Facing the Facts: Why a Female Bodybuilder’s Face Still Matters to Me

My eyes cannot help but fixate on Erin Stern's gorgeous face.

My eyes cannot help but fixate on Erin Stern’s gorgeous face.

When you first look upon a photo of a muscular woman, what do your eyes initially fixate on?

For me, if we’re talking about a full-body shot, or a near full-body shot, my eyes immediately focus on her face. This sounds odd considering my natural inclination is being a “leg” guy, but my brain involuntarily tells me to look at this (hypothetical) woman’s face first before anything else.

Before her legs, before her butt, before her hips, before her arms, before her torso, before any of that. Her face is what matters first to me, for whatever reason. Not necessarily the most, but certainly first. This is not the only thing I look at (obviously!), but old habits are hard to break. In fact, natural habits can tell us a lot about our deeply ingrained opinions, biases, and desires.

Even if she’s wearing a sexy G-string bikini. Even if she’s wearing nothing at all. No matter what pose she strikes or what she’s doing in the photo itself. My eyes will almost always go to her face before anything else. Why is that?

When I see a beautiful non-muscular woman walk down the street or step into an elevator with me, my eyes first go to her lower half: her legs, hips, and butt. I try to do this as inconspicuously as possible, as most of us are experts at doing. We’re all horny creeps to some extent; however some of us are better at hiding it than others. Or some of us are less ashamed about it than others.

But when we’re talking about a muscular woman, my eyes don’t look down, but instead look up. I want to see her face. Her eyes, her cheeks, her lips, her bone structure, her smile. Once again, why is that? The information I want to gather is plain and simple: Is she pretty?

A nice full-body shot of Larissa Reis.

A nice full-body shot of Larissa Reis.

If we’re talking about Larissa Reis or Shannon Courtney, the answer is undoubtedly “yes.” If we’re talking about Jennifer Kennedy or Kathy Connors, the answer ranges from “uh, not really” to “I love them…but unfortunately no.” I adore and respect both Jennifer and Kathy very much, so this is not meant to be an insult to them or their beautiful bodies. This is just articulating what many of us are thinking but are too polite to say out loud.

But the question “Is she pretty” is one that is packed with a whole ton of meaning. Why should this matter? Does this make me a hypocrite?

No matter how many essays I write explaining my position that muscles make women more beautiful, for whatever nonsensical reason my eyes still immediately search her face instead of laser-focusing on her hard-earned muscles. When I’m doing a Google or Bing search – and yes, I actually use both with great frequency – of various female bodybuilders, I still gravitate toward their faces first even though I know for a fact the muscles on their bodies are their claim to fame.

What a strange and unusual thing, indeed. What can be derived from this? Are there any lessons or nuggets of truth to be ascertained from this? Possibly. Let’s look at four of them.

1. Beauty still matters

For all the talk about “body image” and that “real women have curves,” at the end of the day the content of her face still matters a great deal. This might not be true for you, but it’s obviously true for me. Theoretically, I know from a cerebral point of view that I’m attracted to female bodybuilders because their remarkable muscle mass provides an aesthetic that I find particularly pleasing. However, my brain still insists on checking out her face first.

A female bodybuilder can control what her muscles look like. Heck, they dedicate their lives toward doing just that. All that blood, sweat, tears, and protein shakes go toward sculpting the most beautiful muscles possible. However, she cannot reasonable control her face. Cosmetic surgery notwithstanding, the appearance of your visage is determined before you were born whether you like it or not. It’s genetics, not hard work. Muscles are built through labor. A gorgeous face is not. So as a fan of female bodybuilders, why does her face still matter to me?

Alright, here's an apt exception. I know where my eyes go first in this photo of Flavia Crisos.

Alright, here’s an apt exception. I know where my eyes go first in this photo of Flavia Crisos.

Perhaps this reveals the truth that deep down inside, traditional beauty is still important to me. I can try to persuade my inner thoughts to value hard work over unearned genetics, but our brains are wired a certain way for a reason. I may not completely understand those reasons, but it is what it is. Beauty still matters. It always has, and it always will. My fetish for a muscular feminine figure may be strong, but my desire for her to still have a pretty face is also strong (if not stronger).

2. The eyes are the windows into the soul

Well, I don’t necessarily agree with this cliché, but there might be some truth to it. We are ingrained into believing the eyes are the best way to really look at a person. When you speak to someone, the polite protocol is to look at them straight in the eyes. Not doing that is culturally inappropriate (in the Western world, that is) and considered rude in most social circles.

So no matter how much six-pack abs, a round butt or swollen biceps turn me on, her eyes are where my eyes initially go. Other than this being a learned behavior, why is that?

I think this speaks to the fact we value the humanity of the people we encounter, even those we happen to be physically attracted to. For all the talk about “objectifying” people, at the end of the day most decent human beings value each other on some level. Obviously we value our friends and family more than complete strangers, but not too many of us wish ill on others without a compelling reason.

I obviously love female bodybuilders. But my appreciation for them isn’t just physical. I love their toughness, self-confidence, drive, passion, dedication, and service to others (many FBBs work as personal trainers or in the healthcare field). So when my eyes first focus on a muscular woman’s face, it’s an indication that I want to learn more about her: her interests, strengths, weaknesses, fears, failures, successes, feelings, thoughts, likes, dislikes, and so on.

There’s way no way I can actually learn any of that just from looking at a photograph of a female bodybuilder, but the natural instinct to want to know exists nevertheless.

3. A subtle bias against muscular women still exists within me

This is probably a bit of a stretch, but it’s worth talking about. I wrote a post recently arguing that muscles are the great equalizer when it comes to assessing one’s physical beauty. I believe this wholeheartedly, but perhaps there’s still a small hint of bias against muscular women that’s hiding deep within my psyche.

I look at a muscular woman’s face first because I want to assess how “feminine” she is. Is her face “man-like,” as many negative stereotypes go? Does her face have masculine features or does she appear to be traditionally feminine? Intellectually, I understand that not every woman, muscular or not, looks “feminine” as society widely accepts that term to mean. I also understand that years of taking anabolic steroids and human growth hormones can change the way your body (and face) looks.

A classic female bodybuilder from yesteryear: Sharon Bruneau.

A classic female bodybuilder from yesteryear: Sharon Bruneau.

The “hardening” of a woman’s face to appear gruffer and less soft – whatever these descriptors even mean – can happen after higher-than-usual levels of testosterone enter the body. I’d venture a guess that these so-called changes aren’t actually real. They’re more perceived due to social stigmas attached to women with big muscles.

These social biases run so deep that even yours truly believes in them to a certain extent. I’d like to think my “street cred” for supporting female bodybuilders should be unquestioned, but even I can admit that I occasionally give in to what popular perceptions teach us. When I look at a photo of a female bodybuilder for the first time – as opposed to a photo I’ve already seen before – my natural inclination to first look at her face tells me I’m still bias toward women who look traditionally beautiful. I still think of FBBs as being “different” or “freakish,” even though I embrace these differences as being a part of her unique beauty.

Bias is not the same thing as hate, however. It’s just what your brain (whether you know it or not) automatically tells you when you’re digesting new information. The first step is to be aware of it. The next step is to recognize that this doesn’t make you a bad person. The last step is to be able to make your own decisions whether the vast majority of others will agree with you or not.

4. It’s not just about her muscles, it’s about her entire self

On a more positive note, one of the reasons why I first tend to look at a muscular woman’s face is because I’m not nearly as fixated on her muscles as one would think. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for a pretty face (which I am!). Or it goes to show you that while I love an FBB’s muscles, I actually love her entire self.

Related to point #2, I first look at her face because I want to learn as much as I can about her as a person. Fantastic. But another important observation is that for me, and obviously I cannot speak for anybody else except for me, it’s not just about her muscles. It’s not the mere presence of big muscles on her body that make her extraordinarily beautiful. It’s the entire package.

People who aren’t familiar with the world of female bodybuilding get perplexed when they see a photo of an FBB because they can’t stop focusing on her muscles. Those of us who are more familiar with this aesthetic see past her muscles and appreciate her entire beauty – both external and internal. I recently participated in a muscle worship session with a pro bodybuilder who talked enthusiastically about her passion for helping others. She works as a personal trainer (as many often do) and loves inspiring people to become happier, healthier, and more confident. She spoke of serving homeless young adults, abused women, and emotionally hurt people who have lost their way. Through teaching them how to lift weights at the gym, she saw their lives turn around for the better. Some of her anecdotes were powerful to listen to.

I quickly decided that for as much as I appreciate her external beauty – and she is without a doubt a beautiful person – her internal beauty shines brighter.

Timea Majorova showcasing her assets.

Timea Majorova showcasing her assets.

Whether we’re talking about a slim pop star, a skinny fashion model, or a big and buff female bodybuilder, where your eyes go first when you look upon her depends on what you value, what you’re looking for, and the context of the situation. If a woman intentionally shows off her cleavage, it’s reasonable why your eyes would go there first. If her long gorgeous legs are front and center of the image, I wouldn’t blame you for your imagination running wild with what you’d like to do with those legs.

But for me, I first look at her face. Even if she has big muscles. Even if her muscles are supposed to be the center of attention. There are many reasons for this. Some of them are logical. Others are pure speculative. But it is interesting to reflect on why this happens to me. Do I need to face the facts about my inherent prejudices against muscular women, even though I’m one of the most vocal proponents of female bodybuilders on the Internet (or at least, on WordPress)? Or does this mean that at the end of the day, I appreciate traditional beauty above all else? Or am I so accustomed to seeing muscles on a woman that its affects are starting to wane on me?

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down there! Can it be true that I’m getting desensitized to the sight of a muscular woman? Have I plunged so far into the deep end of the pool that looking upon the strong powerful body of Rene Campbell elicits the same reaction as looking upon the narrow skinny body of Taylor Swift?

I’m not showing disrespect to either Rene Campbell or Taylor Swift, but is my brain adjusting to the reality that not only do I think that muscles on a woman are beautiful, but it’s now an ordinary thing to look at?

Hm. Probably not. I don’t think I’ll ever get “used to” seeing muscles on a woman’s physique. No matter how many thousands of photos or hours of video I experience watching FBBs show off their beautiful bodies, I highly doubt the jolt of energy that erupts inside me will ever dissipate. My heart will always flutter. The “Madness” will never go away.

But if it does, is that an indication that I’ve become so saturated with muscular women that I’ve finally accepted that this body type is both “normal” and “not out of the ordinary?” Is this progress or a signal that I’ve become a female bodybuilder junkie, where my usual “fix” isn’t good enough to sustain my appetites?

Alright, this discussion is getting weird. I’m probably overthinking a fairly normal phenomenon. I like pretty faces. That’s it, end of debate. But like all topics related to female bodybuilders, muscular women, and analyzing why people like me love them so damn much, there are endless things to talk about. I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. I look forward to being able to dig a little deeper next time.

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Sex Sells! Especially if You’re an Entrepreneurial Female Bodybuilder

Ready to get your beach body back? Timea Majorova would make the perfect poster child!

Ready to get your beach body back? Timea Majorova would make the perfect poster child!

Clichés become clichés because they’re based on, for the most part, a certain degree of observable truth. They may not be true in the purest sense, but conventional wisdom has a funny way of speaking to reality more often than not.

No matter how sick and tired we get of hearing tired adages like “the early bird gets the worm” or “birds of a feather flock together,” we keep seeing them used over and over again because…well, they’re true. Maybe not true 100 percent of the time, but enough times that we don’t retire them to Cliché Heaven.

Here’s another one. “Sex sells.” Does it? Does sex actually sell? You bet your horny ass it does.

Why? Simple explanation: No matter how old we get, how mature we think we become, or how pious we try to act, the erotic will always catch our attention. Always. Especially if it hits right in your wheelhouse. Sex does indeed sell. And in a world that’s dictated by the health and vitality of the free markets, you can bet with both hands that sex will continue to sell as long as it remains a reliable source of profit.

Every Victoria’s Secret magazine spread, shampoo commercial or Abercrombie & Fitch mall banner preys upon this very philosophy. Sex sells anything from TV subscriptions to hair brushes. In fact, it’s so pervasive in our society that we don’t always notice it. I’d go even further and say that it’s so saturated in our culture that sometimes sex doesn’t sell because we’ve become so accustomed to it. If it ceases to titillate us, we might ignore it. So this is why every advertising agency has to keep on pushing the boundaries of good taste as the years go on. When a beautiful girl in a cute dress can be overshadowed by a sexy woman in a g-string bikini, you know it’s only a matter of time when all-out nudity will be considered acceptable in the public sphere.

Female bodybuilders know this reality all too well. As I’ve discussed before, the lifestyle of being a bodybuilder can be quite costly. The monetary rewards that come with competing can be few and far between. Only the elite level athletes are able to make a substantial income from the sport alone. Few others are selected to endorse products that can help generate additional revenue. So many FBBs are stuck having to ride the gravy train of our favorite cliché. Sex sells.

Hop on while you can. All aboard! Next stop, Hornyville, USA!

So how do FBBs sell their sexuality? There are many ways. Sexy workout videos are one way. Sexy photoshoots are another. Also, sexy websites and social media posts can keep fans enthralled. Live webcam shows, specialty content for “members only” and sexy merchandise are par for the course. Then you can go deeper and add sensual sessions to the mix. Whether an FBB offers BDSM services or muscle worship sessions, a slew of appointments from eager fans can add up pretty quickly to a lot of dough. If that doesn’t seem like enough, there’s the good old fashioned “adult entertainment” industry. Don’t tell me you’ve never been curious to explore what that’s all about!

An elegant Jay Fuchs.

An elegant Jay Fuchs.

There are probably other ways that FBBs take advantage of the free market, but what I mentioned above pretty much covers most of it.

However, there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable by all this. They might not necessarily say it out loud, but for many folks the idea of a female bodybuilder using her sexuality for financial gain is disconcerting. There are many reasons for this, so let’s dive right into it.

First, the most prominent argument is that taking advantage of one’s sexuality demeans the sport and one’s peers within the sport, male or female. Female athletes across all sports already are gratuitously sexualized, so this only adds additional fuel to the fire. This makes a lot of sense. In many ways, a female bodybuilder doesn’t just act on her own behalf. She also acts – although not intentionally – on behalf of every single female bodybuilder in existence. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.

Understandably, male and female bodybuilders alike struggle to fit into the mainstream of global competitive sports. Today, bodybuilding seems more like a fringe subculture than a universally recognized sporting industry. How many people can identify Peyton Manning if he were to walk down a crowded street? Since he’s just won his second Super Bowl, I’d imagine quite a lot. On the other hand, how many people could identify by name Phil Heath? He’d definitely stand out for being such a large human being, but we can all agree he doesn’t have nearly the face or name recognition as Mr. Manning, LeBron James, Steph Curry or Serena Williams.

This isn’t meant to insult Mr. Heath or anybody else in the bodybuilding world. This is meant to point out a simple fact that the sport isn’t mainstream. Not by a long shot. So how do you make it more mainstream? Quite simply, it has to resemble other mainstream sports. Unfortunately, when a female bodybuilder is seen using her sexuality to make a living, in the minds of the general public this starts to make the sport look more like a muscle beauty contest than the U.S. Open. It’s understandable why so many male and female bodybuilders are uncomfortable by the marriage of their sport with overt sexual expression.

It’s easy to see why a pro bodybuilder would be offended by women who choose to also work in the session business and adult entertainment industry. No one wants their profession viewed by the public with subtle associations of prostitution and pornography. Please keep in mind that I’m not calling FBBs who do sessions “prostitutes.” I am not making that distinction. What I am saying is that this association is not outside the realm of comprehension. The human brain is a funny thing. If a dog quacks like a duck, we may subconsciously think it’s a duck, even though our eyes tell us a different story. FBBs who choose to do sessions and pornographic films are still athletes, even though our brains may tell us they’re sex workers instead. And whatever negative stereotypes we hold against sex workers will unfairly be thrust upon these women whether we acknowledge it or not.

The future of the sport, Danielle Reardon.

The future of the sport, Danielle Reardon.

Second, using sexuality to make a viable income is seen not just as demeaning to the sport, but also demeaning to the individual. The “sex sells” mantra is so well-known that it’s become an easy way to make a quick buck. What can a Hollywood producer do to make sure his upcoming summer blockbuster makes even more money? Easy! Give the female lead a topless scene. How can a TV producer ensure her pilot sitcom will garner substantial ratings? Simple! Create a promo where one of the female characters comes out wearing a bikini. How can a CEO sell more sticks of deodorant? Ah ha! Shoot a commercial where a slovenly slacker dude buys the product, uses it and within seconds finds himself surrounded by hordes of young beautiful sorority co-eds. That’ll have the deodorant flying off the shelves!

“Sex sells,” therefore, feels like you’re selling out. It appears like you cannot sell your product on its own merits, thus you have to “sex” it up in order to grab people’s attention. I can see why this rubs people the wrong way whenever they see a female bodybuilder using her sexuality for financial gain. Why can’t a female athlete just be an athlete, not a “sexy female athlete?”

This is a valid concern. All too often female athletes of every sport are forced (either directly or indirectly) to sexualize their image in order to substantiate their bank accounts. We all know the vast majority of women athletes aren’t super rich like many of their male counterparts, so any extra income they can legitimately earn must be pursued.

Third, the “sex sells” mantra perhaps also demeans the rest of us. Are we such sex-crazed horny animals that we won’t buy a tube of toothpaste unless a beautiful woman is shown brushing her pearly whites with them? Are we so dimwitted that a girl in a bikini must be the determining factor in helping us decide which car we want to purchase? I mean, cars are pretty expensive. Some have better gas mileage than others. Others last longer. But if I see an ad with a blonde bimbo plastered all over it, by golly I’m going to spend a quarter of my yearly income on that!

Check out the beautiful smile of Roberta Toth!

Check out the beautiful smile of Roberta Toth!

Well, as silly as all this sounds, there might be an element of truth to it. I don’t think we’re incapable of controlling our sexual urges, but maybe I have a more optimistic viewpoint of human behavior than I should. But hopefully you get where I’m coming from. I tend to also get peeved when I see marketing ploys that shamelessly exploit sexuality in a completely unnecessary manner. Did they really have to go there? I guess they must think we’re all idiots. Perhaps we are…

To be fair, I don’t think advertising moguls actually think we’re all horned up bunny rabbits. I think the overuse of the “sex sells” philosophy reflects a lack of creativity and laziness rather than a low opinion of society. But I could be wrong.

So I can see why a lot of us instinctively react negatively when we see female bodybuilders utilizing their sex appeal for personal gain. We can be protective creatures. We want to maintain a righteous sense of dignity toward the institutions we respect, whether we’re talking about the bodybuilding industry, the world of female sports or the human race. I’m not here to criticize anyone’s personal moral or ethical sensibilities. Everyone comes from a different path in life. However, I do believe it is imperative that we look at the world through somebody else’s eyes for once. If you’re a dedicated and passionate female bodybuilder who exists in a male-dominated sport that’s increasingly marginalizing competitors like you, well, I don’t blame you for doing whatever you can to make a living. I’m not a female bodybuilder, so I don’t know what “the struggle” is like.

But I do possess a basic understanding of economics. Sometimes, “sex sells” makes perfect business sense. I don’t have fancy pie charts or Excel spreadsheets to back me up, but if your current business model isn’t producing adequate streams of revenue, keeping on hammering away at the status quo would be financial suicide. A willingness to adapt to new market conditions is vital for survival. We may not like it (at first, or ever), but you can’t argue with bankruptcy.

In many respects, female bodybuilders have to think of themselves less as athletes and more as entrepreneurs. I will explore this topic in future blog posts, so I won’t get too deep into this right now. For now, let’s just say it appears to be the wave of the future. It’s perfectly understandable why the marriage between bodybuilding and sexuality makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Your personal values notwithstanding, it could come across like a desperate last attempt to revive a dying industry.

The “sex sells” business model, however, doesn’t have to appear like a Hail Mary pass to the end zone to save the season. Could we see it instead as an alternative form of the sport? Or not part of the sport at all? There are a lot of female bodybuilders who refuse to market themselves as sex objects. I respect that. They have every right to portray themselves in any light they choose. However, so do the women who willingly (and proudly) showcase their sex appeal for adoring fans. Why all the judgment? Why do we have to fight each other?

One of the undeniable superstars of the sport today, Tina Chandler.

One of the undeniable superstars of the sport today, Tina Chandler.

If we can’t agree to disagree, then perhaps in the interim we can do our best to make a clear distinction between the sport of female bodybuilding and the independent business ventures of individual female bodybuilders – whether these women officially compete or not. Many FBBs compete sparingly. Some not at all. Regardless, they’re allowed to develop their personal brands in any way they choose. I’m a full supporter of self-empowerment.

The entertainment/media industry can be a harsh one. There’s no questioning that. Sports fall under this category, and we know for sure it can be an unforgiving world. Rarely do professional athletes live perfect storybook lives. The industry can chew up the best of us and spit us out at a moment’s notice without pomp or circumstance. Whatever you got to do to survive is sometimes the only path you can choose. If you have to choose between abandoning the profession you love or violating your principles every now and then, do you really wish ill on anyone who chooses the latter?

“Sex sells” is an undeniable truth. However, is it truthful because that’s the way it is, or because we allow it to be true? I cannot answer that fully, but I can see what’s right in front of my eyes. There are plenty of beautiful and intelligent female bodybuilders who happily make a living doing what they do thanks to their irresistible sex appeal. If they receive professional fulfillment and joy showing off their gorgeous bodies to adoring fans, I have absolutely no quarrel with that.