Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

This article written by Ewan Palmer for the International Business Times is an example of media sensationalism and subtle moral panic. Anna Watson was a cheerleader and student at the University of Georgia  who received media attention for having an impressively muscular physique. The media called her “the strongest cheerleader in America.” While there was some positive publicity, there were also detractors who were more vociferous. The media often casts activities or groups it has limited understanding of  as either deviant, freakish, or unnatural. Prejudice and conformist attitudes are enforced through a medium that should inform the  public. The subject of women and physical strength becomes a controversial subject.  There still are many people who have a problem with women having muscular physiques. Female muscle and its subculture is something that can easily be misunderstood. Palmer’s article gives the mainstream audience only one section of a larger subculture. Followers and the culture that has emerged are regulated to a “dark side.” The fact that it is referred to that demonstrates the degree of closed minded convictions prevalent in society. Anything that does not conform to the mainstream standard is designated abhorrent. Female muscle fandom is far from being deviant. Palmer admits ”  the idea that some men may find this woman sexually attractive may not be the most unusual concept, especially when you consider some of the darker and grotesque sexual fetishes.”  This however is still presented as abnormal. Female worship fantasies are not unusual; they are another form of sexual expression. The fandom is a larger community than one might think and it goes beyond mere imagined fetish.

           The fandom the exists in this community can be divided into several categories. Schomes who love the most muscular women, fans who are dedicated to the sport, and the person who like the look of muscle on women. There are factions that have different perspectives on aesthetics. The casual female muscle fan may prefer a woman who does not have immense size, but a small amount of shape. Other may like a in between a figure or physique athlete size. The schmoes like the largest women, but this does not mean they would disapprove of women of other muscular levels. Palmer’s analysis does not include this classification within the community. If there is to be a description of the subculture one has to describe the community. Athletes would have to be included in this analysis. Women are not just passive objects in this subculture; they built it. The sport of female bodybuilding emerged in the 1970s and by the 1980s was gaining mainstream exposure. Female muscle fans emerged along with the growing female bodybuilding subculture. Women’s impressive athletic performance in the sport attracted fans and notoriety. Rachel Mclish, Corey Everson, Lenda Murray, Kim Chizevsky, and Iris Kyle became some of the best bodybuilders winning the famed Ms.Olympia titles.

Women changed the fitness culture in a radical way. They demonstrated that women can be strong and that weightlifting as well as muscular development was in their physical capability. Being strong was not longer considered gender inappropriate.  Athletes who were in the industry realized that they had to have some business skills to compete and support themselves. There have been recent setbacks for the bodybuilding category. However, the idea of the muscular woman has spread. It was first promoted by these athletes in small circles and now it has reached the mainstream. Women are becoming more interested in weightlifting and crossfit either for recreation or professional competition. Even though the number of traditional bodybuilding competitions has decreased in number the other categories of fitness, figure, bikini, and physique have emerged. This probably is the best time to be a female muscle fan. This is not happening only in the United States, but in other nations. The women involved in the sport are driven by the desire to succeed and the confidence it gives them. The athlete’s time is spent training and having periods of recovery. Besides that it could involve business activities with supplement companies or their own enterprises. The community is close between fans and athletes seeing as the sport is small. There exists a symbiotic relationship between the factions of fans and the athletes.

           The clinical terms that the author does use to describe female muscle fans properly is cratolagnia and   sthenolagnia. These terms describe arousal from the muscles or demonstrations of strength. This does not mean that every female muscle fan has this fetish. Arousal may come for other reason and they could simply just be fans of the female bodybuilding sport. It just seems more likely that men with cratolagnia and stenolagnia would gravitate to the culture.

Being a fetishist and a fan are two different things. It is possible to be both. This culture and fandom of female strength has many branches. Liking the muscular body type could just be another preference.It is rare that someone claims that a person has a thin woman fetish. There are different ways people display their sexual expression. Sexual fetishes are a part of this. The problem is society has a distorted view about human sexuality. Either there is an obsession projected through various media including film and television or the extreme puritan conservatism of the past. Sexuality and the urges that are associated with it are a part of life. The unusual aspect about it is that people are afraid to discuss or explore such topics. There still remains debate on whether or not to teach sex education in public schools.  Sexology are attempting to educate people about this part of human nature. Muscle worship certainly would not be classified as a mental disorder, but in the article it implies it. This is nothing more than a part of bigger culture.

       The article fails to mention the a large part of female muscle fandom is mixed and session  wrestling. Relevant to athletes session wrestling provides funding opportunities for their endeavors. Female bodybuilders wrestle men for a certain fee sometimes costing up to $500 or more for one hour. It is bizarre that the article does not mention session wrestling as part of the female muscle fandom. There is a difference between mixed and session wrestling. Session wrestling refers to a wrestler or bodybuilder providing a wrestling event for a fee. Mixed wrestling refers to a wrestling match between a man and a woman. There are clubs and leagues that women and men are a part of in which they gather to wrestle. Mixed wrestlers or session wrestlers are not always bodybuilders, but the origins of these activities is rooted in the subculture. Mixed wrestling predates session wrestling, but wrestling mostly became part of the culture due to Kay Baxter and Bill Wick. Wick,  former wrestler himself   would film tapes with Kay his wife wrestling one another. He then got Kay to wrestle other men and started selling videos than other companies emerged. The rise of the internet also saw the expansion of mixed wrestling to a wider and global audience. Some athletes may devote most of their time to doing sessions, because the amount of pay is better than winning a contest.

The motivation for women is part finance and business related. Yet, that is not the complete story. Women also get a thrill from this. There is a level of enjoyment and fun they may get from physically dominating men in a way.  There is to an extent role reversal in which women take charge. Men according to a patriarchal society are suppose to be the strong ones, but this has changed to an extent. Women are more involved in politics, science, and finance so it would only make sense the next step would be to enter the sports world.  Women who have weight trained and built muscle have often stated that it has been an empowering experience. They gain a new sense of self and confidence which they translate into other areas of life. To an extent they define their own paradigm of beauty. The reason why women do mixed or session wrestling is that it gives them a sense of power normally deprived of them in their daily lives. There could another reason for this activity that is more simple. It could just be frivolous fun for both men and women. The act of simple play is something that is left behind in childhood. Here in such an environment adults can play around like children again. Work or family responsibilities can be forgotten for a brief period. Mixed wrestling has been mentioned in the mainstream and it may have more devotees than previously thought.

         Another important element of female muscle fandom is photography. Pictures and photographs are an essential part of the female muscle fandom. Fans love to collect photo sets of their favorite athletes. Photographers who may struggle to sell their photos have an supportive market with this base. Pictures can range from contests shots, candid photos, or other environments. This is more of the artistic aspect of the female muscle fandom. While dedicated collectors like the professional photographs rare images are also sought after. Other times fans will take clippings from magazines.

While photographs can vary, there are some common themes. Standard poses are common such as front double biceps, lat spreads, or side chest. Sometimes these photographs have women posing in a manner that would be seen in magazines appealing to a male gaze. The majority consumers of such materials will be men, which explains the sometimes suggestive nature of photographs. Nude photographs can either be artistically presented or more lascivious in nature.

There is also photographs that focus on specific areas of the body. It could either be the biceps, glutes, or legs. Themes that are recurring are either women in sport, doing some job, or a depiction of strength feats.The themes that are most common are women posing as cops, construction workers, boxing, or lifting weights in the gym. Lifting weights photographs make more sense compared to the other themes in photographs. Sometimes there are also women who are posing as a nurse, which is an overused theme in magazines of a certain caliber.

Fans join websites to pay for photo sets of their favorite athletes and competitors. This is not as the author says ” the timid world of female bodybuilding.” This a much larger following. There would be no questions raised at all if these photographs contained pictures of women one sees in regular magazines. The common misconception is that female muscle fans would reject women of different body types. This is not true, there tastes could be very diverse.

Photography is an art form and when athletes are presented in a such a medium fans have more respect for it. There also is an growing industry of fitness modeling. Athletic apparel companies want to market to a female demographic  and they want women who look the part.Some athletes start their own business producing clothing for other athletes. Collectors of photographs are similar to how fans of baseball would collect cards. The difference now is that this process is digital based. The traditional print magazine is in decline and the internet shall be the wave of the future. Female muscle fans will not have to go buy a magazine to see photos. There is now an instant access to photographs, that allows collectors to gain more.

        Female muscle growth is a large part of  female muscle fandom. Ewan Palmer makes it seem as if its the only dimension. It should be clarified what are the specific denotations. There is a female bodybuilding subculture which revolves around sports activities. The female muscle fandom is a subculture in which female bodybuilding falls under but is broader in the regard that it celebrates all women who are strong or muscular. Palmer states :  “Female Muscle Growth (FMG) goes outside the usual attraction of female bodybuilders and extends into a sexual fetish involving fantasy woman with obscene and unnaturally sized muscles.” What one considers obscene or unnatural is relative. While this is the fetish element, it is an artistic expression. Stories and artwork feature muscular women, but may not always be female muscle growth. Some artwork either is fan art depicting female cartoon characters as muscular or original characters produced by the artists. Art can be controversial, extreme, or imaginative and that is what makes it great. It seems that the muscular female body also threatens people on paper and canvasses as well.

The writing and stories also can very, but normally follow a simple formula. A woman who is either abnormally weak either gains physical strength by magical or scientific means and proceeds to use it in a forceful way. The woman can either be a protagonist or antagonist. A majority of the time women are the protagonists. The artwork can be paintings, drawings, computer generated images, or mixed media. The most popular format for FMG is comic based art. This subculture is very audiovisual based. Renditions can range from a realistic portraiture to cartoon like. The comics that are made by FMG artists could either be action based or comedic. Palmer is correct that “far removed from the mainstream – you will not be able to find these works of fiction in any local library or bookstore.” Such artistic renditions or writings were never meant to be mainstream. The mainstream sometimes adopts elements of a subculture then popularizes it for a wider audience. Some subcultures are just too small to be taken to the mainstream. It is highly unlikely that FMG will go mainstream, because it may appear to be too strange for a conformist public. Most female muscle fans my not want it to go mainstream simply because when a subculture does this it loses something. That close community evaporates and is replaced with capitalist hyper-consumerism.

          Videos are a pillar of the material culture of female muscle fandom. Websites offer exclusive content of women posing, doing strength feats, or being interviewed. Fans also collect videos of their favorite athletes as well. This also ties into the mixed wrestling element.  Sites like Scissorvixens and Utopia Entertainment feature videos of muscular women wrestling men. These feature women of various muscular levels. During the golden age of female bodybuilding it was broadcast on television. ESPN or NBC would show contests, but by the late 1990s this was beginning to end. However, the internet and specifically the rise of video streaming gave the muscular woman more exposure. Not only that, to a wider global audience. Fans began sharing videos and becoming more connected to one another across the world.

The female muscle  fandom and subculture seems best suited for the online environment. The types of videos fans like are either ones showing a contest, individual posing videos, or one of a more muscle worship related nature. During the early years of female bodybuilding such videos had to ordered in the back of magazines or bought from another person. Bill Wick mailed the videos he filmed from his house to individual buyers. Now a buyers can make online purchases. Many websites devoted to female muscle also provide news and coverage of contests that is lacking in mainstream fitness publication. There is the challenge of online piracy, but this does not stop people from making the legal purchase of copyrighted material. Hardcore fans pay membership fees to various websites just to add to their personal collections.

Athletes also produce videos of their own on their personal sites. There they can charge fans for exclusive content. Seeing as the mainstream fitness industry has either ignored or abandoned them they are now free to act as their own gatekeepers. Without the middle channel of  corporate gatekeepers athletes can manage their own image and have funds go directly to them. Videos also hold another significance. They are historical documentation of female strength. Many fans want to preserve videos considering women like this are rare. The unique nature of such women is what attracts attention. Videos are also for fun and pure entertainment value. There do exist videos of an erotic nature, but that is not the only content that exists. The female muscle fandom subculture seems to have branches. Palmer makes it seem as if it is only one thing. Subcultures can be more complex even when they appear to be simple. There is a set of activities, language or terminology, both material and non-material culture.

           Female muscle has come to the mainstream. It may not be the actual female muscle fandom, but its presenting its self in different ways. Women athletes in other sports are displaying stronger looking physiques compared to the past. Women are involved in many sports that get television coverage such as weightlifting, professional wrestling, basketball, track and field as well as crossfit. There has also been an impact on women who are not athletes. Some are joining gyms and using weights like their male counterparts.

Although they are not specifically training to get large muscles, they have a degree of noticeable strength and tone from their regimen. The female athlete is here and here to stay. Everyone is not accepting. The traditional notions about gender and what a woman should look like are still present. Body shaming seems to be a modern phenomenon of Western culture obsessed with looks and youth. Women who do not fit a weaker sex stereotype are either designated as unfeminine or unattractive. These feelings are the psychological projections of a misogynist culture that only values women for their looks or how they can be used by men. This also harms men who support women who fit this different paradigm of body image. The fans of female muscle are either depicted by the mainstream as deviants, perverts, or eccentrics. Ostracism is designed to marginalize groups that do not follow the status quo by shunning them from the wider society. Women who challenge sexist stereotypes or cultural mores are often subjected to this treatment. Even societies that consider themselves progressive, the idea of a woman having too much physical or social power creates a level of trepidation or anger. The fact the article refers to elements of the female muscle fandom as a “dark side” only illustrates how narrow minded readers and reporters can be against something that is not part of standard societal convention. It seems it will take more time for society to accept people have different  preferences   and that women have the right to look like however they want. As long as a fantasy does not cause harm to anyone it really is not a problem. Society does have many vicious elements, but female muscle fantasies are not one of them.

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women

Prior to crossfit or bodybuilding muscular women did exist. There were women involved in physical culture in the past, but there stories were not told. Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women reveals to readers an unknown history of women’s sports and physical culture between the years of 1800 to 1980. David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky  wrote this monograph. The primary source material contains images, cartoons, and magazines that Chapman had collected over the years. Physically strong women have existed prior to the 19th century, yet this book gathers evidence of their participation in strength feats and physical culture. Chapman spent 30 years collecting these images. His interest in muscular women really started late in life. It was 1987 when he began to do research into women’s involvement in fitness and bodybuilding. Chapman being a writer for numerous bodybuilding magazines was able to meet bodybuilders of the golden age era. He met Abbye Stockton and realized this was an interesting development that emerged among women, especially in a period in which their rights were limited. Another athlete that sparked further interest in this rarely studied element in sports history was Laurie Fierstein. She was a bodybuilder who also was the curator for the New Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit “Picturing the Modern Amazon.”  Chapman was invited to lecture at the museum discussing the iconography of the strongwoman in art and photography. Fierstien gave Chapman more insight into what motivates women to compete and push their bodies to the physical maximum. His discussions with Stockton and Fierstien led to some questions. These questions pondered how women struggled in the past in the physical fitness culture and the meaning of femininity. Female muscularity was more controversial in the past than in the 21st century. There has been a cultural shift, even though the more narrow minded attitudes still are present. The rise of the female mesomorph is a story of  advancement and repression. It can go in cycles. Through images and primary source material Chapman shows how sex politics and sports interacted. The muscular woman can mean many things to people : they can be seen as beautiful to others, threatening, or abnormal.

             The introduction describes the mixed feelings and messages that the muscular women gets from observers and proposes its main thesis . Negative reactions were worse in the past. Outlets for athletic competition were not widespread for women. The only place the strongwoman could display their talents was in variety show stages or vaudeville performance. Circuses also provided another platform.

venuswithbiceps  The text and information mostly focuses on women’s physical fitness participation in Europe and America. It is not known in other areas of the globe if women participated in some form of physical culture. Today it is not a surprise to see a female athlete or a woman who engages in rigorous exercise. More women are competing in the Olympics and in numerous sports compared to a century ago. The are presenting highly developed physiques. The impressive aspect of this is that such improvements are enhanced by new training techniques and pharmaceutical means. Chapman states in the introduction : “with the advent of steroids, hormones, supplements, and other artificial growth stimulants female muscularity has multiplied exponentially, and as female bodies transform themselves into something bigger, bolder, and different from what had been idolized in the past, the same old uncertainties and sexual ambiguities keep society bubbling away with loud,but hardly new controversies.” Women have pushed their bodies in athletic competition to new heights. This is not solely the work of performance enhancing drugs or supplements from a GNC store. Exercise physiology has in the past decades began to seriously examine women athletes. Most studies were done on men and it is clear the physiology is different in regards to sex. Having more resources and information at their disposal, women can enhance their athletic performance in an efficient manner. Old myths about women’s bodies and capabilities have been discarded. Even with these developments, the sexist and misogynist convictions still remain.

There are the common statements echoed by those who believe that certain activities are unladylike. The idea of the “mannish woman” was present in the past to an even more extreme degree. Patrica Vertinsky co-author of the monograph is a professor of  history with a focus on physical education, fitness, and physical culture. Throughout the text she describes this sexist prejudice as a way to dehumanize and undermine women’s accomplishments. There is an over reaction to female muscularity that does not happen with men. Women have to live with double standards and this is just another item on the list. This double standard and ostracism is nothing new to the female athlete. This is the primary foundation of the monograph’s thesis. The muscular woman had a presence in certain venues and in popular culture. The image presented of the muscular woman had influenced certain perceptions. Most were negative projecting anti-woman sentiment or homophobic feelings. The text describes this prejudice : ” over the last 100 years the image of the strong, confident, muscular woman has been the object of derision.”  The portrayal is either sexy dominatrix, sexless mannequin, or sideshow freak in the words of the thesis. However, it is a recent phenomenon that women of such as body were either placed into one dimensional images being presented to the public as monstrosities, lesbian man haters, beautiful living statues or sex objects. Such ideas are based off of hatreds either against women or people of different sexual orientations. It does not represent reality. Just like any other women their experiences vary vastly depending on class, ethnicity, and nationality.

The monograph also states that women had to fight ( and still continue) to reclaim the image and perceptions of the muscular woman. The reason negative attitudes were so pervasive about muscular women or female athletes was that men were producing certain images and ideas distorting public opinion. while the thesis is cogent, there are some debatable proclamations made in the introduction.

          The introduction claims that “sports as we know them were invented in England.” This is not true. All around the globe, various peoples had some form of sport. Sport dates back to ancient civilization. Women were also participants. The Greeks, Minoans, and Egyptians had sporting activities. It has been theorized that sport has its origins in military training. It may have also had a religious significance considering some Greeks had games revolving around the worship of gods or goddesses. Africa had a longtime tradition of wrestling among its peoples. The Diola, Yala, and the Njabi had women wrestlers. The Diola were known to use wrestling as a way to have arranged marriages. The male champion wrestler would marry the female champion wrestler. The issue with such a statement made by Chapman is that it excludes other non-European  civilizations. Doing so presents an ethnocentric perspective of  history, which is extremely limited. Examining the female muscularity phenomenon from a larger international perspective adds to support to the argument. Women were active participants in CuJu during the Song to Qing  dynasty in China. Amerindian peoples were also involved in stickball and footraces. Although met with the same ostracism as seen today, the female athlete is certainly nothing new.

This should have been expressed better in the text. Modern professional sports began in the West , but the sporting tradition had international roots. This should be obvious to any sports historian. Yet, this is a relatively new field of study and the study of the female mesomorph more so. When the industrial revolution occurred labor habits changed, including what was done during leisure time. It can also be disputed that in the words of  Chapman : ” in an age when machines became stronger and more efficient than their human operators, it became necessary to measure one’s peers in another way, and for many physically minded people, athletic competition was the answer- at least for men.” There had already been a system in which people measured one another and that was by class. Most civilizations throughout history have functioned on a pyramid structure with a ruling class controlling the majority. There is a pyramid structure present in democratic societies, which threatens the system itself. Sports provided the working class a brief escape from the agony of economic exploitation. It was more than just the physically minded people seeking an outlet, it was an a stress reducer in a world that was not changing for the better. Chapman should have done more research in this regard to sports history.

           David Chapman does describe the hysteria surrounding women engaging in physical culture. These objections to women’s participation came from religious organizations and traditionalists. The 19th century moralists condemned women’s advancement in any aspect of life saying too much education or exercise would harm women. They used religion as a cover to justify the control of women. They were challenged by others who believed that at least some exercise and education was good for women. Calisthenics, dancing, and rhythmical drills became acceptable in the 1800s for women. Yet, it was still advised not to take it too far. This language is similar to attitudes in the contemporary fitness atmosphere. Women are told often not to get “too big” or “cross the line.”

The physically active woman caused fear in some men and the muscular woman even more so. A strictly conservative society had a level of fear in regards to women’s bodies and sexuality during the Victorian Age. This is why the popular imagery of muscular women was either contradictory, confused, or negative. Men did not know what to make of or how to understand these women. Chapman explains that the reason there are not more photographs of muscular women prior to 1980 was due to moral codes about exposure of the female body. A woman could not simply have her torso exposed during the Victorian Age. Swimsuits were even generating an outcry. This even continued into the early 20th century in which Bernarr Macfadden was arrested in 1905 for holding a women’s physique contest at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The founder of Physical Culture magazine was one of the early advocates of women getting exercise beyond just improvement of figure. To traditionalists and religious advocates exposure of the female body was immoral. Women could be arrested for wearing a bikini in some US states. This was also a crime in Australia, Italy, and  on some French beaches up until the mid -20th century.  The moralists of the past would most likely be more shocked by the bodies and exposure of them are in the 21st century.

There were also arguments that muscle was bad for women’s health. The idea was that women would destroy their reproductive system and this had no basis in biomedical fact. There also an argument that was based purely on aesthetics. Muscles were “unfeminine” and would “unsex” a woman. Such claims represented gender bias and a desire for strict gender roles. Another reason muscular women in popular media may have been rare at the time was that many were not ready to see them. This may explain why producers of various forms of content did not put them in their works. Women who were muscular also may have not been willing to display such physiques for fear of ridicule. Chapman explains that even muscular women who posed for photographs did so in a glamour shot format, rather than the physique posing. The truth is that the glamour element has been a part of women’s posing and physique photograph. While female bodybuilders and physique athletes pose traditionally on stage, they pose differently in individual photographs. The glamour element is there combined with traditional physique posing.

The co-author should remember that bodybuilding was in its infancy, so women probably would not have posed in the same way as modern bodybuilders. To say the early photographs of muscular women are not authentic  physique pictures lacks cogency. It would be ludicrous to say women bodybuilders  who are not flexing in their off stage pictures are not authentic. There was a process of evolution in terms of presentation of the muscular form. The image of the muscular woman was getting wider exposure  compared to other periods of history.

              The female body as the book explains was susceptible to various fads and changes in beauty standards. Just like styles of hair and dress changed, so did ideas about the feminine body ideal. The ideal of the hour glass shape was enforced by the rise of the corset. The came the concept of the S shape as a beauty standard. Bustles were worn by women to enhance the female backside. During the late 19th century there was a paradigm shift in regards to women and exercise. There was the concept that they should do it to improve appearance. The few muscular women in these societies were pioneering such an idea. One of the ways photographers and artists avoided controversy about muscular women was to have them presented in a living statue pose. This would show that they are not a threat to male viewers and that there was no lascivious intentions in its production. This small movement of women into physical culture seemed to expand between the years of 1900 to 1914.

4366315_f1024 There are more images from this period of strongwomen. The reason for this had to do with the increased popularity of circuses, fairs, music halls, and vaudeville stages  .When World War I broke out, this stopped many entertainment venues from functioning especially in major war zones of  Europe. The rise of other mediums like radio and television also contributed to the end of the old forms of entertainment. Muscular women then lost mainstream exposure to an extent.  The strange part of this is that the muscular woman some how got separated from mainstream sports culture. Women getting involved in cycling, archery, and croquet during the 19th century. However women were still be held back at the Olympics Games. Strongwomen were athletes with out a place to compete or show their skills. Their training techniques would later be used by female athletes in various sports from the 20th century and beyond. If it were not for them, such sports and physiques on women would not exist. The real shift came after World War II with Abbye Stockton who demonstrated there was no contradiction between muscles and femininity.


   She revealed an impressive musculature, which at the time was not considered gender appropriate. Chapman revealed that female acrobats and trapeze artists  had more room to navigate in terms of the world of muscularity. The atmosphere of circus performance was more open and therefore less strict. David Chapman referred to it as a “hidden world of female strength.” There was once more a change in beauty standards. There was the diversification of the female form based on particular models in the fitness community. A firm female figure was preferred. This would eventually lead to a more muscular female body. It is not a surprise that female bodybuilding emerged during the 1970s at an important time of women’s liberation. The excellent part  of Venus With Biceps is that  was not afraid to discuss feminist hypocrisy in relation to the muscular woman. The feminist positions on beauty standards are often filled with contradiction and sometimes illogical conclusions. Chapman states that feminists harbor suspicions of muscular women as ” either beauty queens in disguise or that women physique athletes are simply trying to become alternate or inferior versions of men.” The falsehood of feminism is that they believe in a sisterhood and support all women. This simply is not the case when examined from class and race lines. They criticize beauty standards, but continue to support it by being large consumers of fashion and make-up products.

Chapman’s rebuttal to feminist claims is that a beauty pageant just reinforces one standard of beauty, while the physique athlete is developing another image based on individual convictions rather than cultural norms. The ludicrous claim that women are trying to be like men is nothing more than a recycled statement made by sexists, they claim to be fighting. If anything the muscular woman represents a feminist symbol. It shows that women can be strong and be successful in  once male dominated domain. The only reason that a feminist would think that a muscular woman would be imitating men is that strength is a male only attribute. That is incorrect as the female athlete has demonstrated. Men have used the ridiculous argument that because they are stronger they have a right to rule over women. When arguments of biological inferiority are proven mendacious, detractors resort to ostracism. There is a reason for such extreme reaction as Chapman articulates : “physically powerful and heavily muscled women have always been upsetting to the status quo because they reversed the “natural” dominance of the male.” Feminists should be their natural allies. The problem with such monographs is that they normally fall into preaching feminist rhetoric, rather than being a work of academic research. Venus With Biceps avoids this blunder , but occasionally  the illogical feminist reasoning emerges. Beauty standards have changed throughout history,but i may be the first time in which women are developing their own concept of aesthetics.

         The monograph also provides readers with an essay “Muscularity and the Female Body.”  Patricia Vertinsky shares her knowledge of sports history and the female body. Traditionally muscularity was associated with male power and beauty. Women were associated with weakness and frailty. This did not represent reality. Many notions of the body were based on pseudoscience and eugenics. The female body according to Vertinsky’s essay was cast as biologically inferior and designed for passive nurturing. From this emerged the concept of “natural bodies.”  Women’s bodies according to this concept were not meant to be strong. Men were the strong ones. Some scholars link this concept of muscularity and masculinity to the rise of modern celebrity culture and sports. It roots are much earlier according to Vertinsky going back to ancient Greek civilization. This association is more of a Western phenomenon and it can be seen in the art of the Greeks. Iconography shows that the ancient Greeks valued the muscular form as an aesthetic ideal  and this European tradition continued through the ages. Sculptors such as Polykleitos and Praxiteles created their works based on proportions that were numerical based systems  with an emphasis on symmetry. Beauty had been conceptualized as a mathematical quantity.

The female form has been depicted as soft in most Western artworks. The female bodybuilder presents another model of the female body not seen in a iconographical context.  

This was the harbinger to antropometry  and pseudoscientific biological racism. There was some contribution to credible fields such as physical anthropology. The idea of muscular man and soft curvy woman was a product of ancient Greek art and was sustained by pseudoscience of the 19th and 20th century. Women and men have various body types so the idea of “natural bodies” had no scientific basis. Crainometry, phrenology, physiognomy, and comparative anatomy believed that physical characteristics could describe the character, behavior, and intellect of a person. Unproven claims by pseudoscience were used to enforce much held prejudices about race, class, and gender. This would have devastating consequences during World War II when countries like Nazi Germany used eugenics to justify mass murder. Relevant to the discussion of women’s bodies it was believed that their main purpose in life was to produce babies. Other theories suggested that women were just too frail for physical activity. When strong women showed this was not truth they cast as anomalies. People would rather cling to mendacious beliefs rather than accept people who are different. Some theories were so bizarre, even for the eugenicists themselves William Sheldon began a system of body classification that equated body type to personality.

The three somatotypes as described by William Sheldon. Mesomorph, ectomorph, and endomorph are still terms used today in fitness terminology. 

The terms ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph were developed from his theories. Being a psychologist it it was obvious that there is not correlation between body type and personality. What his ideas and theories were suggesting that the mesomorphic body was a superior type and such individuals would run the world. This thinking has racist overtones similar to Hitler’s concept of a master race. His book The Atlas of Men (1954)   featured anthropometrical measurements of men proclaiming what were the superior body measurements. There was to be another book that would have been called The Atlas of Women , but Sheldon never finished it. Although his theories were not credible he got significant funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and his ideas were adopted by physical education departments in the US.  Barbara Honeyman Heath an assistant to Sheldon was gathering data and photographs for The Atlas of Women. She would work with numerous physical education departments who wanted to see women improve posture ,health,  and fitness. Heath came to the conclusion that these methods and ideas were fraudulent then repudiated Sheldon. She would later work with Margaret Mead using the somatotype system while studying the peoples of Papua New Guinea. This tale of junk science and prejudice reveals how perceptions of women’s bodies are based on distortions. The “natural bodies” were based on ideals that were not grounded in reality. When this was applied to health and beauty it was to the detriment of women.

            Beauty during this period of eugenics became associated with health. These two concepts are not related, but became linked together. Beauty can have various means or paradigms depending on who is asked to describe it. It varies among cultures, individuals, and societies. One can be healthy and not meet the societal standards of beauty. What the muscular woman does is define a new form of beauty. The problem with Vertinsky’s essay in the second portion is that it uses Naomi Wolf’s theory of the beauty myth. This has numerous flaws. The text states “Wolf attributed the rise of photography an important historical role in disseminating models of idealized femininity and beauty where the female body was expected to look dramatically different from that of a man.” Photography was not responsible for women’s poor image. It was the product of a society that valued women only as reproductive units or instruments for sex. The images of female beauty being weighed cruelly on women can be debatable as well. Unlike arranged marriage, employment discrimination, or lack of access to education no one is forcing women to focus on their appearance. Women buy and sell make-up, hair care products, and are more focused on fashion.

Women profit off of other women having insecurities about their bodies, yet feminists never acknowledge this. Men they state are the ones who promote the beauty myth. The problem is that Wolf’s analysis and claims ignore the fact women have a choice in the contemporary period; the woman of the Victorian Age did not have such a luxury. The issue also revolves around the fact many women have low self-esteem, which leads them down a path of body obsession. This makes women and girls with such issues of self perception more vulnerable to certain images propagated through various types of media. Victorian Age women were more restricted in most areas of life. Areas such as medicine, fashion, and beauty ideals were used to justify women’s subordination to men. The corset was an example of this subordination. This type of clothing was designed to squeeze a woman’s waist to make it appear smaller. Like most clothing for women during this time period it was designed to restrict movement. It was believed that women should not overexert themselves. Physicians were convinced that physical weakness was a woman’s natural state.   There was another camp that emerged in this debate about the female body. Women should at least have some health conditioning for childbirth. Women involved in some form of physical activity would not harm the as some health reformers ensured. Catherine  Beecher was one of the early advocates for women getting exercise. This was not for the purpose of appearance, rather a eugenic purpose in mind. The major shift came when women wanted their physical exercise to become more than just for the basis of appearance.

        As Victorian prudishness disappeared women began to become more in touch with their independence. During the late 19th century cycling became a popular pastime for women. The beauty concept developed the notion that women needed exercise for their beauty. Body ideals began to fluctuate. The Gibson girl was the voluptuous type. When the 20th century arrived the flapper depicted a thinner female body. The rise of film and popular entertainment venues presented the public with new images of the female body. The muscular woman actually did have a venue in popular entertainment.

 From Corsets to bicep curls, it seems women have gone through a political, social, and physical transformation. 

Circuses, music halls, and vaudeville was a popular form of entertainment during the late 19th to early 20th century. Strongwomen performed in these venues. There were instances in which strongwomen gathered a following. Charmion was a trapeze artist who was filmed in Thomas Edison’s short film “Trapeze Disrobing Act .” The 1901 short film demonstrated that men were getting interested in the a strong female physique. Women were performing strength feats just like the men. This was the period in which modern bodybuilding was being developed. Eugen Sandow and Bernarr Macfadden were pioneers in physical culture and modern bodybuilding.  To them the built physique had to be displayed on a stage. However, the new physical culture movement did receive backlash from medical professionals and physical educators. They though developing muscles to a high degree would reduce body efficiency and pose a health risk. This was not true and advocates of physical culture challenged such claims. Macfadden was revolutionary in the sense he advocated exercise and strength for women. He once stated that “there can be no beauty without muscles.”  Physical Culture magazine was read by both men and women. The magazine would reach sales of  over a million copies by 1955. There was another shift in the body ideal for women. The new woman was athletically active. Charlotte Perkins Gilman feminist, novelist,  and sociologist advocated that women have full control of the bodies, which included developing themselves physically. Her 1915 novel  Herland  emphasized this idea through a book in which women lived independently, were self-sufficient, and were active physically. This was a work of utopian feminist fiction in which men did not exist and the characters resembled the amazons of ancient Greek myth.

The fitness culture has a long history. One of the ways ideas were spread were through magazines and this continues to some degree today. Internet publications are now overtaking traditional print media. 

William  Blaikie produced a popular book called How To Get Strong and How to Stay So. This work of physical education was advocating that women and girls train to build strength so they can maintain good health. It seems some were not seeing a conflict in relation to muscularity and the female body. Vertinsky then explains that during the interwar years some still saw the contradiction between a strong body and femininity. The press was harsh in particular in the criticism of women. Much of it was either sexist or homophobic. While the author does not focus on the fact that non-white female athletes had to deal with both racism and sexism. African American women athletes were normally ignored by the mainstream American press. The text should have mentioned this more in a wider context, because it only focuses on the experiences of mostly white or European women. This limits the scholarship. Women were by the 1930s becoming more vsible in the sports world, yet there were objections to them. Most were based on their appearance. Athletes such as Babe Didrikson  were described as “muscle molls”  meaning they were manly or unfeminine. Women’s strength is often condemned when it is not needed, but in times of peril it becomes a necessity. During World War II women had to take the jobs of men fighting overseas, which required manual labor. Women had to be strong so that the war effort was successful.

After the war, there was a sharp turn in conservatism in terms of women’s roles. Women were expected to return to the domestic sphere. This was happening when Pudgy Stockton was making a larger impact on women’s fitness, which would not be realized until later in the century.   She popularized the idea that women could lift weights and still remain feminine. The odd contrast was that the ideal of beauty was shifting back to a slimmer body type. Vertinsky  cites the rise of the fashion industry, weight loss industry, and even toys like Barbie as a reason for the shift back. It could also metaphorically symbolize some men’s desire to control women and maintain the status quo. Stockton and the women who were inspired by her began to find an alternative. Lisa Lyon would be inspired to build her body and she would later become one of female bodybuilding’s first pioneers. This came from looking at photographs of Stockton.

The essay does do a great job of explaining how body image conformity was and continues to used against women. Yet, incorporating the beauty myth concept into such an argument  makes it lack credibility. Niomi Wolf’s theories and ideas have either been contradictory or at worst not entirely accurate. There is a tendency for feminism to cast all men as oppressors; this seems strongest in modern day third wave feminist rhetoric in academic analysis. The reality is that no one is forcing women to submit to body image pressure like women are forced into marriage or particular economic sectors. Feminism is often uncertain or contradictory on the analysis of the female athlete or muscular woman. It shifts between praise or scorn. Sometimes it takes an extreme route of the notion that women should just enter areas for the sake of  being antagonistic to men. These ideological conflicts can not be solved with a simple answer. The essay does provides a lucid explanation in regards to the connection between sexism, eugenics, health, and beauty. Yet, the small amount of feminist rhetoric weakens that strength of an otherwise rational argument. The  Patrica Vertinsky’s analysis provides also an clear synopsis of the history  in terms of were the muscular woman fits in a wider historical context.

      The rest of the monograph proceeds to show primary source material starting in a chronological manner. The muscular women of the past had more of a struggle supporting themselves with their athletic talents alone. Some professional women made a living being street performers. Strongmen did not have it better and would often work with strongwomen to increase audience attraction. Such performance acts could be seen in carnivals, fairs, and theater houses. Although the strong woman acts are considered to be a development of the 1800s, it is possible that it began earlier. The book in the first chapter shows five engravings from 1783 that depict women performing strength feats. They show women from Leipzig, Germany doing strength feat acts with anvils and horses. There is a possibility that these act were done by means of chicanery or the product of someone’s imagination.  These women could have been real people, but is clear that the strength feats are exaggerated. Strongwomen predate the rise of physical culture and heath fitness fadism in the 19th century. They benefited from this phenomenon. While health professionals were just beginning to embrace lifting exercises, strongwomen were doing this for a century. From the visual materials that remain, their are names of the foremothers of iron. The earliest documented name is that of Elsie Luftmann. She was known to do cannonball juggling acts and lift large weights. Luftmann toured mostly in central Europe.

There could have been more strongwomen active, but Elsie Serafin Luftman  is the only name so far remembered from that era in the early 19th century. This illustration is dated at 1830.

Although it seems that this was the activity of mostly European and American women, women of other ethnic groups were involved. Miss Lala  was a African Polish strongwoman born in 1858. She was also an acrobat, trapeze artist, and did other stunts . She became are very popular strongwoman in Germany, France, and much of Europe. This was not unusual. There had been an African presence in Europe for quite sometime. Her real name Anna Olga Brown and she was active through the 1870s to 1890s. Little is known about the rest of her life.  What is remembered is that she would perform iron jaw acts. Allegedly she would hold a cannon with her teeth as a strength feat. This may be another trick that circus acts would do. However, the other acts she would do were genuine.

strong woman
Miss Lala was so popular that she was the subject of the painting “Miss La La At The Cirque Fernando”  by Edward Degas in 1879.

 The era was known for producing many posters and visuals advertising strongwomen. The graphic art is a delight to look at for a reader. Graphic design is often under appreciated, but has a major impact on culture and visual arts. The most important element in terms of history is that it leaves primary source material.

 Changes and transformations can be documented. This allows scholars to see possible patterns in ideas or commonly held perspectives. Women staring in the 1830s began as strongwomen and by the 19th century were becoming professionals in this profession. They were doing this in an atmosphere that was hostile to women’s advancement or freedom. The reason women may have had more room to navigate this field was because it did not prove to be a threat to the social and political order. As long as this was just simple entertainment with no definite statements on sex politics, there were no repercussions for women involved. While strength and brawn were essential to their acts women were still constrained by social mores about gender roles. Even successful strongwomen like Athleta would do the most to cover up their bodies. The reason was not to be a threat to male members of the audience . Another reason was that it would have been considered inappropriate at the time for women to expose or display their bodies in a particular manner. Some women were willing to challenge  that. Frances Rheinlander  who was know as Athelda was known to do poses that are common on bodybuilding stages today.

Women also had trepidation about displaying such musculature. The fear of looking masculine or violating gender norms was a challenge.  Then came another paradigm shift. Strength was no longer seen as harming a women’s feminine qualities. Strongwomen themselves began to present an image of strong and beautiful woman. Louise Leers, Kate Roberts, and Katie Sandwina ushered in a golden age of strongwoman performance. This as between the 1890s to early 20th century. Audiences were amused and fascinated with women who could lift object twice their own weight.

 There were interruptions that occurred that brought the golden age of strongwomen acts to a period of hiatus. World War I devastated the world order. The world came back to a sense of normalcy to a degree, but by 1929 the Great Depression hit. The 1920s did still have strongwomen performing yet that period of  prosperity did not last. Muscular women obviously existed prior to the 1800s. The text merely shows that they were not documented until that century. The monograph also clarifies that not every muscular woman was  a circus performer or professional strongwoman.

    The following chapter “pumping wood” reveals a fascinating change in terms of women and fitness. Regular women and female athletes wanted to build muscular strength for the purpose of just staying in shape. Early women’s physical culture literature discouraged exercise, due to the concept of the frailty myth. There was the mainstream conviction that women just did not have the physical constitution for strenuous exercise. A consensus was later reach that women needed at least some form of physical activity for their health. Calisthenics and working out with wooden dumbells was advised. Regular women’s motivation for working out was different from that of the athlete or professional strongwoman. The goal was not to build a strong physique, rather maintain health. Many health conditions at the time that were plaguing women were related to the corset. These tight garments could dislodge organs and pinch the lungs.

Just like today every woman who goes to the gym does not have the same fitness goals in mind. 

The chapter contains illustrations from newspaper articles showing women how to do proper exercises from Harper’s Weekly . Women would eventually discard their corsets so that they could have more free movement during an exercise session. Women could join exercise clubs, but this was extremely rare. Women interest in exercise and physical culture did spark a backlash. Even though women were few in number in physical culture, social conservatives and sexists condemn women’s participation. The muscular woman was made into an object of ridicule and contempt. The text has printed a series of valentines cards which mock female athletes from 1900. These were known as vinegar valentines and normally ostracized groups of people the producers found unappealing. Postcards would also ostracize athletic women and women who decided to engage in physical culture.

sexist postcard
This postcard dated  1905 states that women should not waste time on exercise. Postcards and valentines normally depicted the female athlete as vain, ignorant, or egotistical.
This is a booklet from 1900 produced by Lydia Pinkham Company . It features a woman doing a double biceps pose. The Pinkham Company booklet is a demonstration of positive depictions of the female athlete at the time.

Chapman explains that many times men did not know what to make of the muscular female. One method to deal with such a different concept of womanhood was to insult and shun a woman who did not meet societal gender expectations. All the depictions were not negative. Magazines as this chapter demonstrates sometimes had women on the cover. Fitness, exercise, and sport were at onetime considered male only activities. Women gradually entered the world of fitness culture. Women during this period also used Indian clubs and took up cycling. There was a new woman emerging that was more independent and was no longer willing to be regulated to the domestic sphere. As women were demanding voting rights on both sides of the Atlantic men were becoming threatened. This explains the exaggerated reactions to women engaging in sports and physical culture. There are complaints today that female athletes and fitness personalities do not get enough coverage, but during this period of 1900 to 1914, it was rare that women were present on magazine covers. Sometimes there were cases they were visible regardless of public reaction. Booklets also appeared giving advice on women’s health. Women who were seeking heath improvement rather than athleticism or physical development. The following chapter notes several paradigms that emerged.

       The chapter ” Pursuing The Healthy Life” demonstrates how rapidly body ideals changed. The hourglass figure went out of vogue in favor of the s shape. The Roaring Twenties saw  the rise of a woman with more independence. This was not equally distributed among the various classes and ethnic groups of America. Women did obtain the vote, but African American, Native American, and Asian Americans still had to struggle for equal voting rights. Women who were of the upper class had more time for leisure and sport. The fitness world at this time was developing a space for women. Health and beauty clubs would emerge in the US. The taboo about women in exercise had been lifted. There were some problems in this new paradigm. Mass media and popular culture of the era encourage exercise  for women for the sole purpose of making them look attractive to a particular standard. There were multiple models of the female body presented. There was the tomboyish flapper, the traditional lithe woman, and the female athlete. Although female athletes  of the interwar period  were training just for there sport, they did develop impressive strength. Alice Marble and  Babe Dickerson Zaharias were making women’s sports notable to the public, with their magnificent performances.

The public was at least to an extent getting used to the idea women could play sports or be involved in fitness culture. Advocates such as Mary Bagot Stack established the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in 1930 to encourage women to be physically active. This was one example of many clubs that emerged in both Britain and the US. Women there would practice gymnastics, dance, and calisthenics. The reason such organizations did not generate condemnation was they stayed in line with traditional gender roles. Women were not seeking to be athletes or build their muscles. Lifting weights was not part of the exercise regimen. There were women still around in the 1930s will to display a female body with muscular development. Ivy Russell was a weightlifter and wrestler who developed an impressive physique. She was born in the British Empire and many historians of  bodybuilding consider her to be the first woman to create such a physique. This can be disputed, because there may have been others yet she was probably    the first to enjoy displaying such muscular strength.

The muscular woman and the female athlete in general got limited exposure. Ivy Russell was willing to flex her muscles during a period when that was inappropriate for women. Many photographs of muscular women from the 1800s to mid-20th century show them not flexing their muscles to prevent challenging gender role boundaries.Even women with significant development were discouraged from doing so. This does not cause issues when women athletes flex today. Russell was a foreshadowing of what was to come by the late 20th century.

 There seems to be a cycle of advancement and backlash. There was some room for negotiation  to an extent in society. Women began taking advice from other women rather than the majority male medical professionals, who had limited understanding of women’s bodies. There was a fitness culture developing, but it put emphasis on machines that in the contemporary period would seem ludicrous. Weight reduction machines were popular forms of exercise equipment and the shake weights of their day. Vibration belt machines were common in gyms promising users they could lose huge amounts of weight.

Women using vibrating belt machines in the 1920s.

The rise of modern consumer culture also produced fitness fads. As women had more free time , it was only natural that it was occupied with such leisure activities. Some fitness fads even evolved into movements. The Life Reform Movement which developed in Switzerland and Germany advocated humankind’s return to nature by embracing healthy living, fitness, a return to nature, and an embrace of sexual liberation including nudism. This movement was more of a reaction to a rapidly industrialized and technological world as well as the rejection of the traditional conservatism of Europe. This movement spread throughout Europe and embrace outdoor physical activity.  It was at its height between the 1920s and 1930s. It was prohibited in Germany when the Nazis came to power.  There was one element that remained in the totalitarian state: the embrace of physical activity and naturism. The Nazis believed good health would make the nation stronger and produce better Aryans. Nazis and the Fascists did not encourage physical  exercise for women’s sake, but rather to make them fit mothers who would produce future soldiers. Italy was more more advance in this project, because there had been a long history of women being involved in exercise there.

This magazine from Fascist Italy was encouraging women to exercise so that they could be better mothers. The totalitarian fascist governments wanted large populations that so that they could build large armies.

The coming of global conflict in 1939 brought about social and political changes. Women were just like in World War I asked to contribute to the war effort by working while the men went off to battle. There was also a pop culture transformation as well. The idea of  physical strong women appeared in comic books such as Wonder Woman and Sheena. When fascism was defeated women were forced from their jobs in factories. The 1950s gave way to more social and political conservatism.

          There were a number of strongwomen and athletes becoming notable during the wartime era. Dorcas Lehman, Relna Brewer, and Pudgy Stockton.The 1940s was a time in which even women who played other sports were popular. The All American Girls Professional Ball League became popular with the public. With males being drafted and fighting in the war, many teams were losing their star athletes. Owners formed this baseball team with women and it filled stadiums. Women’s professional baseball existed from 1943 to 1954 in America. Sadly, it ended for women when men came home and owners no longer promoted it. Attendance dropped and this meant the end of women in professional baseball.  Some women were actively trying to make sports, fitness, and weightlifting appeal to women. Siegmund Klein a major figure in fitness at the time was opposed to women using his gym. The famous strongman and bodybuilder was convinced that athleticism was a male only affair. He was soon changed his position when he realized women could be great customers to his gym establishment in New York. Some men were getting used to the idea women could be strong.

Pudgy Stockton poses with  her husband Les Stockton.  These two athletes were known to do various strength feats on Muscle Beach in California.

 The monograph does  provide a great explanation why Stockton was important. She participated in the first women’s weightlifting meet in 1947. It was held in Los Angeles and had various weight classes. This was a significant step in the history  of female physical strength. Stockton also became an advocate for women writing in Strength and Health  promoting the idea women could lift and still be feminine. The texts also mentions women’s professional wrestling was emerging in the mid-1940s to early 1950s. The book contains a photograph of Mildred Burke and the Fabulous Moolah who were the harbingers of women’s professional wrestling. While there was some progress for women in fitness and sports culture, after the war there was a return to traditional gender roles.

The 1950s saw a return to tradition. All of a sudden women being strong and flexing their muscles was no longer considered acceptable once more. Venus With Biceps describes the period between 1950 to the mid-1970s as a time in which muscular women disappeared. They literally did not vanish, but their mainstream exposure was gone. This also could be seen in the fitness culture in which magazine merely put women on the cover not for their athletic feats, rather a decoration. This was a major reversal in terms of women’s progress in a male dominated arena. Gone were the days of  strongwomen having mainstream platforms. This would be temporary, because another change would happen in the form of second wave feminism.


There have been muscular women as long as there have been strong men. During this period of limited exposure photographers would seek out trapeze artists, acrobats, and  aerialists during the 1940s and 1950s to document female muscle. Although these women had athletic potential they had no outlet or platform to display it. Two decades would have to pass until the most radical stage of this transformation would come.

         The last two chapters explain the shift to just mere figure improvement to the development of muscular strength. This process would result in the creation of modern day female bodybuilding. Muscular women had been excluded from magazines, gymnasiums, and other public venues  during the nadir period of the mid-20th century. The problem with Venus With Biceps is that it misses on crucial point in this historical discourse. Title IX was pivotal in the increase of women in athletics. That legislation gave many girls the opportunity to play sports and go on to be champions in both national and international competition. Many female bodybuilders of today got their start in other sports before coming on stage. This is a vital link that binds the fitness culture to the sports world. Lifting weights was once thought to harm athletic performance. When this was proven false athletes from various sports began weight training and seeing their performance improve. During the 1950s the only way women could get close to bodybuilding culture was to be in a beauty pageant. It was common at the time to have beauty attached to them. Men objected to this they did not want to be seen as male counterparts to beauty queens. The feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s did give women more freedom in terms of employment, education, and reproductive rights. Sports was a low priority compared to more pressing issues. All this political and cultural change was happening during a period when women were entering the sports world en mass. The first female bodybuilding competition would be held in 1977 under the auspice of Henry McGhee. This was not a beauty pageant; women were judged on their muscular development. Following this  Doris Barrilleaux began running contests of her own.  Female muscularity would be pushed to new heights with the arrival of various contests.

Rachel Mclish would go on to become the first Ms.Olympia in 1980. The last photograph is of her in the book. The way it is organized and written readers can see how over the past two centuries women’s athletic physicality developed. The general public who were exposed to this may have thought this was a new phenomenon. Those with a knowledge of the historical background would understand it is a much longer tradition. The difference in the late 20th century was that women were pushing their bodies to the physical maximum. The strongwomen of the past were not making muscular development their goal. The women of the late 20th to 21st century involved in fitness were seeking their highest level of development. The author notes as more contests opened the more muscular women became and the more they appeared.

There was an evolution in the female physique on stage with women becoming more muscular than people thought was possible. Lisa Lyon although she only competed one time was a contributor to the early version of female bodybuilding. She won the World’s Women Bodybuilding Championship in 1979. Like Pudgy Stockton she was prompting the idea of women’s bodybuilding and weightlifting to women. She was inspired by Stockton. The monograph mentions the early pioneers, but is curious it does not mention the later champions like Cory Everson, Lenda Murray, or Iris Kyle. It makes it seem as if the evolution stopped at 1980. While readers would obviously know that there are muscular women in existence and are active in sports new comers may be confused.

       This journey into female strength and muscularity is not over. The author states that the female body was altered to a higher degree with performance enhancing drugs. Drugs have been a part of sports for a longtime, but that is not the only contributor to the new physique presented. Women became serious about training and more competitive as competitions grew. There was another shift in consciousness. It was acceptable for women to have a certain level of  fitness or even tone, just as long as it was not “too much.”  Such descriptions of what is excessive are relative and opinion based. It can be disputed that the claim as Chapman articulates ” unfortunately, the introduction of drugs has meant that once again, many people regard female bodybuilders as freaks.” Prior to the existence of performance enhancing drugs this attitude was present as the earlier chapters of the book demonstrate. This is not based on drug use or the side effects, but on sexist prejudice and a narrow definition of what a woman should be. The reason people have not gotten used to the idea of a muscular woman is that society hates women with power. The oppressive structures can be removed, yet the hateful attitudes still remain within a society.

There has been a distortion about women’s bodies. The difference now is that they are beginning to reject to particular societal beauty standards. There is an irony that the monograph articulates. It has been close to 200 years of the public appearance of the female muscular form and people still cling to the idea it is not proper.  Although Venus With Biceps does not discuss other developments much has happened since its 2010 release. The last Ms.Olympia was held in 2014. This was a major blow to female bodybuilding, but it was brief. The Rising Phoenix Competition became a replacement when the IFBB terminated the Ms.Olympia. This does not resemble the nadir period of the 1950s to 1970s. More women are competing in physique sports such as figure, fitness, physique, and bikini. The female bodybuilding category although struggling has not phased out completely. Former athletes such as Lenda Murray continue to promote and hold contests for athletes.

The women continue to survive in the bodybuilding culture despite various obstacles. The biggest change has been aided by technology. Women who are fit, but do not compete are active on social media and are seen by millions of internet users across the globe. Compared to the past two centuries, it is easier to find material related to or focusing on muscular women. There are women who are active in professional sports to a larger degree compared to the 19th and 20th century. Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women is a great documentation in regards to a rarely studied element of women’s sports history.   This primary source material is perfect for anyone doing research or wanting to learn more. The monograph’s analysis related to particular subjects can be debated. Not mentioning Title IX seems to be a flaw in the book’s historical discourse. These minor imperfections do not effect the overall presentation. These photographs, advertisements, and visual art show that the muscular female did exist and was part of the pop culture consciousness. Although the same negative attitudes remain, many now see there is no contradiction between strength and femininity. It may take another 200 years for the majority to accept such an idea. The wonderful part about the contemporary period is that there are more strong and muscular women compared to the past.   Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women is a must have book for fans of history, female muscle, and sports. It is unknown what this evolution in women’s physique will become, but there is past documentation that its has been occurring for some time.

Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women

The New Pin-up: Why Gentlemen Prefer Buff

Gentlemen Prefer Buff

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.

Gentlemen prefer buff

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.

'Fit mom' Maria Kang recreates infamous 'What's your excuse' photo five years later

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.

The New Pin-up: Why Gentlemen Prefer Buff

The Body Mass Index (BMI)

The body mass index is a calculation value for measuring the amount of body fat and what the weight should be of an individual of a certain height. This has been used to classify whether or not a person has weight related issues such as obesity. This scale has been used for both adults and children. The issue is that it may not be very precise. The measurements do not take into account muscles mass. The attempt at being a scientific measure does not seem as practical. Normally, when a person gains huge amounts of weight health problems become apparent. Aches and pains are present in the joints, because the skeleton has to support more weight than it was intended for. There is also a drastic decrease in cardiovascular fitness. The circulatory system becomes strained and the risk of certain cancers increase with an increase in body weight. The body mass index is not even accurate enough to be used as a diagnostic tool. The BMI is more of a screening tool. It may not even be as useful a screening tool as previously thought. A more precise assessment of weight related issues would involve skin fold thickness measurements, an examination of family history, and evaluations of both diet or physical activity. It is questionable that BMI can even be a measure of health.

           The body mass index at its core is a formula measuring a range of body weight that is considered healthy to a person’s height. The modern  body mass index came into existence in 1998 under the the National Institutes of Health. It was designed to be a general standard to aid doctors, researchers, dietitians, and various government agencies. Prior to this there was not a nation wide standard of determining healthy weight. Since the birth of BMI there has now been one standard.


bmi-chartThe BMI value can either be metric or English system of measures.  The chart does not fully account for people of different somatotypes. Those with a mesomorphic body could be classified as obese. It should also recognize that women naturally have a higher body fat level no matter what  their weight is. The thinnest or most muscular woman would still carry a higher fat percentage. A woman who is not overweight may fall into the classification. Colette Nelson a female bodybuilder would reach at total of 175 lbs in off season being 65.1  inches tall ( 5 ft 5 in ). Using the equation for the BMI ( English system of measures). Solving this mathematically would be as follows : 175 lbs divided by the square of 65 inches and multiplied by 703. This results in a BMI of 29.11 on the chart placing her in the over weight range. If 0.89 were added to that value with an increase of her weight she would be in the obese range. When looking at pictures of Colette Nelson, it is clear that she does not have a weight problem.

           When she competed it was at a weight of 145 lbs. This would make her BMI at that point 24.13 considered a healthy weight. However, there is no indication she was any less healthy with a higher body mass. Her body is mostly muscle mass and their is no way for the chart to distinguish between fat and muscle. This is not just a problem for women measured on the scale, it also happens to larger men. If we were to do more calculations with women of different somatotypes a similar problem could occur. Women who have ectomorphic body types could be incorrectly classified as underweight. Halley Berry would have a BMI of 20.13 and could fall into the underweight range. As one can see she obviously is not emaciated, just thin.

It would be simple to fluctuate between these designated ranges in the BMI scale. Adding a small amount of weight would not serious harm health. The BMI has many limitations in precision. It does not estimate accurately the total amount of body fat that is present. It does not account for sex differences and sex hormones that have an effect on body composition. A person can have a high BMI, yet not be overweight or obese. Many professional athletes if their BMI was calculated would fall in the overweight range of BMI. It has been suggested that waist circumference may be a better indicator of weight health. The reason why the BMI may be rooted in its origins.

        The origins of the body mass index can be traced back to the 19th century. Adolphe Quetelet developed an index in which weight (kilograms)  was divided by the square of height (in meters). This was known as the Quetelet index  until 1972. Quetelet was by profession by trade a mathematician, astronomer, and statistician. He had a fascination with probability calculus and wanted to apply this to the study of human characteristics. The Belgian scientist then produced the equation in 1832. When this equation was developed, the world was a different place. Corpulence was seen as a sign of good health. This made sense in a time of limited food security. Even with the green revolution of the 20th century, there are still nations that struggle with food security. Prior to this having some fat would have meant survival. It was not until the mid-19th to early 20th century did weight gain began to be seen as a potential health risk. Insurance companies took note of this and developed normal weight tables of their own to determine which policies they should give their customers. Louis Dublin owner of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was the harbinger in regards to normal weight charts based on a person’s height. This system was not exactly precise either. Weight was divided by a given height into two thirds. Undesired weight was 20% to 25% and the classification for morbid obesity was 70% to 100%. These measure seem arbitrary. Another problem was that these measures were done mostly on Western populations.

   The Polynesian  populations have a larger body structure compared to Europeans. This is a product of genetics, rather than race. The athletes that are from that region do not have health related issues in regards to weight. Yet, past and current weight classifications would state they are unhealthy. This is not true. East African runners may be classified as being under weight. Seeing as they have a high physical activity level it should be assumed that their health is in optimum condition. Such charts and equations do not account for the variation in populations globally. When  Adolphe Quetelet made produced his work he had no intention of using it for understanding obesity or weight related issues. He wanted to see if there was a Gaussian distribution in terms of height and weight. He did encounter issues when doing this with his statistical samples. The equation was developed to contribute to fixing possible errors. During his research he found that body mass increases during puberty height and weight stabilize. The only thin he was documenting was the average rate of growth in stages of the human life cycle. Even if a calculation is done in the metric system a person who is not overweight or obese could fall in that classification. Lenda Murray’s weigh was 74 kg and stands at a height of 1.65 m. Squaring her height and then dividing by the total weight results in a value of 27.2 BMI.


This again places a person in the overweight range, when they do not have a weight problem. If we were to present this visually it would simple enough to see who has a weight problem. Lenda Murray during her years of competition was clearly at a high physical fitness level .    This does not mean physiognomy should be a measure of health. Women with naturally endomorphic body types would not be at a serious health risk. That would only happen if there was a drastic change in diet or endocrine related illness or disorder. Using charts and equations for weight in which it was not intended for will not give accurate assessments of health.

 The body mass index is not the best method for detecting weight problems. Studies have indicated that overweight individuals have similar or better outcomes compared to normal weight individuals in terms of cardiovascular incidents. There can be alternatives to determining healthy weight.

         The alternatives to BMI  measurement involve examining waistline. A 2012 study done in eight European countries showed that overweight people with large waists were most likely to develop diabetes just like people who were morbidly obese. Then there is the method of using the skinfold. The skinfold method measures body fat in various folds of skin  on the human body. Personal trainers use this method to help clients with particular fitness goals. There also could be more rudimentary measures. The ability to be ambulatory should be a simple marker. When people put on a certain amount of weight walking becomes more difficult. The extremely obese sometimes lose their ability to walk simply because the bones in their legs cannot support it. When weight goes up the skeleton will struggle to maintain support. Bone mass does not increase with the rise of adipose tissue. Stress tests could be given as an indirect way to see if there are potential weight issues. It is clear that everyone’s health condition is different and methods need to be developed to account for that fact.

        Health professionals continue to use BMI when there has been both historical and scientific questions to its accuracy. The body mass index does not thoroughly take into account sex and age in the measurements. As people age they lose muscle mass which can effect health. Older people may have a normal BMI, yet could be losing critical bone and muscular strength. There also has to be consideration for where the weight is gained on the body. If weight is gained in the abdominal or hip areas it can increase certain risk factors. The body mass index at least could be used to measure the probable weight health of a given population. This measure would not be a precise one. If there is an account of athletes who are larger, people who are thinner, or people of endomorphic body types this distorts the data. If this is considered the obesity rates may not be as high as previously thought. It is clear that weight related issues are on the rise globally, but there needs to be an improve method of measures. The best method to prevent or deal with weight related health challenges are the traditional ones : diet, exercise, doctor’s appointments, and controlled eating.


Zelman, Kathleen M. “How Accurate Is Body Mass Index, or BMI?” WebMD, WebMD, 5 June 2016,

Brodwin, Erin. “One of the Most Popular Ways of Telling If You’re a Healthy Weight Is Bogus – Here’s What You Should Do Instead.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 9 Sept. 2016,

Eknoyan, Garabed. “Adolphe Quetelet (1796–1874)-the Average Man and Indices of Obesity | Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 22 Sept. 2007,

Team, The MNT Editorial. “BMI (Body Mass Index): What Is BMI?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 5 Jan. 2016,

The Body Mass Index (BMI)

Battle of the Sexes: Men Work out More Than Women

Battle of the Sexes: Men Work Out More Than Women

This article from Shape magazine reveals a health disparity between the sexes. According to a study from Preventive Medicine  the average man gets more physical activity than the average woman. To people familiar with gym culture, fitness, or sports in general this is no surprise. However, it does indicate that women would disproportionately suffer negative health consequences due to inactivity. Osteoporosis, heart disease, obesity, and even neurodegenerative diseases are risk factors for inactivity. Oregon State University too a sample of 1,000 men and women According to the data which was not self reported women only got 18 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, while men went to 30 minutes in a session. The data was collected from accelerometers recording total physical activity. It has been recommended that people should get at bare minimum 30 minutes of exercise a day. The problem is women are not getting enough which puts them at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even depression. One in three women as suffer from metabolic syndrome. What are the possible reasons for this disparity? This question can be answered through sociological and biological factors.

        The text cites “some evidence indicates that women, compared to men, have less confidence in their ability to overcome exercise related barriers.” At first a reader would be perplexed by what that means. To elucidate their is a prejudice and sexism against women who show physical strength, skill,  and power. Simultaneously, women who do seek to improve physical fitness do have a lack of confidence at the beginning of their program. The weaker sex stereotype is still in the consciousness of many and some women are more vulnerable to it. This makes them believe their are certain activities they cannot do, simply because their biology does not allow it. The female body has been regarded as biologically and physically inferior, even though exercise physiology has discredited this notion. The gym and physical activity has been for a longtime thought to be solely a male domain. Gradually, with more women in sports this dated idea has diminished. Yet, sexist stereotypes and traditional gender roles still remain, even in an atmosphere of change. The idea that women can excel at something physical or athletic is considered unladylike. When a strong man shows his skill he is congratulated; when a woman does this she is condemned.

Unfortunately society judges women who are physically strong more harshly than men.  

Muscle and physical fitness are seen as something male only. This effects the way women view exercise throughout their lives. Women may internalize such negative attitudes. While it has been known that weightlifting has more benefits, women may focus on cardio for fear of “getting too big.” With little encouragement and a negative atmosphere women may just stop an exercise regimen all together. There is a segment of  the fitness industry that promotes weight loss for aesthetic purposes rather than health. The impact of body image is powerful, especially is one body type is constantly promoted in various media. If one is surrounded my one image or idea it can distort a person’s thinking. Too many women are attempting to change their bodies to an unattainable or unrealistic body ideal. Extreme cases lead to anorexia or bulimia, which occurs more in women. This is no accident and it is understandable why such a psychological disorder is prevalent. Women who have different body types are either disparaged or ostracized. Women who look different or want to alter their bodies are made into outcasts. If body image pressure is hard on the average woman it is even more intense on the female athlete. While there are sociological barriers, there are some that are biological. Male and female bodies are different, which means there will be a number of outcomes in fitness regimens. Women may have to adjust training to suit their endocrine and musculoskeletal attributes depending on what their goal is. Women on average have less muscular strength and aerobic capacity compared to the average man. Looser joints mean women could be more susceptible to injuries such as ACL tears. This does not mean women cannot handle exercise, it means it should be tailored to prevent injuries and enhance results. Some assume that women cannot gain strength or enhance fitness levels due to sex differences in physiology. Being female does not limit potential,because women can increase their strength and cardiovascular status.

 This will take longer for women to achieve. There are women who get discouraged when results do not happen immediately and quit. Like weight loss regimens, if one is not consistent it will fail. There is a constant inferiority complex that some women might feel that if it is anything physical or sports related, they will fail at. This psychological barrier has to be overcome. Men do not have this problem, because they are not taught to view their bodies as weak. There are differences, but this does not indicate inferiority. Body composition, lung as well as heart size, skeletal and muscle mass just indicate that men have higher physical fitness levels. While women have shown they are capable, that does not mean they have acceptance in the gym space. Traditionally, women were excluded from these areas.

There were only some exercises that were considered acceptable for women. Most were directed at making sure childbirth could be easier. The professional  medical community in the 19th century was not concerned about women’s health, just as long as women could produce children. They though rigorous exercise was bad for the female body and could harm her reproductive capacities. Such falsehoods were promoted by eugenicists and physical educators with the purpose of discouraging women from using their bodies. Although women had been participants in sports since ancient civilization, there has been a constant theme of women being discouraged from the use of their body.  The exercise related barriers are present to this day, even starting at an earlier age. Girls are not taught to throw or  learn other physical skills. If the do receive such instruction, it would only be in physical education. Even in that atmosphere the expectations are lowered. The physical standards for boys and girls in terms of the President’s  Council on Physical Fitness Award differ.

benchmarks_presidential_largeIt makes no sense that the standards are different between the ages of  6 to 13. The reason being is the endocrinological changes from puberty have not occurred. Some standards on the chart are the same, but others are not. Men do not start getting their strength spurt until the age 13, when testosterone production increases. This effects both the muscular and skeletal system giving men more strength. Early on girls seem to be viewed as not capable of playing sports or physical skill. This explains why “you throw like a girl” is used as an insult. There is a subtle sexism that remains in physical education and  is much ore vicious misogyny in sports. Childhood experiences mold what type of person one will be as an adult. If girls at at young age are told they are not capable, they will not attempt try. For both boys and girls their experiences in physical education will influence how they feel about exercise and physical activity. If a PE teacher makes the class unpleasant or dull students will take that negative attitude into adulthood.


Exercise becomes associated with a chore or a pointless task, when it is essential to your health. The same can be said of children in youth sports. If soccer moms and football dads are too aggressive and pressure their children too much. This will only turn  them away from such activities as adults. They should get from such activities how to work in groups and discover the joy of play.  These exercise related barriers are influenced by environment and culture. Biology may also have influence as well. Boys seem to have more energy and it is harder for them to sit still. Girls seem more sedentary. It is unclear how much is this is cultural or biological. This may explain why to an extent more men gravitate to sports or physical activity. It has been suspected that their is a link between competitiveness and higher testosterone levels. These difference in behavior could be evidence of a human evolutionary past. Men’s desire for physical activity could have been essential in early hunter gatherer societies. Biology is important, but environment has just as great an impact.

       Environment and duties were cited as another reason women had difficulty getting involved in exercise. Childcare was cited as the main duty that women had to do, which effected their exercise pattern. The world has advanced in some ways, but in others it has not. Women are still expected to do all of the child rearing, with minimal help. Life is harder for single mothers who face both stigma and lack of sympathy. There is another problem. Everyone may not have money to afford a gym membership or have access to particular facilities. It should be remembered that conditions vary around the world, even with rapid technological advancement. Women in other nations not only have to deal with childcare, but also financially supporting the family. This is the case in lesser developed nations in which the economy is agriculturally based.Women are to an extent privileged in the West. Daycare services may not be present in certain regions of particular countries.

While there are challenges for the global south nations, the first world nations have another problem. Modern society has caused a new set of health issues. Being overweight  or obese has become more prevalent, seeing as technology has eliminated many manual labor jobs. A majority of occupations or professions do not require much physical activity at all. There are few remaining ones, yet these will gradually disappear when artificial intelligence and robotic automation become more advanced. Combine with a more competitive, fast paced, and regimented workplace severe stress and depression are ubiquitous. The slow paced labor of agricultural and artisan society was eliminated by the industrial revolution. This changed the health of populations , which can be seen today. People are living longer, but the price is that the chances of getting a chronic disease have increased. Abundance is not always a positive development. The surplus in food has made it so that eating out of boredom is a common activity. Unhealthy habits become stress reducers in a society that is too uptight. There are still large numbers of people who smoke and consume alcohol to excess, even when they know the health risks. Rather than just making time for exercise, mentality has to change. Dedication and discipline must be maintained to change habits. If you environment does not encourage will power or self control then  it is more difficult. Time should not be the enemy; we make to for matters that are important to us. This can also be circumvent if a busy schedule gets in a person’s way. Using the stairs or standing can be enough to burn some calories. Short periods of exercise is better than nothing. Doing push ups or sit ups before bed could be useful.



Environment can effect health and exercise habits in a population. Increasing exercise can help improve health, but these gains could be lost if pollution and climate change effect the population.  The daily routine of most people seems to involve too much sitting. A sedentary lifestyle causes numerous health issues. For women who on average live longer it can harm the quality of life.

         As we age the body becomes more vulnerable to disease. There can be prevention through exercise and diet. Women have lower bone density. As people age ossification slows and cannot rapidly build bone mass as it used to. Women would be at higher risk for osteoporosis if they are not doing some form of load bearing exercise. Building bone mass is critical to skeletal health. Doing so allows people to be more mobile in old age.  weight training exercise can also maintain muscular strength. Women would lose more considering they have less in terms of body composition. This can also be reversed through physical activity. Maintaining a functioning circulatory system also is essential to health. Heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure do not only harm the circulatory system, but the entire body. Blocked arteries can effect organs, which need blood.



It has been hypothesized that being active protects the brain from neurodegenerative disease. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease  have been increasing in elderly populations. Their causes are not entirely known or understood, but symptoms such as death of neurons and the loss of memory are common. This causes cerebral atrophy and the widening of the brain  ventricles. There is a possible connection that a compromised circulatory system damage could contribute to neurodegenerative  disease.  There have yet to be precise studies, so it remains speculative. Having some physical activity may actually be good for your nervous system than previous thought. Not only that learning and keeping the mind active is just as pivotal. Excess body fat can put strain on the skeleton and possibly a risk for certain cancers. Joints are also put under intense strain from excess weight. Women are more at risk from gaining excess weight due to how food is metabolized in their bodies and the function of estrogen. Estrogen produces higher levels of fat, which means it is more difficult for women to lose weight. Even the slimmest or most muscular woman has a higher fat percentage compared to a man of a similar somatotype.

Body Scan
Body scans of an overweight person and a person of normal weight show how excess weight can negatively effect health. 

Other than the personal risk to  individuals, there is the question remains of healthcare systems. If the population of a nation lives longer and does not have an adequate healthcare system, there will be a crisis. A huge population of sick people means it will be a public health crisis. Another troubling problem is that children are also having weight related health issues as well. Obesity continues to rise in the US and UK. This could be reversed not only with a change in diet and the reduced use of high fructose corn syrup, but simple exercise. It does not have to be intense. Simple walks or jogs could  be effective. High fat and sugar diets are creating health problems in youth as well as adults. Women getting less exercise is a urgent health issue. Women’s health commonly focuses on pregnancy, diseases or conditions of the reproductive system, and differences in how the female body reacts in certain health and medical conditions. There should be more study and expansion to include women’s physical activity. The reason is that the health risk of physical  inactivity  would be too high.

Battle of the Sexes: Men Work out More Than Women

Girls’ Participation in Physical Education Why Girls are Disengaged in P.E & School Sport

It is no secret that girls do disengage in P.E. and they are gender based reasons. At this age women are starting to develop issues with their bodies. Girls may not be engaged for reasons of peer pressure and gender role stereotypes. This could have implications on women’s health in the future. If girls have a negative view of physical activity in youth, health habits may not be conducted in adulthood. Health risks such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes could be problems later in life. To avoid these some level of moderate exercise should be done. There also is the issue about femininity and physical activity that still remains dated. Physical skill and prowess continues to not be viewed as feminine, but gradually these attitudes are changing. This clip from 2011 shows the Ysgol Maesteg school in the UK promoting fitness week. Their intent was to change girls’ attitudes  in regards to P.E. and hopefully participate in sport.

Girls’ Participation in Physical Education Why Girls are Disengaged in P.E & School Sport

Kate on Sports : Women and Muscle

Kate on Sports was a vlog that was active between 2006 to 2008 that was produced in association with Zennie62 and Sports Business Simulations. Kate Scott was giving her analysis on women’s sports and sports in general. These few videos are of interest, because it is so rare that women give such opinions in regards to women in sports. One particular video that she made was “women and muscle.” This was the best one of the few videos she made before she became a sportscaster for KNBR. However, it does have some problems. There are particular points that should be noted, although the overall argument is cogent. The six minute video explores topics such as body image, Title IX, and what does the new found physical strength of the female athlete mean. The camera operator poses a perspective that society is at a juncture in which sports women have muscle, but are not comfortable with it. The question then emerges what is wrong with women having muscle? The video proceeds to tackle these questions and Kate Scott provides those answers.

        There was a claim in the video without Title IX, this look would not have existed. However, anyone with knowledge of women’s sports history would know that is not entirely correct.  Muscular women existed prior to Title IX. They were either regulated to circus performers, vaudeville acts, or beach boardwalk acts. There was no competitive outlet for their skills and talents due to cultural mores as well as sex discrimination. The documented evidence of muscular women can be seen in photographs. Acrobats, circus strong women, and performers were present in the 19th and early 20th century. Katie Sandwina was known for her feats of strength involving barbells and lifting men overhead. Joan Rhodes also would follow in this tradition of the strong woman act. Out of this emerge a weightlifter culture, which is bigger today in terms of popularity. Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting would not be at the same status, if it were not for the strong women and strong men of the previous two centuries.

Another case at least in art, was how Michelangelo depicted muscular women in his art during the Italian Renaissance. There are vary rare cases in which muscular women are depicted in art history. This does not mean that women were not athletes. Artifacts and artwork discovered from ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Minoan civilization reveal that the female athlete is hardly a modern phenomenon. Women participated in footraces, wrestling, bull leaping, and javelin. The difference is the amount of opportunity women have and the access to fitness facilities.   While there were women of considerable natural strength, there were no opportunities to develop it further. The women of the past either had to struggle around sex, race, and class barriers. These are still present factors, but there is more awareness and willingness to resist such aberrations of society. To say that Title IX magically produced women athletes would be false. There is a long history record of women in sports.

 There are countries in which Title IX does not exist and yet female athletes still emerge. What Title IX did in the US was allow for more female athletes to emerge and enhance their physical skills. Tackling discrimination was the major obstacle that had to be confronted. The reality was that Title IX was not specifically for sports, but part of the Education Amendments of 1972 addressing sex disparities in education. School programs were examined and it was reveal that girls were getting the least resources for sports activities. If  the schools did not adhere to federal policy, they would not receive funds from the US government. The girls who benefited from this would go on to become Olympic athletes or just your average fit woman. This female mesomorph as a paradigm owes much of existence to Abbye Stockton and Lisa Lyon. They actively trained not just for improving physical skill, but to add muscle to their bodies. This was something during their time periods, which was considered unacceptable for women.

   During Stockton’s time in the 1940s she had to battle both prejudice and myths about women and weightlifting. There were myths that said it would cause women to become infertile or harm themselves. Lisa Lyon had to struggle to compete in newly formed bodybuilding competitions, which were limited in number and had less support in the 1970s. These women contributed to overturning the notion that the female body is not designed for strength. The unfortunate aspect was that the women of the past did not benefit from legislative assistance prior to Title IX. As a public health measure it should not be under estimated. Women started to get more involved in exercise, fitness, and sports rather than just for the purpose of weight loss. The analysis is limited, due to the fact that women are competing in sports globally at higher levels. The Olympics, All Africa Games, Pan- American Games, and Asian Games show women athletes from all around the world.

Kate’s and her associate’s perspective only examines this phenomenon from a Western ( specifically American ) perspective. The physically strong woman has become a small, but growing development in the sports world. Confining it to the US would certainly be incorrect.

      This discussion inevitably goes into body image and beauty standards. For decades a tin body type has been idolized to the extent that cases of bulimia, anorexia, and obsessive dieting  have become a normal part of some women’s lives. This has been challenged with an emphasis on a curvy and larger body type as Kate reveals. The muscular body type in this obsession with appearance falls in an undefined place. There is some moderate acceptance for women with some muscle ( “tone”), yet a level of hostility to women who develop their musculature to the highest levels. Female bodybuilders not only are strong, they project a powerful image. This causes either reactions of disgust, lust, or support. Society has concepts of what a woman should be and being powerful both physically or mentally is not a part of that in the traditional view of gender roles. The recent ideal of the female body was to be considered frail and thin, not one of muscle. The muscular woman challenges this belief, by presenting another version of beauty.

According to their version of aesthetics, they are  molding flesh into a living statue. The rise of crossfit and weightlifting as a popular activity has improved the image of women with muscle.  This has been to a limited extent. There is a problem that comes with mainstreaming a subculture. It becomes too common place and loses it unique value, which made it great in the first place. There were women and men who liked the muscular look prior to this sudden mainstream trend. There is also another problem with the new “strong is the new skinny” conviction. Could it be than one unrealistic standard is being replaced by another? It would be hard to imagine in the future that women would be attempting en mass to obtain such physiques. Maybe the best result of this is that women decide for themselves what is a suitable look for them, rather than having society or mass media dictate it to them. Women who are muscular should not be afraid to call themselves muscular. The term toned has been used to mainstream the idea of women having muscle in the fitness industry. The fact is women have muscles and this can be developed to certain degrees. Societies that impose strict limitations on how women should look or  behave expose the level of male dominance and misogyny. Individuals should be free to do as they please as long as it does not harm other people. Why should a woman have to spend her time reaching a societal beauty standard? It would be better to form one to your personal preference.

        kate also acknowledges that their are men who enjoy the appearance of the physically strong woman. She does mention that women have it hard being muscular, but she does not realize male fans and supporters are also ostracized.  This mostly comes from the closed minded, people of conservative thought, sexists, or anyone who cannot tolerate anything different. It is understandable that such a pursuit would just not be someone’s preference, but there is no excuse for vituperation and vitriol. Male fans either are presented as fetishists, eccentrics, and predators. Liking muscular women is no different from liking thin women, larger women, or any other women. At no time will one ever hear the phrase ” you have a skinny woman fetish.”  Another misconception is that fans of female muscle only like this type of woman. Male fans could have numerous body type preferences. Men have a hard time too, even struggling with the fact they find this attractive. Stereotypes and popular prejudices surround fans as well as athletes. These attitudes reflect a level of narrow mindedness in regards to traditional roles in what a woman should be. Female muscle fans may not even prefer the same levels of muscularity. There are some who like a sleeker body, a mid range level, and the more hypermuscular physique. It should be understood within fitness, there are varying degrees of muscularity on women. Even within the bodybuilding sports there is fitness, figure, bikini, physique, and traditional bodybuilding.

There has evolved a wide range in which female muscle fans can choose to follow. kate also mentions that it is uncertain in which direction the muscular appearance will go. At the time of this video many elements of women’s sports were changing. Women’s MMA was just on the rise and crossfit was in its prototypical stage. While traditional bodybuilding for women was struggling, more divisions emerged which included figure, bikini, and physique. The look of the athletic female is evolving, but in different branches. Athletes do not all look the same. The way their body looks depends on both genetics and the specific sport they compete in. Athletic women  could be muscular, some could be thin and other women could be larger in body type.

As for direction, the images presented are going in multiple pathways. Each one presents a radically different notion about what a woman can achieve and be. There are advocates that want to see the female muscular image be pushed to a higher level and other who state that i has gone too far. Kate even says “she’s not a fan of the ones that can brake you over their knee.” Some fans even say some women have “crossed the line” or are “too much.” These accusations lack cogency. If one is part of the bodybuilding sports it is about sculpting the body. However, it is not solely about size. Shape, conditioning, and symmetry are critical elements that must be balanced on a physique. These should be the only legitimate criticisms directed at women in terms of physique sports. There seems to be a level of movement to the mainstream, but there are some elements that will remain subcultural. The mixed and session wrestling element will remain underground. Although harmless, it is too eccentric to find a mainstream audience. I has been present since female bodybuilding’s early years and will not disappear anytime soon.

It seems hardcore support for the larger muscular women will remain in the realm of subculture. This does not mean that in the distant future that the athletic body type will not gain some level of acceptance in the future. Women’s fitness culture has become something unique between its fans and competitors. Merely ignoring how fans play a role leaves out something critical. The less venues for fans to consume, means a large untapped market. The corporate gatekeepers of the fitness industry should recognize this and capitalize on this niche market. The internet and specifically social media has been helpful at exposing the image of the muscular woman to a wider global audience. So, it could be possible in time it will gain a larger following.

         Upon close examination, an answer can be extrapolated from the initial question. There is nothing wrong with women having muscle; it is that people’s limited views of what a woman should look like and be create objections. These beliefs are based on unrealistic beauty standards, subtle misogyny,   and the belief that women should be controlled. This control does not merely extend to what a woman can do with her life, but her own body. More extreme cases include the restriction of reproductive rights, abortion, and birth control. One method to control women was to control their bodies. Symbolically, the muscular woman challenges the notion of female frailty and weakness with an image of strength. This comes into conflict with schemata that was develop from culture or media in regards to attitudes about women. If a society only values for women for how they look or solely their reproductive capacities, women who deviate from this cultural norm will be outcasts. Unrealistic beauty standards idolize one body type over all others, which could cause mental distress and self-esteem issues in young women. This desire for an unhealthy level of thinness effects both physical and mental health. Besides anorexia or bulimia, women could put themselves at risk for osteoporosis if not receiving proper nutrition. This system wraps into a subtle misogyny which only views women as sex objects and not people. Women who refuse to follow this system set an example for others to change this defect in cultural mores. Thankfully, their has been slow change. However, some will have to adjust. Some men may just not be used to seeing women with such strength in their daily lives.

 The woman with muscle is a rarity, but not some anomaly. One of the least credible arguments against women developing strength and muscle is that it is “unnatural.” Humanity has discovered many ways to alter the body through surgery, medicine, nutrition, and one day extensive genetic engineering. We have reached a point in which our biology can be manipulated possibly leading to transhumanism. Nature can be very unpredictable in the evolutionary process, so calling something “unnatural” would be scientifically inaccurate. Genetics, nutrition, and environment can change the appearance of human populations. A muscular woman is no more “unnatural” than a tall person, short person, or thin person. Organisms thrive on genetic diversity, which is why human beings are the dominant species on the planet.  Calling such women “unnatural” is just another way to either exclude or marginalize women who are different. Another argument from detractors   is one of a beauty standard. This is relative according to who you ask and varies from culture to culture. These athletes do not do this for the approval or pleasure of men. Yet, this seems like a foreign concept to many. Although the muscular woman is not completely accepted, but is leading an unnoticed revolution.

Kate on Sports : Women and Muscle