’s “good” or “evil,” “valuable” or “trash,” all depends on the context in which it exists. A book unto itself isn’t evil. A science textbook, for example, can be a force for good. Books such as “Mein Kampf” or “Mao’s Little Red Book” on the other hand, could be used to spread hateful and dangerous ideas. So it’s not the object of a book that’s up for debate. It’s the intent behind creating a particular book that is. And the results.

If a guy fantasizes about a strong female dominatrix giving him physical pain because he finds it exciting, there’s nothing (on its surface) harmful in that. If this guy goes out of his way and pays a professional dominatrix to perform such acts on him, that also isn’t necessarily a red flag. The presence of violence within female muscle fetishism isn’t a bad thing, nor would I want to change a thing about it. However, what should be talked about is why this is and whether this should concern any of us.

From the beginning of human civilization to the present day, conflict has been a constant theme throughout our history. And not just conflict between groups of people, nations, governments or tribes. There has been conflict between individuals, ideas, cultural norms (both from without and from within), assumptions, and social hierarchies. Without getting too deep into the history of humankind, let’s just settle on this conclusion: Conflict has always been here and will be here to stay.

This is especially evident in the relationship between men and women. Or, to be more politically correct, between masculine and feminine dynamics. Whatever your worldview may be, the Battle of the Sexes is something we’re all familiar with. Hollywood screenwriters have made a fortune capitalizing on this. Lecturers have gone on tour and sold books purely on the basis of telling us how we can alleviate this perpetually awkward relationship. It’s the topic of endless discussions over coffee, beer, cocktails, and happy hour chicken wings. Men and women – and people who are not comfortable identifying as either of these two choices – just can’t seem to get along 100% of the time.

My God…Dayana Cadeau.

For better or for worse, we’ve managed to exist for thousands of years despite these tensions. And we will continue to exist. So will the next generation. And the generation after that one. And so on. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with how violence has been intertwined in this ongoing conflict. Domestic violence, spousal fights, disagreements that lead to physical altercations, and cultural norms that accept these acts as being normal – or at the very least “acceptable” if it’s not openly talked about – have created a cycle of conflict that isn’t healthy. This won’t go away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it or turn our heads in the opposite direction whenever it happens.

This is why BDSM culture strikes a nerve in so many people. This is why people who are supportive of this subculture feel inclined to vehemently defend it with their dying breath. This is why so many of us don’t want to understand these things to begin with. After all, how can you argue in favor of violence? How can you possibly win that debate?

BDSM aside, female muscle fandom is different…but not at the same time. I’ve long argued that one can be not into BDSM but still really dig female bodybuilders. They can be mutually exclusive. Yet, the perception exists that they aren’t. For lots of folks, they are definitely interconnected.

Lots of guys love it when a female bodybuilder wrestles them into submission. Or pins them to the ground and holds them there against their will. Or verbally abuses them. Or smacks them with a paddle. Or “forces” them to do things upon command. This dominant/subordinate relationship carries the underlying theme of violence to its literal interpretation. However, because it’s all “fun and games,” it’s not really violence, is it?

Well, no. But yes. Uh, maybe both?

The relationship between a muscular woman and a normal-sized man can be jarring. It’s unusual. It flies in the face of social norms. We don’t expect to ever see such a sight. It challenges our notions of gender roles. It forces us to ask ourselves questions that we’d rather not contemplate.

Are women the weaker sex and men the stronger sex? Well, most of the time. But not all of the time. What does that mean? And how do we proceed going forward? Is an FBB more than just a woman, or is she just a “normal” woman with an abnormal physique? And is this man really a man, or an emasculated man? Wow, this is bonkers!

And yet, these questions don’t really come up with we witness a muscular woman and a normal-sized man quietly enjoying drinks at the pub. Or silently riding the subway together. Or holding hands while strolling down the sidewalk. If they physically appear to be a “normal” couple, we may stop and stare but we don’t necessarily ask these questions.

We only start to wonder about the dynamic of their relationship if we witness any conflict. What if they start to argue? What if they fight about who will pay the bill? What if she slaps him in the face? Will he slap her back? Or does he not dare? If he doesn’t hit her back, is it because he’s scared of her, or is it because he’s not naturally inclined to do such things? If she were “normal-looking” like him, would his reaction be different? How could we know for sure?

Do you want Amanda Dunbar to put you in an armbar?

Whew! All of this is so confusing. But this does bring up a crucial observation: When we see a female bodybuilder, our minds automatically – whether we consciously know this or not – wander off into the realm of violence. We wonder how rough their sex lives must be. How are they like in bed? Is she domineering? Does she prefer weaker men or men who are strong like her? How does she react if she’s angry? Is she naturally aggressive? Are men scared of her? Are other women scared of her? Is she fearful of people and that’s why she became so big and buff in the first place? Was she physically abused as a child, with bodybuilding acting as a “shield” against future abuse?

So it’s pretty clear that whenever we’re presented with a strong muscular woman, our natural inclination is to think about her within the framework of violence, self-defense, and aggression. Yes, we also think about her beauty, impressive strength, and numerous accomplishments; but doesn’t it seem like the first thoughts that pop into our minds consist of whether she can crush me with her thighs or if any of her ex-boyfriends have ever been sent to the emergency room after an argument?

Perhaps this speaks to the cognitive dissonance that muscular women create in our brains. We cannot accept the sight of a strong woman being “normal” or “no big deal.” There must be an explanation why she wants to look that way. And she must be a completely different person now that she does look that way.

But alas, these ideas are not always true. Maybe she always was aggressive, “alpha,” and assertive even before she ever picked up a dumbbell. Maybe for her, bodybuilding is an avenue for channeling her strong personality, not a result of it. Who knows?

The larger point to be made is this: Society, both fans of FBBs and everyone else, cannot seem to separate female bodybuilders and violence from their imaginations. I’ve written this before but will rewrite it again. My ultimate female muscle-related fantasy has nothing to do with violence. It has more to do with a romantic candle-lit dinner, a fine bottle of wine, a nice long walk along the beach, and an entire evening of passionate lovemaking. No one gets tied up. No one gets paddled for being “bad.” No one gets verbally abused. No one feels any pain. Everything is pleasant, sensual, low-key, and most of all, idyllic. In other words, I’d love to spend an entire night with Alina Popa in a setting that looks more like a cheap romance novel than a creepy bondage-themed Dark Web video.

I’d love to spend a peaceful evening with Gina Aliotti.

Yet, not everyone shares my pacifistic fantasy. There are lots of folks – and this is not a negative judgment about them – who want a more “antagonistic” experience. They want Miss Popa to burn them with hot candle wax. They want her to pick them up and toss them to the ground like a rag doll. They want her to punch them in the belly until they surrender. They want her to crush their head between her thighs until they “tap out.” They want all that…and more.

Well, to that I say this: That’s fine.

That’s fine. But that’s not for me. And it probably never will be my cup of tea. I tend to have a “live and let live” attitude toward most things in life. I have nothing against violent fantasies unless things cross a certain line. Yet, there is a significant part of my brain that feels uncomfortable with this. Why must we think about female bodybuilders within this context? Why are we unable to separate FBBs from the violent chambers of our imaginations? Why do our minds automatically go there? Is this unhealthy, or just the cost of doing business? Is it possible to love female bodybuilders in a non-violent way, or is it inevitable that this motif will always seep its way in?

I have no good answers. Only more questions.

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Expectations vs. Reality: Tempering Our Warped Perceptions about Female Bodybuilders

A very tiny red bikini being worn by Gina Aliotti.

A very tiny red bikini being worn by Gina Aliotti.

Sometimes, our expectations don’t meet reality.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; nor is it necessarily a good thing. It is what it is. At first, the idea of owning a puppy may sound awesome. But after you adopt one, reality starts to sink in. You have to train him not to poop on the carpet. You have to persuade him not to beg at the dinner table. You have to clean up after every single mess he makes. You need to schedule your entire life around feeding him, walking him, and making sure he is allowed to “relieve himself” as often as he needs to in a socially acceptable way.

In short, the honeymoon soon ends. The joyful expectation of owning a puppy dog – while you may still love being a pet owner – may or may not fully line up with the reality of actually owning a puppy.

The image in your head of your dog being your best buddy who also happens to be low-maintenance, intuitively housebroken, and allows you to live your life as usual with very little disruptions is, as you quickly discover, total BS. Raising a puppy dog is a lot harder than you think. I’m not anti-dog or anything (although I am more of a cat person), all I’m trying to do is illustrate the disconnection that often exists between how we think life is like and how life is really like.

The same goes for female bodybuilders. People who are fascinated with female bodybuilders, but have never actually met one, may be in for a surprise when they first get the chance to encounter one up-close-and-personal. There might be some disappointment…but there might also be some surprises, both positive and negative.

I’ve written before on the ethereal nature of female bodybuilders. We often refer to them as “goddesses” because we revere them as if they were divine beings from Heaven. In non-female bodybuilding parlance, a young lady we’re smitten with is often called an “angel.” If she isn’t in charge of what goes on in Heaven, she’s at least sent there from the Big Guy himself down to Earth to capture the hearts of young men. The point is when we put certain people on a pedestal, our perceptions of them become inflated, warped, and unrealistic.

This is known as “idealizing the other.” This especially happens when we have limited (or nonexistent) contact with this person. Whether we’re talking about our favorite pop singer, baseball player, middle school crush, or pro female bodybuilder, we tend to place idealistic expectations on who they are as people (or lovers, best friends, crushes, idols, etc.) that don’t necessarily fit reality.

May I meet Amy Peters for an intimate evening?

May I meet Amy Peters for an intimate evening?

So don’t get too heartbroken when your favorite ball player won’t give you his autograph. Don’t be too surprised when your favorite politician gets involved in a scandal. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that cute guy or girl you like can do no wrong and is perfect in every way. They are just as human as you are. We all have flaws. For the rich and famous, they have armies of publicists, assistants, public relations personnel, hair and make-up artists, wardrobe consultants, and the like to help present them in the best light possible.

Do you really think your favorite singer has hair that looks that good 24/7? I got news for you. They don’t!

Somewhat related to celebrity worship and idealizing the other is the heightened expectations we have about female bodybuilders. Due to the fact muscular women are rare in our world (unfortunately for us!), we tend to develop in our imaginations a perceived set of expectations for what FBBs are like that may or may not be accurate. Examples of questions we have about female bodybuilders include, but are not limited to:

  • How much can an FBB lift?
  • How tall are female bodybuilders?
  • Do all FBBs have big clits?
  • Do female bodybuilders want to dominate men sexually?
  • What do their genitals look like?

The answers to these questions – and countless others – obviously are not definitive and set in stone. Some FBBs are stronger than others. Many have big clits, but many also have perfectly normal sized clits. Some FBBs are sexually aggressive, others are more passive. Many are lesbians and have no interest in having sex with a man. Female genitalia, whether we’re talking about a muscular woman or a non-muscular woman, comes in all shapes and sizes. That’s just the way things are.

But instead of endlessly speculating on these matters, we end up creating conclusions regardless. I’m guilty of this as well. We take it for granted that FBBs are tall, sexually aggressive, super strong, and are endowed with large clitorises. At least, that’s our expectation. In the back of our minds we may know these assumptions aren’t always true. But we can’t help but think of these conclusions as being more or less the truth.

I love Mindi O'Brien!

I love Mindi O’Brien!

So let’s pretend like you actually end up meeting a female bodybuilder for a muscle worship or wrestling session. You see that someone you admire is travelling to your city and you e-mail her to set up an appointment. You pay your deposit, agree upon the terms of the meeting, and she informs you where she’ll be staying for the duration of her visit. Great! Now what?

You wait. You cross off the days on the calendar in anticipation of your fateful meeting with her. Your imagination goes wild. What will she be like? Will she be as big and strong as she is in my dreams? Will she immediately toss me on the bed and have her way with me without letting up? Will I be sore for the rest of the week as a result of our short hour together?

Then, the day comes. You can’t wait! You struggle to focus on anything but your appointment with her. Butterflies are bouncing wildly all around your stomach. Your heartbeat cannot calm down. You’re afraid you might suffer from cardiac arrest before your appointment even begins.

You sit in the parking lot of her hotel for 10 or so minutes. Finally, you text her and she tells you which room she is staying in. You nonchalantly walk out of your car, stroll into the hotel lobby as if you were a guest, and try to not make eye contact with any of the staff or patrons. You coolly walk up the stairs or ride the elevator. Finally, you’re face-to-face with her door. You knock. You wait. Seconds seems like minutes. Minutes seem like hours.

At last, the door opens!

You hold your breath in anticipation of what she’ll look like. What will the moment be like when you first get to lay eyes on her magnificent body? You then take a deep breath and look directly at her.

Um, oh.

She’s short. Perhaps several inches shorter than you. She’s pretty, but not as pretty as a supermodel. Her hair is unkempt. She has noticeable but not distractingly foul body odor. She’s muscular, but not as huge as you thought she’d be. Is she ripped? Well, sort of. She’s in excellent shape, but her figure doesn’t make my eyeballs pop out of their sockets. But most of all, you still cannot believe how short she is! Even with heels, she doesn’t come close to breaking six feet tall. What’s with that?

As the evening progresses, you have fun doing what you want to do. You get to touch her muscles. You get to playfully wrestle with her on the bed. You may even get a hand job from her at the conclusion of your appointment. All in all, the evening was a blast, but it wasn’t life altering.

Your perspective on life did not change. She was pleasant and awesome to be around, but she didn’t exactly cast a magical spell on you. She was cute, but your high school girlfriend was way cuter.

You come away from your appointment not totally disappointed, but slightly dissatisfied. You struggle to pinpoint why. The evening went exactly as planned. She delivered on all her promises. She’s a friendly lady who’s chill, down-to-earth, and can maintain an interesting conversation. What gives?

Shawna Walker showing off her hard work.

Shawna Walker showing off her hard work.

As time goes on, you realize the problem isn’t her. The problem is you. She did nothing wrong. She’s a beautiful muscular woman who’s trying to make a living doing what she loves to do. Your feelings of being let down isn’t her fault. It’s your fault. You were the one who built up unrealistic expectations in the first place. You constructed an image in your head that could never live up to its hype. Oh well. Live and learn, right?

Yup. That’s the way it goes in life. Live and learn. That’s all you can do.

Without question, female bodybuilders conjure up in our imaginations all sorts of wild thoughts, feelings, and fantasies. After all, since muscular women are rare in our world, all we have is our imaginations. And the human mind has a funny way of creating perceptions out of thin air that are based on nothing more than stereotypes, rumors, and hopes.

In our dreams, we concoct visions of what female bodybuilders are actually like. They’re superhuman, larger-than-life, and the most beautiful and flawless creatures on planet Earth. While FBBs are certainly gorgeous in their own unique ways, they’re not superhuman, larger-than-life, or flawless. They’re people just like you and I. They have good days and bad days, just like us. They have moments when they smell bad, just like us. They’re strong but not supernaturally strong, just like us (at least those of us who make an effort to get stronger).

In the back of our minds, we all know this. We know celebrities are flawed human beings just like the rest of us. Yet, we somehow get surprised or react intensely whenever they accidentally trip over themselves on the red carpet or say something offensive on Twitter. I mean, what were you expecting?

Those of us who ever get the chance to meet in-person a muscular woman may be in for a few surprises – however you define “surprises.” Whether those surprises are positive or negative often depend on what your initial expectations were to begin with. If you’ve elevated muscular women to a level of goddess-like divinity, then you’re going to be in for a disappointing shock. If your expectations are much more modest, then you might actually be in for a few pleasant surprises. How do you like them apples?

Returning to the analogy of adopting a puppy, even being an experienced pet owner may not totally prepare you for the full gamut of what it’s like to own a living and breathing animal. Perhaps your family owned a dog when you were a kid, but your parents did most of the work walking it, feeding it, and cleaning up after it. For sure Mom and Dad were the ones who bought the dog food. If you’re a broke recent college graduate, the cost of buying pet food can be taxing considering you can barely afford to feed yourself. Suddenly, your childhood memories of being a “dog owner” don’t actually prepare you for being a dog owner as an adult. Experience matters, but it all depends on the depth of your experience.

Likewise, watching endless videos and looking at thousands of photos of female bodybuilders – which should describe almost all of us! – will not necessarily prepare you for what it’s like to actually meet a female bodybuilder in the flesh. Like any form of media, photos and videos do not paint a complete picture. Clever lighting, PhotoShop, and creative editing can hide or enhance many things. Don’t get me wrong – female bodybuilders are certainly gorgeous when you meet them up-close-and-personal – but don’t expect them to be as flawless as your imaginations may recklessly hype you up to believe.

Speaking of short, did you know Tera Guzman is 4' 11"?

Speaking of short, did you know Tera Guzman is 4′ 11″?

The human mind has a funny (or tragic) way of playing games with us when it comes to our perceptions of the world. Because we cannot possibly experience and fully understand everything, we are forced to compartmentalize our perceptions into easy-to-digest bits of information. Examples of this are too many, but suffice to say the way we think about female bodybuilders definitely fits into this paradigm.

Some of us will never meet a female bodybuilder. Many of us will, but not for very long. Most of us will encounter athletic-looking women in our everyday lives, but rarely have the chance to get all our questions about them answered. Do you really want to ask a random stranger at the gym who’s just gotten done doing bicep curls what her clit looks like? That’s a good way to get kicked in the groin, if you catch my drift!

Indeed, our expectations don’t always meet reality. But the valuable lesson to be learned isn’t that this is always a bad thing or a negative reflection upon female bodybuilders themselves. Often, it’s a product of our own wild imaginations taking us to strange and magical places. Or it’s because we seldom are able to actually see female bodybuilders up close, so we don’t quite know what to expect. Or, it’s a byproduct of the nature of female bodybuilders as a whole:

They’re peculiar, thought-provoking, mysterious, and gloriously enigmatic creatures who summon in our feeble minds some of the most outlandish and irrational beliefs imaginable. Therefore, it is a struggle and our responsibility to dial back these perceptions out of respect to these incredible women.

Yeah, that’s probably more like it.

Envy: The Deadly Sin of Female Bodybuilding

It's understandable to see why some people might be envious of Tatiana Anderson.

It’s understandable to see why some people might be envious of Tatiana Anderson.

Not many of us may be familiar with or sympathetic to the teachings of the early Christian church, but most of us have heard of “The Seven Deadly Sins” at some point.

Whether you’ve seen David Fincher’s classic 1995 film “Se7en” or you just happen to be well-versed in the ethics of medieval Christendom, The Seven Deadly Sins are:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

These seven vices are associated with self-indulgence and contribute to the fall of humanity. While changing social mores throughout time might knock a few of these sins off their perch, we still to this day regard many of these behaviors with shame.

Female bodybuilding, to switch gears just a bit, is in a position of both strength and weakness right now. On one hand, the popularity of CrossFit, Fitbit, hybrid workouts, customized personal training and fitness apps is making it less taboo for women to lift weights and exercise hard. These trends may not necessarily lead more women down the path of bodybuilding, but the doors are definitely more open than they were in generations past.

On the other hand, the sport of female bodybuilding is being more and more marginalized as the years go on. Elite, hyper-muscular female athletes are being pushed out of the industry while more watered-down “fitness” and “bikini” competitors are taking their place. Pretty soon, it’s not inconceivable that the Ms. Olympia competition may not exist anymore. Competitions involving highly muscular female bodybuilders will definitely still persist, but they’ll most likely receive less mainstream support than they did before.

The gorgeous Debbie Leung flexing her bicep.

The gorgeous Debbie Leung flexing her bicep.

For fans of female bodybuilding, this is a tragedy that feels both inevitable and sadly predictable. We hope this day never arrives, but one can certainly see which direction the tide is turning.

That being said, how does one explain this downgrading of the sport many of us love so much? One of The Seven Deadly Sins may offer a plausible explanation.

Envy.

Let us explore this issue in greater detail.

  1. Envy, in both men and women, is contributing to the assault against female bodybuilding

Unfortunately, the attack against female bodybuilding is coming from two different directions: men and women. Let’s first start with men.

Traditionally-speaking, men are considered to be the “stronger sex” while women are, by default, dubbed the “weaker sex.” There is biological data to back this up, as well as centuries of culturally imposed gender roles – spanning across the entire globe – that contribute to this well-entrenched social paradigm. The concept of men being naturally stronger than women is something we didn’t have to learn in school. Most of us know this by our own accord.

Therefore, when we (and by “we,” I’m referring to us guys as a whole) encounter a woman who’s clearly stronger than us, we feel emasculated. We’re supposed to be the stronger ones, not the losers coming in second place. If you’re at the gym and you see a lady deadlifting two or four 45-pound plates more than you, it makes you feel puny, incomplete and a shame to your gender.

In other words, you feel envious. “Envy,” just to be clear, is defined as “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.”

I still don’t quite know the difference between “envy” and “jealousy,” (I think “jealousy” is being resentful toward another person as a result of your feelings of envy) but it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. The guys who disdain or are disgusted by female bodybuilders are more targeting their own insecurities instead of expressing their hatred toward someone else. When you see an Internet troll describe a female bodybuilder as “trying to become a man” or saying “she probably has a penis,” what they’re really doing is conveying their personal anxieties rather than stating an objective opinion.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Akila Pervis.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Akila Pervis.

Emasculation can be a powerful motivator. Or a powerful wrecking ball of other people’s accomplishments. It’s sad that more guys aren’t encouraged by women who achieve high levels of strength and muscularity. But not all of us see eye-to-eye. What some of us guys perceive to be sexy others interpret to be an attack on their manhood.

Conversely, envy among women is also at play here. Female bodybuilders may not be shattering any proverbial “glass ceilings” per se, but they do tear down certain excuses we use to justify female weakness. Like men who feel emasculated when in the presence of a muscular woman, there are most certainly women who feel “effeminated” – if such a word actually exists – by the same thing. The small number of women (but by no means insignificant) who achieves strength that surpasses the average man brings about a sense of inadequacy in the majority of women who cannot achieve similar results.

They too are repulsed by their more muscular sisters because they feel challenged not by “society” as a whole, but by their peers. It’s one thing to call yourself a “strong, independent woman” and hope the rest of the world goes along with you, but it’s another thing entirely to actually put in the effort to become a genuinely strong woman. Talk is cheap. What female bodybuilders and athletes do is definitely not.

  1. The best way to deal with envious feelings is to pretend like the object of your envy doesn’t exist

Nobody wants to feel emasculated, degraded or second rate. Nobody wants to wake up, look at themselves in the mirror, and see mediocrity reflected back at them. You feel mediocre because you can’t compare to your competition, however you define “competition.”

So what’s the best way to assure you don’t lose to your competitors? Simple. Don’t have any competitors.

Obviously, it’s impossible to snap your fingers and make everybody who is richer, smarter, stronger, better looking and more successful than you magically disappear. So the next best thing is to pretend like they don’t exist. Or, on a more practical level, deny their identity as a method of “erasing” who they actually are.

This is why the insult “she looks like a man” is so common among trolls. Women aren’t supposed to be stronger than men, so when a woman is proven to be stronger than a man, then she must not actually be a woman. She’s probably secretly a man disguised as a woman. Or a woman with biological characteristics more becoming of a man, which by association means she’s not a genuine woman. Which then means her accomplishments aren’t legitimate. And if her accomplishments aren’t legitimate, you feel better about yourself because that battle you thought you lost you then win by default.

Also flexing her beautiful bicep is Mindi O'Brien.

Also flexing her beautiful bicep is Mindi O’Brien.

Delegitimizing your opponents is a classical tactic to eliminating their victories. If you convince enough people – including yourself – that female bodybuilders are actually women with substantial male components (biological traits, hormone levels, etc.), it makes their accomplishments as elite athletes null and void. It comforts your mind knowing Alina Popa isn’t really a normal woman who, by her sheer willpower and hard work, built herself to be stronger and bulkier than most guys. She has to have an unfair advantage somewhere! Perhaps she has an unusual amount of natural testosterone hidden in her system that, scientifically speaking, makes her a “man.” Yeah, that must be it! There’s no way that she can be that buff while being 100% female. Case closed.

While it’s true many female bodybuilders take drugs that increase their capacity to build muscle mass, that doesn’t make them less of a woman. Scientific arguments aside, the point I’m trying to make is that delegitimizing the accomplishments of a female bodybuilder is the primary way critics try to pretend like the objects of their jealousy don’t exist. Deny them their identity, and you “win” because it gives you personal comfort knowing there’s nothing wrong with your own identity.

It’s a terrible thing to do, but unfortunately it’s all too common.

  1. Envy is more of a product of your own insecurity

As mentioned before, the contempt critics of female bodybuilders feel toward them is more a product of their own insecurities rather than anything else. They aren’t angry at them necessarily, but are actually angry at themselves for not doing enough to measure up.

I won’t stress this point any further, but I will add one more nugget. One of the biggest problems facing our society is the belief that someone’s accomplishment is automatically someone else’s loss. In other words, too many of us embrace the idea that life is a zero-sum game.

In case you need a refresher, a zero-sum game is “a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.”

You don’t need to be a mathematical genius in the vein of the late John Forbes Nash, Jr. to understand what this means. In sports, athletic competition is a zero-sum game. Either you win or you lose. There’s no middle ground. Yes, some sports have ties. Other sports have placements, so you can come in third or fourth place and still earn a comically oversized check. But most of the time, athletic competitions end with either an absolute winner or an absolute loser.

Stay positive. Look at the gorgeous Gina Aliotti.

Stay positive. Look at the gorgeous Gina Aliotti.

But life is not always like that. One smart kid earning an A+ on their spelling test doesn’t in any way, shape or form prevent other kids from earning a similar grade. Theoretically, every single kid in your class can earn a perfect score (logically, every kid could also earn an F). Yet when you’re the only one who earns the highest mark, why do the rest of the kids treat you with scorn? Why are you labeled a “smarty pants” or other such similar names? For whatever reason, too many of us have been taught that someone else’s gain will automatically result in everyone else’s loss. They can’t prove it, but they inherently believe that you earning the A+ means they’re left with the B- or C+ grades by default.

But life is not a zero-sum game. Seeing a strong, beautiful woman at the gym doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish the same thing. Nor does it mean she got there through some unfair advantage. Beauty doesn’t have to be a competition. Even if you aren’t gifted with a lot of natural beauty, I’ve written before that female bodybuilders earn their beauty in ways that their peers who hit the genetic jackpot don’t.

Some of the most beautiful female bodybuilders in the world have faces that aren’t traditionally pretty. Some are plain looking. Others might have faces that revolt you. But their bodies are breathtaking and deserve high praise. Regardless, one woman being beautiful doesn’t mean the woman standing next to her can’t also be beautiful. Life isn’t like that.

Perhaps this psychologically explains where envy is rooted in. We, for whatever reason, are socialized to believe that people who are successful make it harder for the rest of us to be just as successful. But this is a fallacy. Life isn’t about fighting over who gets the biggest slice of the pie. It’s about each one of us baking our own delicious pie, without any regard to what other people are doing. This may not be true in every facet of life, but we’d be better off if we all lived life in the positive rather than the negative.

  1. Envy keeps everyone down, even those who’ve reached the top

The last point is probably the most important. Envious feelings hurt everyone. Everyone. Including those who are the object of envy.

Call it “victor’s guilt.” Some people feel guilty for “winning” at life. A parent who has a healthy family might feel bad for their neighbor who can’t conceive a child no matter how hard they try. That same kid who earned the A+ on their spelling test might secretly tank their next test so that they could be more like everyone else. That rising star in the world of female bodybuilding may reduce her muscle gains so that she could encourage her less successful peers to feel better about themselves.

These reactions are understandable. They also reflect a larger issue when achieving the most you can becomes discouraged, or worse, taboo.

It goes without saying that there are many examples in life when someone’s gain truly comes at another person’s loss. But more often than not, this is not the case. Female bodybuilders are already stuck between a rock and a hard place (and I’m not just referring to their rock hard abs and firm glutes). They live a financially and emotionally draining lifestyle that’s receiving less and less support from their own industry, their own peers, the opposite gender and their own gender group. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but perhaps it’s not. Either way, it’s hard out there for a female bodybuilder. The battles, both large and small, they have to face every single day is enough to boggle the mind.

If I went to the gym and saw Autumn Raby and Nadia Nardi posing like this, I'd probably have a heart attack. Oh boy...

If I went to the gym and saw Autumn Raby and Nadia Nardi posing like this, I’d probably have a heart attack. Oh boy…

How they manage to maintain their lifestyles and persist in pursuing their dreams is a testament to their inner strength, which is probably mightier than their physical strength. Not all of us are that mentally tough. Female bodybuilders are without a doubt that tough minded.

In conclusion, female bodybuilders create cognitive dissonance in our minds. Or more accurately, emotional dissonance. They spark feelings of envy within us that make us hate them even though we have no justifiable reason to actually hate them. Hate is often attributed to a lack of understanding. It’s also been described as irrational. Whichever it is, envy is at the root of all this. It is until we wrap our minds and hearts around this that we will be able to treat FBBs the way they should be treated: with great respect, not malice.

The best piece of advice I can give is to celebrate people’s accomplishments instead of dwelling on your own shortcomings, either perceived or real. This fortune cookie mantra could be applied to almost all aspects of our lives. Life is too short to hate on other people. Life is also too short to waste your time wishing you could be “better.” Who can really define “better?” This is not to justify mediocrity, but instead to point out the fact that it’s harmful to kick yourself over not being “perfect” or “better than XYZ.”

This is partly why I started my blog. I want to celebrate these beautiful women and their beautiful bodies. Not because I want to shame anyone or tear down anything, but because I want to focus on the positives in life instead of the deficits. We may not all universally agree that “envy” is a Deadly Sin, but we should agree that it tends to lead us in poor directions.

Cut out the frivolous negativity in your life, and good things will follow. And that’s a game we can all play and win.