This was an article published in 2013 documenting the rise of fitness women and their popularity on social networking sites. For fans who have been familiar with female muscle, this is nothing new. What is interesting about the news piece is the mainstream media treatment about it. The text cannot be considered completely full of praise, but it is not negative. This is rare considering how the subject of muscular and athletic women are viewed by mainstream society. Normally the media in both print or on television present something different as bizarre or deviant. The case with the New York Post article is that it profiles the women and gives their perspectives. The men also are given reasons for their love and support of muscular women. It seems in a way that female muscle is going mainstream or that the idea of the muscular woman is not subcultural. The peculiar element of this is that female bodybuilding has been struggling, but more women are either lifting weights or becoming part of the culture. The power of social media demonstrates how fan bases can be joined together and that it is a great tool for self promotion. It also demonstrates that there are more admirers of female muscle than previously thought.
The average American man may not favor a woman who has a muscular body. However, there is a growing fan base of social media users who are discovering the the beauty of female muscle. The thin body type has been presented as the ideal, but subsequently has been challenged by a body positive movement embracing women of larger size. Simultaneously, there is a new zeitgeist that is embracing the idea ” strong is the new skinny.” Although there are different ideas and views about what is attractive, there are a large number of men who are loving the look of a physically strong woman. The article presents this as a recent development. The lovers of female muscle were around since the inception of women’s strength sports and fitness.
Female bodybuilding dates back to the 1970s and with it came a unique subculture. Male fans would not only buy tickets to contests, but would buy magazines and videos of their favorite athletes. The real hardcore admirers are schmoes and they have had a presence since the start of the sport. The article cites quotes from male fans. Johnathan Montes who is an amausement park worker stated : ” I’m specifically into the more bulky professional female bodybuilder type — there’s just something about a massively built woman that I find very attractive and alluring.”Amare Stoudemire basketball star athlete explained his love as follows : “It reflects you worked hard for it, no money can buy it. “Steve Rivers a radio personality quoted ” there is nothing more attractive than seeing an attractive woman working out.” The men surveyed for the article were mostly in their 20s or 30s. It seems the idea of the muscular and physically strong woman appeals to younger men more. This may be a result of being raised in a generation in which women are seen as equals and that women can doing certain activities that were once thought to be male only. A more progressive attitude in regards to women and the change in body standards may explain this sudden shift. There is division among supporters.
The larger female bodybuilders may not be included in the category the article is talking about. The mainstream acceptance of muscular women has shown the image of the toned woman or woman with some definition , rather than the bigger female bodybuilders. Fans of female muscle disagree about aesthetics.There are four camps that fans fall into. The first is that women should have some muscle, but not “too much.” The second perspective is one in which there should be some moderate level ( figure or physique division build). The other favors the traditional bodybuilding with an emphasis on size. The fourth perspective is that any level of muscle is suitable for women. Lita Lewis, Massiel Aris, and Sohee Lee fall into the first two aesthetic paradigms. They are not bodybuilders, rather fitness models. The bigger female bodybuilder would have difficulty getting mainstream acceptance and the moderately muscular female body is just getting it currently. There may be an acceptance of muscularity on a woman to a certain extent, but not to the degree that gender appropriateness deems unsuitable. This demonstrates there still is a long way to go for women in fitness.
The problem is that people still retain the view that women with muscles are not feminine. While the fitness industry likes women who are in shape, they do not promote the image of the very hyper muscular woman. The female bodybuilder of a particular size is absent from mainstream fitness magazines. This does not mean there are not large portions of fans. Schmoes go as far as to book private sessions that involve wrestling or posing demonstrations. Gentlemen preferring buff is hardly a recent development. There was a point in which the only way for the female muscle fan to see a muscular woman was to go to a contest, possibly see them on TV, or go to a gym. There were magazines such as Women’s Physique World and Female Bodybuilding Magazine that provided many images. The rise of session wrestling and muscle worship actually came about from devoted fans wanting to see more muscular women up close and women’s need to finance their sport. Although schmoe has negative connotations and some may view them with disdain, they make the shrinking division of female bodybuilding sustainable.
Even during the golden age of female bodybuilding women were still paid less. It is an expensive sport, but women were and continue to generate money for the fitness industry. Fans keep consuming, while publishers, supplement companies, and the producers of exercise equipment continue to make large profits. Women do not get the full benefit of revenue generation, because they are blocked by corporate gatekeepers. Fans and athletes were circumventing them in a way by organizing their own activities and culture. Mixed wrestling videos have been a source of entertainment which has been pioneered by Bill Wick. Art ranging from realistic renditions to cartoons are produced in the form of female muscle growth (fmg).
These cartoons are classified as female muscle growth.
Artists like to do realistic renditions of their favorite athletes.
Mixed Wresting and session wrestling are common practices in the female bodybuilding subculture.
Forums and websites are areas in which fans discuss contests and the performance of competitors. This fan base consists of men who have been following muscular women for a longtime or younger men who have just dis covered it. The stereotype is that they are all fetishists and have some form of perversion. liking muscular women is not a perversion or paraphilia. The mainstream media attempts to present it in that manner, but it does not fit the clinical definition. Paraphilia can be defined as ” abnormal sexual desires that express themselves through extreme or dangerous activity.”Sthenolagnia has been classified as a paraphilia, but hardly can be considered severe condition. It is a fetish and to a degree everyone has one. It hardly counts as one if defined by a strictly psychological definition of disorder. No one ever says a person has a thin woman fetish. There is a level of bias that female muscle fans face from the general public that does not understand the women or culture. The mainstream tends to sensationalize elements or subjects that are not general knowledge. There is a world of female muscle fandom and it has gotten some mainstream media exposure. The men who form this fan base are neither intimidated or repulsed by women’s strength. Such a paradigm shift reveals that there has been ( although small ) progress in terms of what women can be and do. There still is backlash within the fitness industry, in the public, and online.
An example of the sexist beliefs some still have directed at women who have muscular physiques.
This does not seem unusual. When ever an oppressed group gains power there has been backlash from the conservative or traditional elements. Women who are in sports and fitness are clearly making their presence known. Detractors claim that women only do this to invade or disrupt male spaces. That is not the objective of the female athletes. They want to enjoy and make the culture flourish. It is difficult to say just how large the female muscle fandom is. There could be a large portion of men who hide their support or love. The internet allows one to be anonymous so it remains a mystery. There is no doubt that their is a following of fit and muscular women of all types through social media.
The internet and social media demonstrate how female athletes can use a platform to their advantage to promote their sport. If television or magazines do not cover women’s sports , social media could be a better solution. It is obvious that print media like newspapers and magazines are struggling to keep up in a world of rapidly changing information. Sources that are fast receive more attention. Television will most likely become like the radio. It still is present, but not as powerful as an entertainment medium when television was made widely available. Relevant to the the discussion of female muscle, it gives users access 24 hours and a huge mass of content. Up and coming athletes can introduce themselves to fans without having to go through the fitness corporate structure. There is the threat that the FCC poses which stuck down Obama administration era net neutrality rules. The power was given back to the service providers rather than the users. This means service providers could block particular websites or slow down speeds in certain areas. Net neutrality must be preserved to maintain a free and open internet. Without it, many female athletes would not get any exposure. Mainstream media outlets fail to realize the economic potential of women’s sports and fitness. There is a claim that the muscular woman is not marketable, but the existence of athletes’ pay sites contradict such pronouncements. There is the challenge of online piracy, which may effect sales. Online piracy has not stopped sites from selling content or gaining profits. it may actually just be free advertisement. To those who honestly purchase materials such as videos and photographs they become dedicated collectors.
Social media and the internet have also allowed fans to connect with each other more so than just attending sporting events. This technology is the wave of the future and some companies are slow to adopt it. The athletes are more savvy by doing self-promotion rather than depending on the traditional corporate structure of the fitness industry. This a positive development because women gain some control of the industry or and circumvent people who are an obstruction. There have always been men who like muscular women, now they can be appealed to as a demographic. Athlete’s producing their own content prevents entertainment from being stale and repetitive. This explains the sudden phenomenon of popularity on social media sites of female fitness personalities.
The rise of the muscular woman is in a sense a type of silent revolution. There have been muscular women in the past, but nowhere in history have women developed themselves physically to this extent. People cite women’s rise in business and politics as a remarkable paradigm shift. Yet they forget that women are also making progress in particular areas. The muscular woman changes and challenges the perception of the female body. It is not long seen as soft, weak, or inferior. This new paradigm of muscular female body is new. Strength and physical power were thought to male only attributes, but this is no longer the case. There are multiple forms of beauty, but here women are defining it form themselves. The women who pursue fitness with high enthusiasm are not afraid of the ostracism of the society in which they live.
The image is a powerful statement. It does have feminist overtones, however third wave feminist hardly give the fitness woman any serious investigation. There are also women who engage in the same amount of criticism of the muscular woman just like men. Instead of being supportive they either internalize society’s sexism or cling to the notion of strict gender roles. It is not uncommon for women to say “I would never want to look like them” or state that the muscular woman is “mannish.” Women do not help women as a whole if they are putting each other down. Women come in different shapes and sizes so there is no reason to be pejorative to women who do not fit in to a person’s concept of beauty. The problem is that women are valued more for their appearance, rather than their character or accomplishments as individuals. These attitudes must change. Even though their are some who do not like or approve the look of female muscle, they can at least respect the women as accomplished athletes. Such a development is a positive step in the right direction.
Women do not only want to look strong, they want to demonstrate it. Exercising with weights is no longer considered a male only activity. Women are using them and absorbing the fitness culture. This is not confined to one country either. Women who live in Africa, Latin America, and Asia are now becoming involved in fitness and strength sports. Fitness has taken a global perspective. This has also been enabled by the internet, in which communication across continents is faster than ever. The fitness culture has also disseminated into larger areas of the sports world. Female athletes who compete in track, weightlifting, rugby, or other sports incorporate weights into their training. Doing so increases performance and prevents injury.
The emphasis is not about appearance, rather what the body can do. Women who are serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts have found a competitive drive. They not only want to become stronger they want to be the best at their sport of choice. The life style of hard training and heavy lifting seems to be more popular with women than in previous generations. Women who are no athletes are lifting and older women are becoming engaged to improve their health. The most significant element of this movement is that it is perfectly acceptable to be strong and a woman. Although there is embrace, there are also complications that come with promotion of this image.
There is a sex symbol stereotype that has emerged from the rise of social media fitness personalities. Women who are not competing, but train become popular not for their athletic accomplishments rather, their image. This relates to issues of sexual objectification and what is the line between compliment or admiration. Some do not see it as an issue, however it does become one if their is online abuse. The rude comments are one dynamic, but sexual ones are another problem women face. Sohee Lee states :”I’ve seen crude comments on the pages of other fitness models.” She expounds further ” I just think that if you’re flexing in booty shorts you could be kind of asking for [that kind of attention],” says Lee.”There is a problem with this view point. It seems to blame the individual, rather than the conduct of the sexual harasser. Athletes would probably still have such comments directed at them even if they did not display their bodies.
These statements seem strange considering the point of social media is to interact. Sohee claims she wants to keep things tasteful, but looking at her websites and social media it is clear she does similar behaviors. Being a bikini, fitness, figure, physique, or bodybuilder competitor means you will be displaying your body. The sport is attention based when on stage and off stage. Women who pose in limited amounts of clothing are going to generate attention. That is no excuse or reason to behave in an uncivil manner. Few would harass women or catcall them on stage,but would write such feelings on their social media. Men may feel they can do something like that online, because there is no chance of it having immediate repercussion. Behavior must change and a code of online etiquette must be promoted. Like every technology, social media has a negative aspect. It has become a place in which users project their insecurities, prejudices, and hatreds. It also has become an area that promotes controversy when an event is not that serious.
Maria Kang another fitness personality was criticized on social media for her advertisement of “what’s your excuse ? ” Some how a portion of users convinced themselves this was an example of fat shaming. The illogical conclusion and overreaction to a simple phrase or sentence causes flame wars across social media. Kang later posted another ad on her website saying “what’s your reason?” Granted from a public relations perspective a more motivational phase could have been employed. It could have been “this can be done with the right plan” or “with enough focus all things are possible.” Encouraging women or other people to exercise is not fat shaming. The rise in obesity in the US has become a serious health concern. The logic according to social media is to exaggerate a claim or statement and somehow force an apology. Social media’s negative consequence this that it has created a place for people with extreme views or distorted thoughts or reasoning. There are the arm chair activist social justice warriors and the far-right racist conservatives. Between these two groups are people who focus on cultural or social issues. These user may discuss race, sexual politics, or media. Pseudo-feminists ( preach the ideology, but have no understanding of its true meaning) fall into this group claiming any criticism of women is sexism. They claim to support women and proceed to attack those they deem oppressive. Kang was criticized by this group, however you never see them involved in body positive image promotion in regards to the muscular woman.
The movement that promotes women with curves, does not seem to be very accepting of the strong woman. There is nothing wrong with larger or curvy women, but its seems contradictory if the same women fit shame. The issue is that to an extent social media has made it so that some people see themselves as perpetual victims. This should not be a mindset to organize around. Hashtag movements will inevitably fail, because people have not come to a state of philosophical, social, and political consciousness. The positive body image movement could fall into this trap. Change will only come when women change their behavior in regards to one another and come to a new sense of self. A new beauty standard should not be the objective, rather there should be an acceptance that women all look different. That could be a solution to the sex symbol stereotype that is present in the fitness social media realm.
There is a difference between admiration and obvious online sexual harassment. The unfortunate reality is that some female athletes can not distinguish the difference. The reason being it may be difficult to do so with thousands of messages either being negative or ambiguously suggestive in nature. The best way to understand what admiration is. Compliments or congratulating an athlete is an example of admiration. The user is showing respect for their accomplishments. Sexual objectification or harassment projects itself in crude and or lascivious comments. Actions such as sexting are examples of inappropriate conduct. Objectification happens when a viewer only focuses on the appearance of the athlete rather than her athletic accomplishments. Such attitudes imply women only exist to be attractive to men or be servants to them. Such attitudes are repulsive, yet remain prevalent. Men and male fans must have a code of internet and social media etiquette to combat these sexually charged comments. Most social media sites have blocking mechanisms to comment sections, but it remains a constant irritant. The attitudes some men have in regards to women must change.
The athletes also have a responsibility to be mindful of what they post. Nudes or any other materials may not be a wise decision to post online. There are some athletes who may leave the fitness industry completely and may not want it to be known they had done particular photo shoots. Information can spread rapidly on the internet and what is posted can be seen by millions of people. Employers even search social media pages. Although they should be looking at the qualifications you have for a job, a social media presence could effect their decisions. The photographs posted or what you say could be used against you. Being reckless in this regard could cause problems. Donald Trump writes messages on Twitter before consulting his secretary of the press, resulting in diplomatic and political backlash. This is a catastrophe from a public relations view, because Twitter becomes the White House’s area of official statements. Poor image management can be detrimental. Users must understand when they post, they present an image. It may not represent complete truth, but to readers it may be. Athletes being public figures should be mindful of these facts. Doing so can prevent issues.
There are gentlemen who do prefer buff. However, it is based to a certain degree. Some enjoy a woman with some muscle, others women who are considered in shape. That is a broad definition or description. Women face criticism for bring “too big” or “too much.” This is relative based on preference and culture. Women and men even go as far as to use different terminology to describe the muscular physique. Women rather “tone” or men would rather “bulk.” This is nothing more than gender based terms for muscle. There is a double standard when it comes to women and strength. The maxim among the fitness circles is for women be strong, but not too strong.
There is no reason why women of various muscularity levels cannot be accepted. Whatever level a woman wants to take their bodies, they should be allowed to. No one demands of a painter to produce less art or a writer to produce less novels.An athlete should strive to reach their highest level of potential. It does not matter if there are detractors who disagree to what women are doing to their bodies. There may be condemnation, yet there are a good portion of supporters. It can be disputed that the fitness woman is a new pin-up. To some men who have followed women’s strength sports and fitness they were already pin-ups. What started out of the bodybuilding subculture expanded into various branches. Fitness culture infiltrated sports, health, and popular culture. There are celebrities in Hollywood that have their own personal trainers. The difference now is that the muscular woman has more exposure compared to the past. What might have been considered rare or an oddity is gaining normalization. The mainstream is gradually catching up to the subculture that had existed since the 1970s. That was the period of female bodybuilding’s birth and it progressed from there. There now is crossfit, powerlifing, weightlifting, and a multitude of bodybuilding divisions women can compete in. The past four decades has seen a revolution in terms of women’s involvement in physical culture. The amazing aspect of this cultural evolution is that the legion of male fans continue to increase. This is a remarkable paradigm shift because it is being aided by technology and changing attitudes of younger men.