We Need to Talk About Nataliya Kuznetsova

Nataliya Kuznetsova 4

This is a real human being. Seriously.

By now, you should be familiar with Nataliya Kuznetsova.

Nataliya is the kind of woman that even the most wildly imaginative female muscle fan will admit – if they’re pressed into being realistic for a hot minute – can’t ever really exist.

No woman, even with the help of all the synthetic steroids, supplements, food, weightlifting equipment, and expertise possibly available, can ever actually look like that. Whether you’ve been a bona fide female muscle fan for 40 years or 40 days, you’ve seen your fair share of muscular women. Perhaps even in-person. Yet, the rational part of your brain understands full well that no woman can ever look like her. No woman can ever have arms the size of a Mr. Olympia contestant. Or legs so thick that they resemble actual tree trunks. That’s not physically possible. It’s not scientifically possible. It’s even too absurd to draw a cartoon that looks like that.

Uh, right?

Well, you would be wrong. There is in fact one particular woman who walks on planet Earth – or is it continuously squats and bicep curls on planet Earth? – who defies your expectations of what a female bodybuilder can and cannot look like. She challenges what you previously thought was the limits of human achievement. Sure, guys who take drugs and work out like a madman with his hair on fire can become that huge. But…a woman?

No way! No how! That ain’t right!!!

Yet, it is so right. And it is possible. Her name is Nataliya Kuznetsova.

Nataliya was born on July 1, 1991 in the city of Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai in Russia. She was born just a few months before the Soviet Union officially dissolved; and although the Iron Curtain had fallen, a child had been born who would take her iron pumping quite seriously (did you see what I did there?). She has won many accolades in her life, including being the bench press and deadlift world champion. She’s also a champion armlifter, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen her arms.

She aspired to become a professional bodybuilder at age 14 and never looked back. In addition to breaking several records, she’s dabbled in the field of coaching and personal training – which is not uncommon for many bodybuilders, both male and female. She’s maintained a strict diet since the early days of her career, which has clearly paid dividends. After graduating from the Moscow State Academy of Physical Culture in 2013, Nataliya proceeded to pursue her dream of shattering several powerlifting records.

And put her name in the record books is exactly what she did. In 2014 and 2015 she won various contests in Russia and Europe. While it doesn’t appear that she continues to compete in powerlifting, she’s since gained international notoriety for her unusual eye-popping physique that she proudly promotes on her social media channels.

Oh boy. And she’s also not shy about her usage of anabolic steroids and estrogen blockers. I mean, it’s not humanly possible to get as huge as her without drugs. We all know that. But in her case, it isn’t really about whether or not she “fairly” achieved her musculature. What really matters is that she looks exactly how she looks – and that’s the way she wants it.

Her brand is dependent upon the final result, not the process it took to get to that final result.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 1

Muscles on the beach.

Nataliya is the Ultimate Real Human Photoshop Illusion. You’d swear that she’s not actually real. She must be the product of a female muscle growth fiction artist’s imagination. Someone must’ve artificially enhanced her arms and legs. Or, someone superimposed a male bodybuilder’s arms onto her torso, like a G.I. Joe action figure’s arms being popped inside a limbless Barbie doll.

Yet, that is not the case. She is not a character in an FMG story. Nor are photos of her not genuine (to be fair, very few Instagram and magazine photos are 100% genuine) in the proper sense of the word. Her biceps are really the size of most guys’ quads. Her quads are really as thick as your girlfriend’s torso. It’s all true. It’s definitely not all natural, but if we’re only interested in aesthetics, who cares?

And that’s the crux of the argument. Whether she could ever achieve so much muscle mass naturally – the short answer is “no way, José” – is not the point. Insecure guys who constantly insist that she’s “juicing” or “roiding up” are just projecting their own inadequacies onto a complete stranger. They’re envious that they are unable to get that “swole,” so they need to add as many caveats as possible onto Nataliya’s achievements because it, uh, makes them feel better. Or something like that. I don’t know exactly.

But that’s not really where I’m getting at. Nataliya is noteworthy because she is who she is. Whether she “cheated” or did it through unnatural means isn’t what’s truly important. What’s important is that she’s a human cartoon in the flesh. She’s a female muscle fan’s dream come true, if extreme FMG artwork happens to be your thing. It’s not for me personally, but it doesn’t have to be. I can acknowledge her importance without being totally smitten with her looks.

Personally, Nataliya is a bit too much. Everything about her is superhuman, including her lips. Dang. She makes Angelina Jolie look like the before-and-after photo at a lip enhancement surgeon’s office. I tend to prefer ladies who are both large and traditionally curvy. Alina Popa is my jam. So is Isabelle Turell. And Shannon Courtney. And Theresa Ivancik. And Lindsay Mulinazzi. And many others. I have nothing against Miss Kuznetsova as a human being. I’m sure she’s cool and pretty interesting to be around. Apparently, she’s bisexual – which will make any FMG artist go hog wild when crafting erotically-charged dime novel-style fan fiction.

Perhaps this is a reflection of my limited imagination. Is Nataliya’s physique now the new Mount Everest? Are former Ms. Olympia contestants like Iris Kyle, Tina Chandler, Debi Laszewski, Anne Freitas, and Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia merely the tip of the iceberg? Previously, we may have thought of these ladies as being at the peak of the female muscle pecking order. But maybe our standards were set too low. Maybe women like Nataliya Kuznetsova (are there any others like her? Asking for a friend) are where the proverbial bar is now set. Or should be set. It’s not enough to train for a few hours, give yourself a couple of rest days, and intersperse within your daily routine plenty of Tupperware containers full of brown rice, grilled chicken, and boiled broccoli. Perhaps the new normal should be to train for several hours a day – as if it’s practically a part-time job – and eat as much protein as you possibly can without throwing up. This doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but one must suffer for one’s art.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 2

Nataliya’s quads don’t lie.

Hm. Maybe that’s exactly the point. One must suffer for your art. In Nataliya’s case, her body is her art. Her muscles are her canvas. Dumbbells, vitamin supplements, anabolic steroids, and protein are her paintbrushes. And her Instagram feed is her museum. And we are patrons of her art. Instead of sipping champagne, we down a carton of Muscle Milk. Same thing.

All bodybuilders are artists as well as athletes. They might consider themselves athletes first and foremost, and that would be their prerogative. But whether they consciously consider it or not, they’re also artists. Michelangelo used marble. Nataliya uses her own flesh and blood. That sounds odd, but it’s true. Bodybuilders don’t try to hit a baseball into the centerfield bleachers or dunk a basketball over a 7-foot tall defender. They try to look awesome, prioritizing muscle mass, symmetry, and aesthetic perfection over all else.

Yet, I’m perfectly fine with Nataliya being the exception and not the rule. She can be an Internet sensation who makes our eyes pop out of our skulls. She can be someone who essentially provides fodder for clickbait articles on second-rate news aggregate sites. I highly doubt female muscle fans worldwide are clamoring for more women to look like her. If more do choose to look as extreme as possible, so be it. But we’re perfectly content with more “conventional-looking” female bodybuilders (as contradictory as that may sound) such as Miss Popa and Miss Ivancik. At least, they’re conventional within the context of the world of female bodybuilding.

Here’s a question: Is Nataliya Kuznetsova good or bad for female bodybuilding and fans of female bodybuilders? It’s the question sports commentators always make regarding dynasties like the Golden State Warriors, New England Patriots, the UConn women’s basketball team, Alabama football, Manchester United, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ha ha). Is dominance a good thing? Can the lack of parity hurt the overall product? Or does it enhance it? Is temporary dominance – because dominance rarely lasts forever – actually a good thing because it provides an incentive for others to work harder in order to catch up?

Chances are she’s not going to have much of an effect on anything. Nataliya exists in her own little universe. She’s carved out her own unique niche. She doesn’t really exist in the realm of bodybuilding because she isn’t a competitive bodybuilder (to my knowledge). She’s a mini-celebrity whose body is her selling point. Her extreme physique is why she’s famous, not because she climbed up the industry ladder or won so many accolades that we cannot help but notice her. In a way, she’s the perfect example of how the entrepreneurial female bodybuilder is most likely the archetype that will survive the longest.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 5

Ever seen someone like this at the gym? Yeah, didn’t think so.

The bodybuilding industry’s marginalization of female competitors doesn’t need to be rehashed here. The death of the Ms. Olympia is really all you need to know. Wings of Strength is doing their best to resuscitate the spirit of the Ms. O, and we wish them all the best in this endeavor. Long story short, female bodybuilders need to find alternative avenues of earning an income in order to continue doing what they love to do.

Nataliya has done exactly that.

She’s found a void and filled it perfectly. Impeccably. She busted her tail to look as hypermuscular as possible. She knew not everyone would dig her look, but that didn’t matter one iota. There are plenty of people who will. And do. She’s made sacrifices – including long-term risks to her body – to achieve her Human Photoshop figure. She was able to go “viral” because she stood out from the rest of the herd. There are plenty of muscular women out there. But few are as surreal in their musculature as her.

So because of that, she was able to break through in front of more “mainstream” eyes because of her freakish physique. Cindy Landolt or Minna Pajulahti are famous within the small community of female muscle fans, but Nataliya has been able to rise above that and attraction attention from non-female muscle fans. And chances are pretty good that for many people, Nataliya is the only muscular woman whom they care to follow on social media. She’s “famous” – in a 21st century viral Internet meme sense – for being a living and breathing statistical outlier, not because she happens to be a female bodybuilder who’s broken the mold of her predecessors and peers.

And that’s the meat and potatoes of our discussion. Miss Kuznetsova is nothing more than a freakish statistical outlier to the vast majority of Internet-savvy people out there. She won’t help the visibility of the female bodybuilding industry. She won’t hurt it either, but that’s beside the point. She’s a Human Island. A once-in-a-lifetime Black Swan Event. She’s like the people who love to follow Tiger Woods but couldn’t care less about other golfers.

There are golf fans. And there are Tiger Woods fans. And they are often not one and the same. Likewise, there are Nataliya Kuznetsova fans. And there are female muscle fans. And they are not necessarily the same thing.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 3

Can’t tell if those are her quads…or an actual tree trunk.

Some people love Eminem but don’t particularly like hip hop. Some people loved “The Dark Knight” but never read a single Batman comic book. And some people are enamored with Nataliya Kuznetsova but couldn’t identify Alina Popa in a police lineup.

Life is funny like that.

Whether you love her, hate her, or have neutral feelings about her, one thing is certain: You’re totally justified to initially think that this woman couldn’t possibly exist. This has got to be like “Simone,” that 2002 Al Pacino movie about a movie star who’s digitally animated and isn’t really real. Certainly Nataliya has got to be a digital avatar, right? A fake persona meant to punk all of us into thinking a woman could genuinely build muscle mass that male bodybuilders could only dream of? Well, the truth is that she’s real. Very real.

I have no idea how long she can maintain her physique. I’m not a nutritional scientist or biology expert, but it seems reasonable to worry about her long-term health. All that animal protein, steroids, and hormone-blocking drugs can’t be good for you. Years and years of living like that should eventually take its toll, right?

Eh. Maybe, maybe not.

For now, let’s just appreciate who she is and what she’s been able to accomplish thus far. Only time will tell as to how much of an impact she’s making on the visibility of female bodybuilders, if any at all.

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Faster, Female Bodybuilder! Grow! Grow!

An example of FMG art, via David C. Matthews.

An example of FMG art, via David C. Matthews.

Female Muscle Growth (FMG) stories are a staple of online female muscle fandom. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend some quality leisure time reading stories about big and buff female characters doing what big and buff female characters do?

Well, what exactly do big and buff female fictional characters do? Whatever the author wishes, of course! Bashing in the skulls of dastardly villains, taking on a horde of flesh-eating zombies singlehandedly, warding off an alien invasion, or befriending a small and nerdy male protagonist (usually to the erotic benefit of said male protagonist) are all par for the course. Naturally, this genre of fiction appeals to a wide number of female muscle fans out there in the wider world.

Therefore, one would expect that yours truly, Ryan Takahashi, would be an avid fan of FMG stories. And do you know what? I’m……………..not.

Wait, what?

That’s right. As shocking as this might sound, FMG stories don’t really appeal to me. This sounds especially odd since I’ve published lots of female muscle-themed fictional stories on my blog. Doesn’t it make logical sense that Mr. Takahashi would also be a passionate supporter of FMG tales?

Well, not really. I’ve tried to read some FMG stories posted on popular female muscle websites, but they don’t allure me as much as you’d think. I’m not in any way shape or form judging these writers, editors, and contributors in a negative fashion. It’s not the quality of the writing, plotlines or narrative structures that I find unappealing. Rather, it’s the general concept of FMG that turns me off.

Like always, I shall explain what I mean in further detail.

Before you dust off the pitchforks and torches (as well as the tar and feathers), let me provide a little background on the genre of FMG so you can be assured I’m not speaking out of ignorance.

Female Muscle Growth is a subgenre of erotic fiction that features a female protagonist – although the character could be the antagonist – who starts off as a normal-sized young woman but eventually finds herself transformed into a beautiful, sexy and hyper-muscular She-Hulk of epic proportions. Usually this transformation happens for reasons such as a scientific experiment, a magical spell is cast upon her, special DNA is injected into her bloodstream, a supernatural talisman, side effects from a new brand of medication, a potion created by a sorcerer, latent superpowers that she just discovers, and so on.

The specific reason why our modest heroine is transformed into a Super Muscle Goddess changes, but the general idea remains the same. It isn’t because she’s a pro bodybuilder who built her muscles naturally by eating right, working out like a mad woman, strategically using steroids/human growth hormones, and resting in proper increments. That sort of transformation takes months and years, not mere seconds. It’s not magical; it’s scientific.

She-Hulk!

She-Hulk!

Popular forums for finding FMG stories include Diana the Valkyrie’s Library of Amazon growth stories, Forum Saradas, and various DeviantArt pages. There are of course individual blogs, websites, and Tumblr sites also dedicated to publishing or sharing FMG content. There might be printed books and e-books that follow the FMG formula, but I haven’t done enough research to point you in any specific direction. Without question, all the FMG fiction you want is just a simple Google search away. Isn’t the Internet a swell place?

As mentioned previously, many times these stories also feature a male protagonist who is usually meek, nerdy, socially awkward, and not very popular with the ladies (of any size). Just like a lot of us! I don’t want to paint all of us with a broad brush, but it’s probably not a stretch of the imagination to say that many of us aren’t what one would consider a modern day Casanova. Yes, I know many of you readers are happily married or are in a stable relationship, but that certainly isn’t every single one of you. I can speak for myself when I say my personal history with women isn’t full of proud successes!

So these stories are a perfect avenue for less-than triumphant guys (some would call them beta males, but that’s a whole other story) to live vicariously through these fictional characters. Even guys who are popular with the ladies occasionally want to fantasize about being with a big and buff female companion…if even for a few moments.

FMG stories are usually accompanied by either illustrations of these ladies (often times in the style of Japanese hentai) or images of real women enhanced generously by Adobe PhotoShop. Or there may not be any images at all. Not everyone is an artist or a PhotoShop wizard. Also, not everyone is unethical enough to steal images produced by another artist or wealthy enough to pay a professional artist to sketch illustrations for them.

That being said, why am I not a big fan of this genre of fiction? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that I prefer muscular women who earn their muscles through hard work and dedication rather than through supernatural means. In all the fiction I’ve written featuring a female muscle protagonist, all of them are professional or semi-professional bodybuilders who became big and strong the old fashioned way. This better reflects the type of characters I find most appealing.

My love for muscular women isn’t just defined by the fact they have large muscles. I love big muscles just as much as any other female muscle fan, but I also love the context behind their fabulous muscles. I love that they had to earn every single muscle fiber they have on their beautiful bodies. I love knowing they’ve had to make difficult sacrifices in order to get that big (no FBB spends all her free time watching TV, drinking beer, and eating pizza). I appreciate their willingness to restructure their lives around building up the muscle mass they need to compete at the highest level. I love their vulnerability, toughness, emotional fortitude, discipline, and supreme confidence.

In other words, I love strong women because of what it takes for them to become strong women.

FMG stories aren’t my cup of tea because these characters don’t earn their muscles. Their muscles are given to them with little to no effort on their part. A magic potion, one individual super strength vitamin pill, a single injection of experimental DNA and things like that are cheap ways to gain unreal muscle growth. But Rene Campbell, for example, is different. She makes sacrifices. She’s costed herself a stable love life in order to pursue bodybuilding. She gets looks of disgust from people all the time because she can’t simply turn off her muscularity like a light switch. Her muscles are with her 24/7/365. They are a part of her identity. They are embedded within who she is as a human being.

A fan-created FMG interpretation of popular anime character Sakura Haruno.

A fan-created FMG interpretation of popular anime character Sakura Haruno.

As fantasy fiction, FMG stories do what they’re supposed to do. They provide quick titillation and entertainment for legions of female muscle enthusiasts. Fantastic! I have no quarrel with that. It’s just not for me. That’s it. I’m not judging the genre, insulting those who love the genre, or calling for the genre to adapt to my specific tastes. My opinion doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this world. Even if it did, I wouldn’t alter the genre in any way. People love it, so they should be allowed to enjoy it. Sound fair?

It’s just not my cut of steak. That’s all there is to it.

Another reason why I don’t particular dig this genre is that the “beta male” stereotype annoys me. I understand not every single FMG story features this archetype, but many do. Look, I am in no way a “man’s man” or anything like that, but the perception that all guys who dig muscular women are somehow emasculated man-children who fetishize being in a hapless subordinate position to powerful women gets a bit tiring after a while.

One other reason is that at the end of the day, I find realism to be much more appealing than fantasy. I realize that all fiction is unreal, but what I mean is “realistic.” Effective erotic fiction should, in my opinion, reflect a certain degree of plausible realism. That isn’t to say that the sci-fi and fantasy genres can’t be erotically appealing. It’s just that on a personal level, I tend to prefer realistic situations that closely mirror real life.

This preference isn’t for everybody, nor should it be. I’m not judging people who don’t share my views. It’s totally fine to disagree with me. This is just how I assess what excites me.

This is why I find the vast majority of mainstream porn to be boring, stupid, and uninteresting. I don’t want to sit down and watch 30 minutes of two plastic surgery-enhanced doofuses have passionless sex all while hurling fake screams and moans in between painfully written dialogue. Wait, there’s actual dialogue in porn? Yeah, I guess there is. If you care about that sort of thing.

The kinds of porn that I do find fun to watch is when I can identity (or come close to identifying) the people involved. The “plotline” in most porn is so unimaginative it’s become an ongoing joke. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl take off their clothes. Boy and girl then have sex. And more sex. Then from different positions. Then a second boy or girl enters the room. Then the pizza delivery guy knocks on the door. Then mommy or daddy unexpectedly arrives home early, carrying with them the usual assortment of whips, handcuffs, dildos, vibrators, rope, and bottles of lube.

Yuck. We all know how it goes.

In similar fashion, FMG stories tend to (although not all of it is like this, to be completely fair) follow the same general outline. The names, faces, and specific situations may change, but not too much. We are introduced to a girl who is shy and weak. Then she miraculously becomes muscle-bound. Then she meets a boy. Then…well, the rest is up to whoever is writing the story.

A more pen-and-paper version of FMG art, via Diana Valkyrie.

A more pen-and-paper version of FMG art, via Diana Valkyrie.

I suppose I shouldn’t slam this too much. Lots of guys (and gals) in this world love FMG, so who am I to spoil the party?

Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Perhaps a better approach to this subject is to explain not why I don’t like FMG stories, but why other forms of female muscle fiction appeal to me more. I love browsing through photos of fitness models, female bodybuilders, and other kinds of muscular women. Cartoon drawings of such women don’t entice to me as much. I have nothing but respect for these artists (as the tiresome cliché goes, I can barely draw a stick figure!), however I much prefer the real thing. Just spend a few moments and take a look at Minna Pajulahti’s Instagram account. Oh boy. That’ll get your blood boiling!

Want some examples of female muscle fiction that I happen to enjoy? Read “Chemical Pink” by Katie Arnoldi (who herself is a former bodybuilder) and “Devil and Disciple – The Temptation” by L. J. K. Cross (a.k.a. Lisa Cross, the famed British female bodybuilder). These two novels are fantastic reads. Go check them out if you can! It’s easy to order them on Amazon.com if you have a few extra bucks lying around.

Here is how I will tie this all in together. If you haven’t started preparing the tar and feathers and searching for a railroad track to parade me on, go ahead and do so. I’ll wait. In the meantime, what I’ll say is this:

I love muscular women for many reasons. The main one is aesthetic. I REALLY love how they look. On this point, we should all be in universal agreement. Muscular women are Goddesses on Earth and should be treated as such. There’s a darn good reason why many of us fantasize about worshipping their muscles as if they were deities in the flesh. That’s because in our fantasy worlds, they ARE deities in the flesh. And they have a lot of muscular flesh on their gorgeous bodies, ready for us to touch – if they let us, of course.

The other reason why I love muscular women is because they’re beautiful in ways that they have to earn. Nobody gave them their muscles. They didn’t sign their names on the dotted line and a FedEx delivery guy simply drove their pre-packaged muscles to their homes and dropped them off on the front porch. You can’t buy big muscles at Target. You don’t sign any contracts. You don’t sit around and wait for someone or something to hand them to you.

You have to earn it. Every single day of your life.

And that’s exactly what female bodybuilders do. They earn their muscles. Since we love looking at their muscles, logically speaking they also earn their beauty. Unlike the beautiful Abercrombie & Fitch models you see on wall-sized advertisements, many female bodybuilders (although not all) are not born conventionally beautiful. We often get jealous of professional models because they make a living – although recent news stories have reported that there is copious abuse within the industry, which unfortunately shouldn’t surprise any of us – thanks to their natural God-given looks. In a way, that kind of jealousy is understandable.

But not so with female bodybuilders. Their beautiful muscular bodies were not given to them from birth. Good genetics did not automatically grant them their six-pack abs, bulging biceps, broad shoulders, thick thighs, rounded calves, and toned butt. They had to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears to get those assets. While we may harbor some level of envy toward women who can bench press more than us, at the end of the day she busted her tail year-in and year-out to be able to do those lifts. If we put in the same amount of hard work, so can the rest of us. It’s that simple.

Personally, I'd rather look at photos of real life female bodybuilders like Minna Pajulahti.

Personally, I’d rather look at photos of real life female bodybuilders like Minna Pajulahti.

Getting to the top of Mount Everest isn’t nearly as impressive as putting in the work, strategic planning, and preparation necessary to be able to climb Mount Everest in the first place. The journey is just as compelling as the end goal. In this respect, I love female bodybuilders because of the arduous journey they’re on. We can appreciate the final product, but we can also appreciate the road they had to travel to achieve that final product.

At the heart of FMG fiction is cutting through that long and windy road and getting from Point A to Point B in a matter of seconds. That’s not intriguing to me; not because a particular FMG story isn’t well written or well-conceived, but rather because it eliminates the very core reason why I love muscular women in the first place. They earned their muscles through strenuous hard labor, not a magic pill concocted by a mad scientist.

I want female bodybuilders to grow and grow just like the next guy. But I want the journey to take as long as it needs to. Give me a photo of a young fitness Instagram model over a hyper-muscular ‘roided up cartoon character any day. But if that’s your thing, go for it! I encourage people to express their female muscle fandom in any way they choose (as long as it’s legal and consensual, of course).

But alas, I digress. If FMG stories are what rock your socks, I am in no position of authority to say it shouldn’t. By all means, read, write, and draw all the FMG art your heart desires! Do whatever makes you happy, I say. This is not a condemnation of FMG, people who like FMG, or people who create FMG. This is just my humble take on the genre. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments below or by sending me an e-mail at ryantakahashi87 (at) yahoo (dot) com. I may even write a follow-up post sharing what you write (or rant) to me.

In the meantime, I swear I can smell the tar boiling in the cauldron…

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Kudos goes out to David C. Matthews for being a supremely talented female muscle artist. Please check out his comic series Tetsuko if you haven’t already! The FMG drawing of popular anime character Sakura Haruno is created by Pegius. The illustration of She-Hulk is done by Michele Frigo.