Gym Bros, Reluctant Girlfriends, and Human Clay

I’d love to have someone who looks like Michele Levesque as my girlfriend. But at what cost?

At the gym where I frequently workout, I often see a sight that I’m pretty sure many of you can also recognize.

I see a huge Gym Bro who looks like he spends way too much of his free time lifting weights and avoiding cardio (not to mention Leg Day) drag his girlfriend (or wife) to the gym with him. She may or may not be in shape. She may or may not even want to be there. Perhaps she’d rather be at home watching reruns of The Bachelorette or reading a book. Or going out to drinks with her friends. Or going to the gym, but not five times a week.

Gym Bro clearly loves working out. You can see it in his huge arms, enormous chest, and cocky strut. The Reluctant Girlfriend of Gym Bro is a different matter. She could be skinny, a bit overweight, or perhaps quite obese. But the body type she isn’t is “muscular.” And you can tell, whether he is willing to admit it or not, that he’d love it for her to become as muscular as he is.

He teaches her how to deadlift, squat, bench press, and shoulder press. She does as she’s told, but you can tell she does it with little enthusiasm. When she uses improper form, he lashes out, or at the very least aggressively tries to correct her “errors.” Not wanting to upset him further, she does her best to please him. It’s a sad sight to see. It’s pathetic. You feel sorry for her and secretly desire to punch him in the face.

I could very well be misinterpreting this situation, or maybe I’m spot on. I don’t see this all the time, but it happens enough that I feel compelled to write about it. Long story short, Gym Bro secretly – or not so secretly – wants his girlfriend to look a certain way. He thinks she’s too skinny, too fat, or too average. Regardless, he wants her to bulk up. He wants her to look like Michele Levesque, even if she has no desire herself to look like that. For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, Michele is a gorgeous fitness model who possesses the ideal look: she’s fit, unquestionably feminine, as gorgeous as a supermodel, and has built enough muscle to turn people’s heads – but not so much muscle that she upstages the man she’s with.

Lauranda Nall has some nice triceps.

Our friend the Gym Bro understands that women who look like Miss Levesque, Julie Germaine, Autumn Cleveland, Lauranda Nall, and Sheronica Sade Henton don’t just grow on trees. They are far from a dime a dozen. They are a one-in-a-million rare specimen that must be treasured because they are few and far between. However, Gym Bro secretly dreams about possessing a girlfriend with such a treasured physique…and will not sit around idly and wait for it to happen.

Therefore, he must take matters into his own hands. Even if that requires “forcing” his girlfriend to put a pair of dumbbells into her hands.

Thus, he nudges her in the direction of bulking up like him. He tells her it’s a healthy choice. He reassures her she won’t start “looking like a man.” He insists she’ll develop more confidence, curves in all the right places, and unsolicited compliments from complete strangers (naturally, the flattering kinds of compliments, not the creepy ones). She sort of goes along with it. After all, she wants to spend quality time with her boyfriend, right? Who wouldn’t?

She goes to the gym whenever he goes to the gym. They lift together. He “trains” her and cheers her on. He gives out advice as if it were candied apples on Halloween. She learns how to lift. She’s taught the proper form, breathing techniques, and recovery methods. He makes post-workout protein shakes for the both of them. She begrudgingly drinks it every single time. Maybe she likes the taste, maybe she doesn’t. But it’s all to keep their relationship intact, so it must be worth it.

If this scenario doesn’t seem familiar to you, don’t worry. Sooner or later you’ll witness something like this up close. And it’ll make you squirm. Or at the very least, feel sorry for her and all involved. You might start to ask yourself whether this behavior crosses into the territory of abuse. Does it? You sure hope not, but how can these thoughts not come to mind?

Sheronica Sade Henton showing off her hard work.

Essentially, Gym Bro wants his Reluctant Girlfriend to become Human Clay. He wants to sculpt her into becoming a Perfect Muscle Goddess who will fulfill his every lustful carnal desire. He wants her to become an Amazon, a strong confident young woman who takes life by the horns and never relents in pursuing her goals. He wants the ultimate arm candy. He wants a sexy flesh-and-blood trophy he can call his own and show off to his fellow gym bros.

Meanwhile, you get the sense she doesn’t really want to do this. She’s all for living a healthy life and looking good, but is it worth the soreness and agony of going to the gym all the damn time? It goes without saying that one does not simply become a Muscle Goddess overnight. Nor does it happen by accident. You only look like Cindy Landolt if you put in the effort to look like Cindy Landolt. If you don’t want to look like her, then you won’t ever look like her. It’s as simple as that.

The scenario described above troubles me. But unfortunately, I see it – and hear about it – all too often. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening to see. But alas, it’s quite common. When you start to “force” somebody to do something they don’t actually want to do, that’s problematic.

As I’ve written before countless times, I love muscular women. But I would never pressure my significant other to ever become a muscular woman unless she genuinely wanted to become one. And if that were to happen, I’d enthusiastically support her 100%. But if not, I’d understand completely.

It’s perfectly natural for straight guys to be attracted to muscular women. It happens more frequently than a lot of us are aware of. And it’s also understandable why many of us dream about having a muscular girlfriend. Who wouldn’t want to come home every night after a long day of work to a woman who looks like Minna Pajulahti? I know I would!

And you can share a bed with her every f*****g day? Count me in!

So the awfully awkward situation where guys start to treat their girlfriends like Human Clay seems sort of inevitable. Isn’t that the logical next step? Isn’t this just a natural progression for anyone who appreciates fit women? Well, no. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I fully believe that a woman has every right to pursue bodybuilding and fitness if they choose to do so. Many women find participating in the sport empowering, uplifting, and worthwhile. Yes, it’s a cliché to use the word “empower” when we’re dealing with women and their physical appearance, but clichés are formed for a reason. For many women, bodybuilding has helped them deal with trauma, overcome emotional obstacles, and provide them with a renewed sense of purpose. The list of benefits goes on.

Who wouldn’t want to come home every night to a woman who looks just like Cindy Landolt?

However, women also have the right to not pursue bodybuilding if such a lifestyle does not totally appeal to them. This seems obvious, yet this is not really at the heart of the problem. I don’t think too many women are forced to lift weights at the gym at gunpoint. But pressure (both overt and subtle) from a loved one can be just as coercive. The desire to please your partner will drive people to do almost anything. The same goes for the fear of losing a loved one – and by “losing,” I mean that person choosing to find a different lover, not death.

I understand why a guy would want a sexy muscle goddess for a girlfriend. Trust me, I daydream about this all the time! But, I’d like to think I would never cross that line and pressure my better half to torture herself at the gym just because I want the shape of her body to be more pleasing to my eye. But this is not about me being “holier than thou.” All I want to do is send a warning to those of you who might (or already have) cross that line, either intentionally or unintentionally.

There’s nothing malicious about wanting your partner to look and feel healthy. After all, don’t we all want to be with our loved ones for as long as possible? Of course we do. But this goes deeper than that. This is about the ethics of female muscle fandom. This is about being a decent human being.

No person is Human Clay. No person should ever feel obliged to do anything against their will for any reason whatsoever. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a muscular girlfriend. It’s quite another thing to use coercive measures to make that dream come true. Even if you’re a Gym Bro who thinks they have good intentions at heart, odds are not everyone around you will agree. Being a Reluctant Girlfriend is like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Of course you want to look fabulous and sexy. But what are you willing to sacrifice in order to do that? And who is allowed to define what “fabulous and sexy” even means?

If I could snap my fingers and magically make a Sexy Powerful Muscle Goddess appear right before my very eyes, I wouldn’t think twice about doing it. But alas we don’t live in a universe where such miracles are possible. While it never hurts to dream, it can hurt the ones we love if we bully them into fulfilling our dreams – regardless if such a thing is even feasible in the first place.

Autumn Cleveland is heating it up.

At the end of the day, the awkward relationship between Gym Bro and Reluctant Girlfriend is probably never going to go away. It will always be here with us until the world comes to an end. Or until we discover a secret potion that miraculously transforms a humble bumpkin into Muscle Cinderella. If that ever happens, instead of a glass slipper, would the Handsome Prince go around town seeing whose torso is muscular enough to handle a weightlifting belt that was left behind?

In conclusion, we all want Cindy Landolt to be our girlfriend. But women who actually look like her are not so common. So accept that. Understand that we can’t always get what we want, just like The Rolling Stones once reminded us. But, as they also remind us, we get what we need:

A loving companion who joyfully goes to the gym with you but doesn’t want to lift super heavy. It may not fulfill all your dirty desires, but it’s much more realistic. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The lesson to be learned is this: don’t pressure her to be a bodybuilder. Let her get her workout in, kiss her on the cheek, and tell her “I love you the way you are.” And if she’d rather stay at home and play Candy Crush Saga while you’re across town busting your tail at the squat rack, let her…even if you’d rather watch her bust her tail while jealous onlookers stare at you with envy in their hearts.

Let her be who she wants to be. Period.

That is how you live happily ever after.

A Muscular Woman is Always Nude in Public, Even When Fully Clothed

Kathy Johansson, a strong black woman in the flesh.

Kathy Johansson, a strong black woman in the flesh.

Female bodybuilders are caught in a perpetual problem. One they can temporarily try to remedy, but one that will always face them as long as they choose to be bodybuilders.

Imagine this scenario: A world class female bodybuilder goes to the grocery store. She walks down the produce section and selects her desired fruits and vegetables. She notices out of the corner of her eye two teenage boys staring at her incessantly. They can’t help themselves. She thinks nothing of it. Then she strolls through the breakfast cereal aisle to choose which granola she wants to eat in the mornings. Once again, she sees a little old grandma straining her weary eyes to determine whether or not the figure in front of her is a male or a female. The old woman doesn’t say a single word, but the FBB knows exactly what she’s thinking. A few moments later, she moves on to the meat section and tries to calculate in her head how many pounds of chicken and steak will last her for the rest of the week. Before she can make a definitive determination, our heroic FBB – almost on cue – spots a family of four pointing at her and whispering to each other. For the third time in the past ten minutes, she blocks out this experience and tries her best to maintain a dignified aura of “normalcy.”

For our hypothetical FBB, this is not a unique sequence of events. This is daily life. This happens all day, every day. There’s no stopping it. But over time, she’s come to expect all this unwanted attention. After all, it is unusual to see a woman with so much muscle on her body. She’s not naïve. She knows the typical person minding their own business doesn’t expect to come across a human female with the muscle mass of an NFL defensive end. But that doesn’t make the feeling of being a “circus freak” go away. It doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

This scenario illustrates a simple fact: A muscular woman is always nude in public, even when she’s fully clothed.

As a general rule, public nudity is discouraged in our society. Not just in the Western Euro-American world, but all over the planet. Call it a product of Adam and Eve, the Forbidden Fruit and the Garden of Eden; but whatever the reason is, every single one of us wears clothes for a reason. Besides, we don’t want to freeze to death every winter, do we? And let’s face it. Some of us would prefer not to see certain people naked. Ugh. We’ll leave it at that.

Whether we choose to wear pants, skirts, dresses, shirts, sweaters, socks, shoes, jackets, coats, scarves, slippers, neckties, nylon stockings, boots, robes, or jorts (denim shorts, something we need to legally ban), wearing clothes is both expected and something that’s not debated. Yes, occasionally we’ll read about local municipalities trying to outlaw bikini coffee stands, nude beaches and strip clubs, but overall the expectation that everyone wears clothes goes unspoken. Heck, public nudity is so taboo that something as mundane as a mother breastfeeding her baby will occasionally raise eyebrows from inadvertent onlookers. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way things are these days.

I wouldn't mind seeing Diana Tyuleneva naked in public.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Diana Tyuleneva naked in public.

But there are some people in this world who can’t entirely cover up their bodies. Bodybuilders, both male and female, have silhouettes that stand out from the rest of us. They can wear baggy pants and large winter overcoats all they want, but you can’t do that during the broiling heat of July. So for the vast majority of the year, when a female bodybuilder struts around in public, she can’t help but garner attention to herself – even if she’s not seeking it.

This attention won’t always be unwelcome. Nor will it always be negative. I’d wager a guess that it’s a mixed bag. Positive attention, negative attention…it’s all part of the packaged deal of living life as a professional (or as a dedicated amateur) bodybuilder. Of course, it goes without saying that public harassment is never warranted. Don’t bother people when they don’t want to be bothered. Nobody ever “asks” to be bothered, but FBBs are in the unique position of pulling attention their direction whether they want it or not.

Thus, female bodybuilders can never actually hide who they are. They are always naked. Not in the technical sense, but in the sense that their identity is always on full display to the world. But, if you think about it, isn’t that the point? Bodybuilders – whether they intend to compete or not – are trying to sculpt their bodies to fit a certain preferred aesthetic. Maximizing muscle mass, maintaining perfect symmetry, achieving the “chiseled” look, you name it. It’s all part of a master plan to attain “perfection.”

So it’s not unfathomable why female bodybuilders attract so much unprovoked attention. Not only do their bodies look different, they intentionally seek to look different. A female bodybuilder’s hard work is evident in every square inch of her body. Nothing is hidden from plain sight. So when people can’t help but stare at an FBB’s body when she minding her own business in public, can you really blame them? It might be a tired cliché to say “it is what it is,” but clichés start for a reason.

What we’re discussing here isn’t a major problem, but instead a fascinating insight into what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a female bodybuilder. They are always bare. They are always nude. They are vulnerable to unwanted attention in ways not too many of us can comprehend.

Lauranda Nall, a young up-and-coming blonde muscle bombshell.

Lauranda Nall, a young up-and-coming blonde muscle bombshell.

Additionally, FBBs are nude not just in an aesthetic sense, but in a social sense. People have certain stereotypes attached to female bodybuilders. Many are fair, many are undeniably unfair. Let’s go back to the grocery store anecdote from earlier. What do you think the two teenage boys, elderly grandmother and family of four – not to mention the check-out line clerk, deli employees and the countless shoppers who aren’t in the story but definitely exist in the same environment – are talking about or thinking about when they see our protagonist up close and personal? What assumptions do they have about her? What prejudices do they hold against her? Here is a small sample of some the thoughts that might be going through their heads:

  • “Is that a man or a woman?”
  • “Somebody needs to go to the gym less!”
  • “Gross!”
  • “That’s nasty! Who would want to look like that?”
  • “I wonder if her boyfriend is the ‘woman’ in the relationship…”
  • “Boyfriend? She’s probably a lesbian. And a scary one at that.”
  • “She probably has a penis hiding somewhere!”
  • “Tranny. Without a doubt.”
  • “She’s probably single. Most guys would be too scared to be with her.”
  • “She’s a freak on steroids.”
  • “Boy, if I ever got her mad, she’d probably pummel me to death!”
  • “Seriously. Why the fuck does she want to be that buff? Doesn’t she know that’s disgusting and no guy wants their girlfriend to be like that?”
  • “Steroids. That’s it. That’s the only logical explanation. I wonder who sells to her…”

And blah, blah, blah. It goes on and on and on. So, unfortunately, not only is an FBB bare in the physical sense, she’s also bare in the psychological sense. People start to make assumptions about her lifestyle, relationships, sexual preferences, emotional attitudes, behavior patterns, opinions, and so on. To compare, there are a lot of people in this world who physically stand out from the rest of the general public. Someone who’s really tall or really short can catch your eye. But the difference is that you know they can’t help it. How tall or short you are as a human being is determined by genetics, not lifestyle choices.

But being as insanely muscular as a bodybuilder? That’s totally intentional. That’s not a mistake. That’s all strategic.

Being a remarkably muscular person opens up a whole can of worms of stereotypes, prejudices and cognitive dissonance. The same could also be said for very overweight people and people who make unusual fashion choices. But we’re more accustomed to seeing people with a lot of body fat than we are seeing women with huge amounts of muscle. So our reactions are going to be that much stronger.

Most of us want to blend into the crowd. Even those of us who say we “want to be different” do so within certain socially-acceptable boundaries. Shaved hair, a nose ring, hot pink stockings or tattoos may have been distasteful a generation ago, but it’s not much to blink at today. So how do you genuinely separate yourself from the herd? Simple. Be a woman with a body like Brigita Brezovac. Do all the eating, lifting, supplementation and resting necessary to achieve that look. That’ll turn heads in a hurry!

Brigita Brezovac would definitely turn my head in a hurry.

Brigita Brezovac would definitely turn my head in a hurry.

Let’s shift this conversation toward the subject of public nudity itself. What exactly about the human body is taboo? Besides multigenerational tradition dictating that we all clothe ourselves, in the Western world it’s not taboo to show a little bit of skin. We can show bare arms, legs, faces and shoulders without too much trouble. But a woman showing her bare chest? That would be unacceptable. A man letting his penis hang loose? Same deal. Do that and you spend the night in jail. Do that in front of an elementary school and you get tracked by the government for the rest of your life. These rules, it goes without saying, are quite strict!

The parts of our bodies that we really have to cover up are our genitals, butt and for women, their nipples. She can show most of her breasts without much trouble. But expose her areola? Watch out!

Generally speaking, we use the Beach Rule to decide what is or what is not acceptable. Can you wear it at the beach without getting kicked out? Alright, then it’s fine. I won’t get into too much detail as to how we established these social rules to begin with, but they follow a similar pattern: If it can be used for reproduction and nursing one’s young, it shouldn’t be seen out in the open. The penis and the vagina obviously play an important role in conceiving a child. The vagina also plays a role in giving birth to the child. And her breasts are crucial to feeding her child once he or she is born. So there’s that: Conception, birth and nurturing. The three common elements that tie together the parts of the human body we can’t show in public.

But more than that, the three body parts that we can’t show in public – the penis, vagina and a woman’s breasts – also share another element in common. They distinguish men from women. Men have a penis, women have a vagina. Men have flat breasts, women have larger breasts. The parts of our bodies that identify who we are, strangely enough, are the parts we can’t freely show off. I can’t explain why, I just know that’s the way things are.

Jennifer Abrams is showing us muscles aren't just for men. Women can have them too!

Jennifer Abrams is showing us muscles aren’t just for men. Women can have them too!

So, what about muscles? Muscles are something that men have traditionally had a monopoly on. From the statue of David to the characters in Frank Miller’s “300,” men are the ones who are physically strong and determined. Women, however, are not expected to be as physically dominant as their male counterparts. Thus, in addition to genitalia, muscles are another part of the body that separates masculinity from femininity.

Therefore, when a woman is seen with big muscles, she is clearly breaking that paradigm. She’s shattering her subordinate role and challenging men in an arena where they’ve always had the upper hand. Kathy Johansson shows us that a strong black woman can be a literal strong black woman, not someone whose strength is defined by emotional grit. I have no doubt that Kathy has incredible mental fortitude, but her physical strength is what puts her on a level playing field with men.

Thus, an FBB’s muscles don’t just expose her nakedness. They expose our nakedness too! They challenge a physically weak man’s masculine credibility. They challenge our perceptions about the differences between the genders. They defy our standards of beauty, sexuality, gender roles and power structures. A female bodybuilder’s muscles don’t just expose who she is. They also expose who we are. Our beliefs, assumptions and habits are put on display. We become vulnerable as well. Who am I as a man if a woman can work hard enough to achieve strength that surpasses mine? What kind of a man am I?

I’m not saying these assumptions are good or bad, nor that our reactions are justified or unjustified. What I’m saying is that a muscular woman’s body exposes not just what we think of her…but also what we think of ourselves. Her ability to smash perceptions forces us to reevaluate what we believe. Should we treat people differently? Should we treat ourselves differently?

This is why the subject of female bodybuilding and female bodybuilders will always fascinate me. There are an endless number of topics we can discuss related to this. Muscular women are gems. They work so hard to look the way they look. And their beautiful bodies are specimens we cannot look away from. But there’s more to it than that. When we look upon the body of a female bodybuilder, we’re not just looking at her.

We’re also looking within at ourselves.