Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Racing, And The Question of Women’s Physical Capability.

Motor sports continue to be mostly male dominated. There remains a culture that does not accept women race car drivers and doubts their capabilities. Some claims are either just unfounded when detractors voice their opinions on why women should not participate. Bernie Ecclestone CEO of Formula 1 stated that women were not strong enough for formula one racing. Although he did say women may have a future in the business aspects, he doubts that would be taken seriously as athletes. Ecclestone stated in 2016 :“I don’t know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.” His belief or rather disbelief is that women are not capable of handling the F 1 races. This has little basis in scientific foundation. Although there are sex differences related to sexual dimorphism, there are women who certainly would have enough strength to handle g forces. One would have to examine what are the physical demands for a driver and see if women could meet them. There are already women who have been race car drivers, so Ecclestone’s assessment does not seem accurate. What determines the success of the race car driver is their physical conditioning and the quality of their vehicle.

            There is a level of fitness required to drive a Formula 1 car. Having a high level of fitness reduces the level of fatigue going through laps. Cars have the ability to create up to 3.5 g of force. Drivers have to do aerobic  and strength training to handle g-forces so they can last entire sustain the force for entire races. Cardiovascular training is done ahead of the racing season and slowly reduce it as time goes by. Running, swimming and cycling are also incorporated in to training regimens.

Women have been athletes and test drivers in Formula 1 racing. Maria Teresa De Filippis was the first woman ever to race in 1958. Although other women have followed, racing and cars are still seen as a male only pursuit.

 Strength training can be very helpful, but too much muscular hypertrophy could cause complications. What drivers experience on their bodies is the force concentrated is the neck and chest muscles. The weight of the helmet and g-force can put extra strain on the neck. G-forces can make both the head and helmet weigh five times more than normal. The wonderful attribute about gym equipment it can help target specific muscle groups like the chest or neck muscles. Drivers also form “rigs” that also assist in such targeting. Although there is power assisted steering, strong arm muscles and a powerful core helps. This allows more stable control over the vehicle. This may be the most difficult part for women. Building upper body strength is more difficult for women compared to men.

F1 car

Women do not have the same structured shoulders as men. Male shoulder length tends to be broader meaning there is more muscle that can be housed on the upper body. The upper body advantage give men more of an edge, but this does not mean women cannot build strength.  Women can build strength and muscle on a weight training regimen. This does not only depend on sex or endocrinology . Genetics, somatotype, and diet are also essential. The difference is in physical fitness capacity. Men have higher physical fitness capacity due to endocrinology and body size. There are obviously women who are more than strong enough to handle a Formula 1 car. Women weightlifters, crossfit competitors, bodybuilders, tack and field athletes are notorious for their strength. They train for different tasks, so this automatically does not mean they would make the best race car drivers.

There is also the question of concentration, reaction time, and hand eye coordination. Race car driving is radically different from driving a regular car. Motor sport athletes will sometimes use batak reaction board to train for races to improve elements of reaction time.There does exist a difference in male and female reaction time. According to some studies men respond faster to visual and audio stimuli. Reflexes described in this context refers to how fast a person can react to stimulus. This could be a factor when a racer is driving and hitting the break of the car. The muscle fiber type that would be most useful would probably be type II. However, there is an amount of endurance required to handle such races.

Muscles of the core are pivotal to race care drivers. Arm strength and muscles of the upper body are required for steering. 

There also needs to be a focus on leg strength as well. A driver must generate at least an estimated 80 kilograms to hit the breaks for stops. Having strong legs is good, but more muscle mass does not equate to automatic efficiency. A racer could use the brake up to 1,500 times in a race. This is the section of the body were women are closer to men in terms of strength. The difference is in the structure of the pelvis. This would not effect women in the care as much, because they are not running. The pedal of an F1 is entirely different from a regular car. It requires more force for gaining speed. This means the driver would have to be able to hold a minimum of 90 kg (198 lbs) on a leg press machine. Driving does involve the legs extensively.

leg-pressThe driving of an F1 car involves both the upper and lower body. Contrary to popular belief, there is a level of fitness required to handle cars like these. Strength and cardiovascular fitness can be out to the test under the strains of a race. The circulatory system must be in optimal condition for the sake of endurance. There are no breaks or rest periods during the race. During competition body temperature and blood pressure can increase. Races could be up to two hours long. The heart beat per minute can increase during the race. The average person has a resting heart beat of 70 bpm (beats per minute ). For a race car driver it can be up to 50 bmp or higher when in racing competition. Due to increased heat, dehydration could be a possible threat to an F1 driver. Even when motor athletes drive in moderate climates, they still can perspire up to three liters.

Having the biggest muscles may not be helpful in a race. Large mass could just more effect from g-force.  Tia Norfleet and Danica Patrick are not at the same strength levels as Kira Neuman or Mah-Ann Mendoza. Yet the bodybuilders would not be the best race car drivers. 

The driver’s blood pressure can increase up to at least 50 percent. This also proves to be a complication for women. The average woman’s heart beats faster compared to men. Women’s hearts and lungs are also smaller compared to men. The heart is structured as a four chamber pump which has two blood receiving chambers. These are the left and right atria. The left and right ventricles with beats from the heart force blood into the arteries. The cardiovascular condition can be changed through training. Trained athletes have slower heart rates compared to non-athletes. The female athlete’s heart still beats faster compared to the male athlete or regular exerciser .


This explains why aerobic training can be important to the motor sport athlete. What controls the heart rate in the human body is cells known as sino-atrial node. What these cells do is act like a natural pacemaker. Depending on the information from nerves the cells will either lower or increase the heart rate. Women respond in a similar fashion except for they are programmed for a higher heart rate. Endurance and strength are needed. Women can handle F1 cars if trained physically for the rigor. There are biological and anatomical considerations that should be noted in training.

          Diet is also essential to athletes. Food provides energy for the body and sustains it for exercise. Race car drivers follow a specific diet. Drivers have protein and carbohydrates in their diets. Chicken or fish can sometimes be consumed for pre-race meal. Vegetables are also part of a drivers diet. Rice and pasta, which are carbohydrates are also consumed to give an athlete a boost of vital energy. The consumption of water is necessary to avoid dehydration.Diets and nutrition for female athletes has to be adjusted for metabolic differences. Women have higher body fat percentages based on hormones. Knowing this it means that women consume huge amounts of food, their activity level would have to be enough to burn necessary fat. Eating less actually can be counter productive in the process. This can cause metabolic slowdown resulting in weight gain. The body needs the right amount of calories and physical activity to manage weight.

 Women have to be careful to eat the right amount of calories to meet metabolic demands. A female race car driver can benefit from a specific diet that can help with races. Exercise and diet can make a woman’s body strong enough for F1 cars.

        G-force will be a physical property that the body must confront in F1 races. G-force is the amount of pressure produced from gravitation on an accelerating object relative to free fall. Seeing as there are so few F1 women drivers it is uncertain if g-force causes extra strain on the female body. Fighter pilots and aerobatic pilots experience g-force. There are women who are fighter pilots that experience g-force at higher levels. The majority of g-force experienced by a fighter pilot aligns mostly with the spine. The F 1 driver has  the g-force focused mostly at right angles to the spine. This comes down to the question of g-force tolerance. There may not be a specific body type that is best for g-force tolerance. The force an effect the neck , ribs, and hips. Some drivers report that they feel as if they are being squeezed. It is possible that a larger person with more body fat could tolerate higher g-forces. The circulation limits blood flow, but the issue would be other physical strains.

Ecclestone’s comments and claims start to collapse when examined from a scientific perspective. Based off the g-force that women fighter pilots experience, there should be no reason that women would have difficulty with a Formula 1 car. Breathing control must be accounted for. While air planes have a technological solution for this, cars do not. Going above 3 gs makes it impossible to breathe as normal. Turning corners makes it more difficult. Forces can be more than a person’s weight, but for short periods of time. When analyzing the degrees of g-force it seems possible that women could be F1 racers. A fighter jet can put a pilot under the strain of 9 to 12 gs. A Formula 1 car only can produce up to 5 gs. Saying that men will be better drivers simply because they are stronger is incorrect. There are women who are actually stronger than F 1 racers. Mark Webber  during his racing career weighed 69 kg. If compared to bodybuilder Colette Nelson during her career,  it seems that she would be stronger based on her 79 kg weight (off season). Force equals mass times acceleration, so based off of weight it would appear she would able to generate more power.

Webber stands at 182 cm, while Colette stands at 165 cm. It is uncertain what Webber bench pressed or lifted during his career, but it is certain that Colette could do more. Now this would not make Colette the best race car driver,but it would be in her capability if she adjusted her training for such a pursuit.  Other factors such as reflexes or driving skill are also part of being a motor athlete. Anyone can drive a car, yet there is a level of skill that the race car drive must have to be on the track. Also there must be a consideration of g-force and how to cope with it during races. This may be the most difficult physical strain on the body. Experienced racers say that after a while the body can adjust, but it is more difficult getting acclimated to when starting.

      The reason there are not more F1 female drivers is not entirely based on biology. There are social barriers. Cars are still viewed as a male only passion. Seeing as it is mechanical and engineering based there is a bias that women are not capable of such aptitude. Motor sport and race car driving as seen as quintessentially male. F1 is seen as one of the most prestigious races in the motor sport world. Many men aspire to become start racers, but it is more difficult for a woman. Prejudice and financial constraints continue to burden women’s sports. Women are slowly in small numbers integrating into motor sports. The problem is the culture of extreme machismo and lack of female interest. There is exclusion that is combined with women not willing to take a risk and try something different. If women want a place in motor sports, they have to increase their participation rates and  encourage other women to join. So it cannot be entirely men’s fault in terms of  the condition of women in motor sports.The frailty myth still exists in one way or another with the idea that women are biologically and physically inferior. Sexual dimorphism does not indicate inferiority. If women are to be successful in F1  they should have training tailored to reaching specific fitness goals.  The question that emerges is which training method is better. Weight training and endurance training can have a benefit to the motor athlete. Dr. Riccardio Cecarrelli who works with F1 Lotus Teams stated that strength is not the only physical fitness element a driver needs. Dr. Cecarelli also said the emphasis should be on mental training as well. Drivers have to be alert and able to concentrate during races. His philosophy is in order to achieve an optimum training should be spent 30 % physical exercise and 70% mental training.  Women may not be driving the best cars in particular races. Women may need more time to physical adapt to the demands of racing. What can be reached as a conclusion is that women can be F1 racers if given the opportunity and correct training. Bernie Ecclestone’s convictions are not based on scientific fact or credible evidence. There is change occurring and it may not be a surprise to see more women race car drivers in the coming decades.


 Norton, Charlie. “Formula One Drivers Feel the G-Force.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 10 May 2010,

Edrington, Allison. “Does Gender Affect Reflexes?” Healthfully, Healthfully,
Rosenberg, Warren. “What Is the Difference Between Male & Female Heart Rates?”LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 11 Sept. 2017,
Cespedes, Andrea. “Does Eating More Boost Your Metabolism?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 18 July 2017,
Barretto, Lawrence. “Where Are All the Female Formula 1 Racing Drivers? – BBC Sport.” BBC News, BBC, 2 June 2012,
Auty, Ben. “Formula 1: Are F1 Drivers Considered Athletes?” Bleacher Report, Bleacher Report, 12 Apr. 2017,
“Driver Fitness.” Formula 1® – The Official F1® Website,
Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Racing, And The Question of Women’s Physical Capability.

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

Black Power : A Celebration of Black History Month through Photographs of Athletes

Femuscleblog wants to celebrate women of color who represent various sports and fitness fields through photography. These photo collections feature women throughout the African Diaspora. Femuscleblog wants to thank the women who represent their sports and the motherland.

Black Power : A Celebration of Black History Month through Photographs of Athletes

The Female Muscle Fetish : Psychological, Biological, and Social Causes

The female muscle fetish can  be classified as a separate entity.  Although cratolagnia and sthenolagnia are closely related to it, female muscle as a stand alone sexual fetish has become something unique. Sthenolagnia is arousal from displaying strength or muscles. This is mostly about showing the muscles. Cratolagnia is arousal from the display of physical strength. The female muscle fetish encompasses more than that. There is an entire culture that has emerged around it. Wrestling, art, and fictional written stories are part of this subculture. The female muscle fetish by definition is men who love the look of the strong physique on women to varying degrees and idolize it as a great standard of beauty. This does not just include athletes, but any woman with some muscle development.  There has been a movement to accept larger women and the mainstream still up holds the thinner body type as ideal. Yet, this is changing. Different forms of beauty and ideas about women’s bodies are developing. Gradually, there is more acceptance, than in previous generations. The athletic figure on women has more visibility than ever. This is mostly due to television and the internet. Crossfit, bodybuilding, and other sports have allowed men to see highly developed female bodies. There could be psychological, social, and biological reasons why some men have the female muscle fetish.

       Some basic definitions should be understood before examining the female muscle fetish as a whole. Cratolagnia is more about showing one can be strong. Just being muscular does not automatically make a person strong. Big muscles do not always mean more physical strength. A weightlifter who is smaller could lift more than a much larger bodybuilder. The factors are related to body composition and the specific type of muscle fiber, A person with cratolagnia would be more impressed with a woman who is just strong. They may not have as much muscle, it is just the about the act of demonstrating physical power.

If a woman was muscular,but did not have the strength someone with cratolagnia would not be amused. They would not fall under the female muscle fetish category. However, if the muscular woman is very strong, then it is possible such a man can have both cratolagnia and the female muscle fetish. Sthenolagnia puts more emphasis on the muscle its self. It is not so much actually being strong, but looking the part. A woman could perform strength feats, but may not have muscular development that is noticeable. Biceps, abs, glutes, or legs are of importance to the man with the female muscle fetish. This emphasis on particular body parts is not new to concepts of physical attraction. Every man has an idea about what is the most attractive part of a woman. Traditionally, the lower body specifically the posterior has been a major beauty mark. Legs are also an area of interest. The woman who seeks muscular development only enhances these areas to a greater degree. The hourglass shape is almost more exaggerated relative to a higher extent of upper body development.

These two fetishes are related, but are not the same in terms of definition. They have similar connotations in the sense that it favors a woman with a highly developed physicality. Then it should be noted that there is a difference between sexual fetish and paraphilia. Paraphilia  is extreme behavior that sexual arousal can only occur when the action or object is present. It can be distinguished by the fact that the individual becomes obsessed and are dependent. More men are likely to have paraphilia. The causes of these disorders can range from psychoanalytic or  behaviorist  psychological explanations. Psychoanalysts believe it is a person either reverting to an earlier stage in life. The behaviorists claim that it comes from conditioning. This means an individual must have learned an inappropriate behavior at some point in life. Liking muscular women could not count as a paraphilia. A sexual fetish is arousal based around a non-living object or a body part not part of the reproductive system. This is harmless in comparison to extreme paraphilia. However, there is a difference in sexual expression among individuals. This makes it difficult for psychologists and sexologists to classify what constitutes normal sexual behavior. The man with the female muscle fetish may express this through muscle worship or mixed wrestling.

This can not be considered paraphilia either. Although some might mistake it for BDSM. The goal of  mixed wrestling is to see how powerful the woman is and show off muscle. The intent is not entirely pain based or dominance. Mixed wrestling can be competitive, semi-competitive, or fantasy. Fantasy takes the least amount of effort, because it is acting and has elements of role play.  Muscle worship is the fetish behavior, which a man would admire the muscles of  a muscular woman. There is rarely wrestling involved in the behavior. Many fetishes that fall under female muscle overlap. Lift and carry, scissors, and arm wrestling can be part of the female muscle fetish. At times for the sake of clarity an all encompassing term can be used to describe these behaviors. There are stereotypes that have been associated with the female muscle fetish that do not represent reality.The notion that the muscular woman is a powerful dominatrix seems to have emerged in the subculture. Women who do session wrestling are not all involved in dominance.

This is a prejudgment based on the women’s appearance. The assumption is they must be dominating if they are so strong. That notion lacks credibility,due to the fact such an attribute has to do with personality and temperament. A dominatrix would rarely have a physique comparable to a female athlete. Then there also is the image that all men who have the female muscle fetish are schmoes. Men who are schmoes are hardcore fans of female bodybuilding and like the most muscular women. A man with a female muscle fetish would enjoy all ranges of physiques. It is also a myth that this would be the only type of female body that is sexually attractive to  them. Normally, their preference for female physiques varies vastly. Men who love female muscle would still see that there are other types of beauty.They may have more than just one attraction.

There seems to be more of an acceptance of larger women. No one calls this a fetish, yet curves are praised. It is rare that an attraction to thin women is called a fetish. Society is slowly understanding there are multiple forms of beauty and it can vary depending on the culture.



The woman sculpting her physique is essentially building curves. There is bias against women who do  not fit into the mainstream version of beauty. However, people reject the mainstream versions and choose to develop their own paradigms. Considering the female muscle fetish is not widely accepted men with it are either secretive or not as open about it. There may be more men who like muscular women. There has not been a quantitative gathering of data to know just how many do. Understanding the difference in terminology can help clarify the elements of the female muscle fetish.

        There is a psychological reason for why men may have the female muscle fetish. It has been hypothesized that many fetishes start during puberty when boys and girls reach sexual maturity. It is not just the physical body that is growing it is also the mind. Adolescents during this period develop a sense of awareness about sexual impulses and feelings. This also involves youth exploring their bodies. Masturbation is a common expression of sexual impulse that both men and women engage in during adolescence. During this period sexual orientation also develops. There are multiple sexual orientations which include heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality. It is difficult to get an accurate measure of sexual behavior, due to the fact many are based on anonymous surveys. Many respondents probably would not be truthful, due to the taboo surrounding copulation and human sexuality. There is a change in the mind that occurs with increase in sex hormones. Testosterone and estrogen can effect the mind as well as behavior. Testosterone plays a role in both sexes  in terms of healthy sexual functioning. A man with a female muscle fetish clearly developed a psychological association with that image. Seeing such an image it creates an association of pleasure that could either be conscious or subconscious.

There exists in a person’s mind a sense of psychological sexual motivation. Unlike food or water, sex is not an urgent need for survival. People can live without it and not face the threat of death.  Biological drives such as sex can influence behavior. There are culture specific rules that dictate sexual practices or social rules. Traditionally, in American and Arab cultures homosexuality was  seen as abnormal, while in Polynesian civilization it had acceptance. The rise of the sexual revolution in the United States gave way to more open discussion about human copulation and sexuality. Many times it was either taboo or for some too embarrassing to  discuss. There was also too much misinformation or myths surrounding human sexuality. Sex is not homeostatic, which means that the body will not return to a state of equilibrium after the act. The motive for sex in an animal species is the need to have offspring that will spread particular genes. This functions on sex and natural selection. Social motivations are complex in regards to endocrinology and environment. Marriage, relationships, and courtship are dictated by cultural mores and societal standards. During adolescence men are developing ideas about what type of body they find attractive on a woman. It is obvious this may not be regulated to a few attributes, but many and changes overtime. Sexual arousal is not just a physiological response; it is also a mental one. Psychological research indicates that a fetish can emerge by imprinting and conditioning experiences. Seeing a muscular woman on TV or in real life could induce this process. To an extent it may be a form of classical conditioning. This would mean that the female muscle fetish could be of the realm of behavioral learning . Behavioral learning functions on both stimuli and responses. The muscular woman would be the stimuli and the man’s attraction could be the response. This could be more of a reflex to the stimuli. Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936)  explored the idea of classical conditioning through experimentation with dogs. The dogs were put in a restraining apparatus and presented with neutral stimulus ( tone ). Doing this made form a neutral stimulus became a conditioned stimulus with the sound of the bell. The dogs would salivate when hearing that noise. It is a possibility exposure in youth to strong women can produce the female muscle fetish in a classical conditioning like manner.

Some psychologists have suggested that fetishes come from displacement. This is a term used to describe the process in which individuals shift their reactions to an event to another source. It is possible that the female muscle fetish could be displacement for some event in an individual’s life. This is sometimes the case with extreme paraphilia in which the people with the condition did not get affection or attention in early childhood. They displace their emotions into inanimate objects or other activities. While it could be the case that the female muscle fetish is part displacement, men who have it do not have all tragic childhoods. There is a possibility that a small portion of men have displacement for a loving mother figure. The lack of love or support could cause such fetishes to develop, but this may not count for the majority.

These are the major perspectives in the field of psychology. These are views psychologists take in approach to study and academic investigation.

Behaviorists and Freudians come to major disagreements about the nature of the mind and scientific application. To the behaviorists if  elements of the human mind or function of learning could not be observed it was not scientifically credible. Sigmund Freud (1856- 1939) was a proponent of psychodynamic theory. These concepts and ideas emphasized unconscious motivation and the impact of the past on mental disorders.  The problem is that it is difficult to observe the unconscious mind. What Freud did to peer into the unconscious mind was to utilize psychoanalysis. This system of treatment involved therapeutic methods to unleash hidden conflicts , memories, and urges. Freud developed these theories without the aid of modern neuroscience or brain scans. This explains why some elements of his theories are either challenged or could be discredited, yet there are still adherents in the 21st century.

These are the modern branches of psychology.

Freud may have been correct that people do go through a process of psychosexual development. The oral stage of life involves children be dependent on their parents. This is a stage in Freud’s theory were an infant has no other interest than to eat and cry. The anal stage is a period in which infants start toilet training and learning self control. The phallic stage is a period in which a person becomes aware of their sexual desires. The problem with Freud’s theory is that men experience an Oedipus complex at a certain stage of youth. it does not take into account the differences in female sexual development or he just refused to recognize that women have sexual urges as well. There is a period of latency in which people learn to deal with sexual desires and impulses. The final stage is the genital stage in which sexual relationships have developed and energy is displaced into other activities. A more healthy relationship is then established with the individual’s parents. The problem with this theory is that it does not account for sexual and psychological changes over a lifetime. The Oedipus complex is not a common occurrence and there is limited data to suggest that this a standard part of sexual development in males. Freud may have seen the the female muscle fetish as displacement or  unconscious  Oedipus complex behavior. These are the wrong conclusions due to the fact everyone’s childhood and development as a person differs. That is why modern psychology takes into account culture and ethnic differences. The problem with early psychology is that it believed Western Europeans were the default of humanity.  Cross cultural psychology attempts to reverse this narrow minded view. Freud viewed masturbation and homosexuality as signs as abnormal behavior. These were obvious biases of his time. Modern psychology does not hold those views. The Freud’s theory can only minimally describe the changes that occur from childhood to early adulthood. Relevant to the female muscle fetish it may not be the best theory for description. Women contrary to popular belief, also have urges and are not passive receivers of male advances. For a long period of time women were forced to be as demure as possible about their feelings and sexual urges. It is very possible that women could have fetishes as well. Although men are thought to have more fetishes, it could be women are not as willing to be honest about theirs.

 There could be some women who like the idea they can wrestle a man into submission. This may be arousing to them as well. Too often when session wrestling is investigated it is assumed the woman is just a passive instrument. This is not the case, because it is social interaction between two people. It cans be presumed that women can also have a muscle fetish. They may have this more so than men. Traditionally, it was acceptable for women to admire a strong male physique. Women who engage in physique sports like the idea of muscle on both sexes and regard it as another paradigm of beauty. Psychology when it emerged as a science did not focus much on women. It even had elements of sexism and racism as well as class prejudices of the late 19th to early 20th century. Its association with eugenic and unsubstantiated theories caused the rise of multiple perspectives. The pyschodynamic and behaviorist ideas may explain some causes of the female muscle fetish, but not all.

      Biological and evolutionary psychology could provide some clues to why some men have the female muscle fetish. Biological psychology puts emphasis on the search for the link between behavior and the brain. This perspective utilizes brain scanning equipment and neuroscience. What it seeks to do is understand the mind through brain activity in response to certain events or stimuli. This has contributed much to the understanding of memory, emotion, learning, and what is the basis of mental disorders.  The human brain hold the key to understanding the mind. It is a complex organ responsible for thought, emotions, involuntary motions, and management of the body. The nervous system is an essential network of the human body. Relevant to the discussion of responses the hypothalamus is a major contributor. This gland has the task of regulating behavior which includes sleep, stress response, thirst, and hunger. This gland also is responsible for secreting hormones that influence emotions and arousal. Men with the female muscle fetish if shown an image of such a woman  may have activity aroused in this area of the brain. This fetish along with others could be a biopsychological response.

The hypothalamus is sometimes referred to as the master gland due to its importance to the endocrine system.

Evolutionary psychology believes that behavior came from the tendencies inherited from humanity’s past. There are millions of years of human evolution and with it behaviors that have remained ever since. They do not ignore that environmental forces have an influence, but natural selection still remains a force in the animal kingdom. Certain characteristics may have been favored over others resulting in particular behaviors. Organisms that could acclimate to particular environments were the fittest for survival. This female muscle fetish could be men’s desire to produce strong off spring. The idea of physical strength could be a trait of natural selection acting upon men and women. Sexual cues and sexual scripts could be the product of the evolutionary past acting on present behavior. Genetics evolutionary psychologists believe influence behavior. The goal of any organism is to leave as many offspring as possible. The reproductive strategy for humans in accordance with evolutionary psychology was that males evolved to have more partners, while women were more cautious in mate selection. This may explain why women invest more time in child rearing and men have little investment in it. Sexual motivation differs for the sexes in this perspective. Females only seek mates for status and protection, while males seek women who are the most fertile. This may explain why men may show more interest in sex than women. It may also explain why women think of it terms of both long term and committed relationships. Yet, cultural impacts also influence this. Men could be encouraged to be more promiscuous as a demonstration of masculinity, while women are more restricted. Promiscuity in women has traditionally been seen as negative. Psychology had long debated nature versus nurture, it should be understood that it is a combination of both. Both nature and nurture act in collaboration. The female muscle fetish does have a biological root, but the social as well as environment factors cannot be ignored.

          Environment and socialization are major factors on individual  preferences and biases. The consumption of media has reached new levels with the internet, social media, and other modes of communication. Through media certain images a presented. The image of the strong woman has been presented to many over various forms of pop culture and entertainment. Female athletes have more exposure than in previous generations. There was a period in which finding images of physically strong women would be rare.Now with powerful search engines like Google simply entering the term “muscular woman” or “female athlete” can produce thousands of images. It is obvious that having this level of exposure alters opinions. This socializes consumers to seeing a muscular woman as not an abnormal thing. A paradigm shift has occurred through elements of advertisement. Young are more susceptible to this because they can be easily influenced and the are big consumers of social media content. A young man who runs across such images of strong women and repeatedly looks at them has gradually been socialized to to like it.

There exists separate from mainstream culture many subcultures in societies. This contains material and non-material elements. There has existed a female muscle fandom subculture that developed from  the bodybuilding world. When female bodybuilding emerged as a sport it created a unique culture that involved both fans and athletes. One activity was the rise of both session and mixed wrestling. The female muscle fetish could have been an outgrowth of this subculture. Schmoes are hardcore female bodybuilding fans who sometimes pay to have wrestling sessions with female bodybuilders.Mixed wrestling is different because it just involves men and women wrestling in various venues. Session wrestling has been a method for some athletes to fund their sports endeavors, when the industry pays very little. The lack of sponsorship or endorsement from the fitness industry leaves women with few options. Instead they start their own business in session wrestling in which there is no corporate gatekeeper between them and the consumer. Mixed wrestling itself can be seen as an entertainment genre over the internet. This was pioneered in the late 1970s by Bill Wick and expanded even more with the rise of internet access. Sites like Scissorvixens or Utopia Entertainment videos are just a few that regularly produce videos. This is for the female muscle fan who would rather watch a match than be in one.

This high amount of availability over the internet gives people more exposure to muscular women. Men may stumble upon it and be curious about it. Seeing as information is at one’s fingertips  this only causes a person who wonders to discover more. It is also easier to connect with people who have a similar interest faster. It appears that the attraction has generated a cultural meme through technology. It is possible having exposure to the subculture surrounding female bodybuilding and the much wider fitness culture could cause a female muscle fetish. Exposure and access to certain images and materials has an effect on socialization.

          There has been in a sense a slight cultural paradigm shift. The concept of the strong woman is gaining some acceptance. There passage of Title IX in the US opened the door to new opportunities for women and girls to become involved in sports. It came at a time in which women were gaining political and social power in society in the feminist movement. The female athletes of the ancient past to 20th century faced sigma and ridicule. Strict gender roles and conservative attitudes perceived strong woman as unfeminine. That changed with more open minded attitudes about what a woman can do or be. The physically strong woman image began to appear in the mainstream culture. Women in other sports began to train their bodies with weights. Lifting and building muscle was not seen as the sole domain of men. Such physiques have been seen on television. Women were not afraid to show off powerful looking bodies and some men were not hesitant to show their admiration.

Although there are a number of detractors to women’s involvement, it is not possible to halt their advance. Female muscle has entered the mainstream to some degree through the sports world. They are not doing this to please men, but for their own personal reasons. That does not mean men have not taken notice and others love the development. Women themselves are slowly seeing it is okay to be strong and have muscle. Sometimes a man with a female muscle fetish got media exposure of a developed female body during youth and the image remained in their mind. Entertainment is a refection of the culture at large. There seems to be a celebration of strong women in many variations presented in popular culture. This could range from film, TV, or printed media.  There are even shifts in the fitness culture. The new maxim is “strong is the new skinny.” Toning as some call it, is nothing more than women building some muscle. Fitness is no longer a male only activity and there seems to be a movement toward acceptance.

 Alicia Vikander trains for Tomb Raider

Magazines do feature more female athletes and present a powerful image. While print publications are slowly fading, there is a boom in online publication. Users can get information faster compared to print. This gives the female athlete more exposure. 

Wonder Woman used female athletes as extras to play amazons in the film. Here is crossfit athlete Brooke Ence.

Body image ideals do shift overtime and it is possible another one is occurring. The other possibility is that more people are becoming accepting of different versions of beauty. Certainly exposure helps people understand and get to know that muscular women exist.From this comes some acceptance, for others it is an enthusiastic embrace. The love of the muscular female physique could also originate from other sources. The first place could be from a family environment. If one was raised in a family very dedicated to sports and physical activity the strong woman may be seen as normal. Children who have parents who are athletes may be taught to respect such activities. It is no surprise that some of the biggest schmoes in the female bodybuilding subculture are male athletes themselves. This makes sense in a way, seeing as they are in an environment in which they would be in contact with such women. Seeing as being a champion physique athlete takes much time and effort it would be difficult to start relationships with women who are not involved in the culture. Women who have the same interest may be more compatible to their lifestyle. It is clear there has been a form of cultural evolution that has emerged from fitness culture. Women are gaining political, social, and economic power yet this does not seem unusual. There is the much expected backlash and areas in which more advancement is needed. Control of the body and physical development of the body is the new frontier that women are entering. It is an understudied development .

The representations of the physically strong woman appear in various entertainment media. Comics, cartoons, and video games   present the physically strong woman to large audiences .  Some depictions can be negative or based on stereotypes, but it seems the majority are positive. There are some images that could either be classified as neutral. They neither present a negative or positive image. The impact is that these characters are seen by many children and adults. It is not impossible to believe that these images if circulated could induce the female muscle fetish. Environment, society, and culture play a role as well as biology.

           Biology is the the study of life. Relevant to the discussion of desires, there should be some basic understanding of the nervous system. This organ system is essential to the function of the human body. Neurons are the cells responsible for the foundation of the nervous system. These specialized cells are estimated to be up to 100 billion in the brain alone. They compose a communication network sending information and receiving it to maintain operation of the body. The neuron has basic structures that have certain tasks. The cell body (soma)  contains the nucleus . The nucleus also has genes that provide instructions. Genes are responsible for nervous system formation during the prenatal period. The structures of the neuron are involved in processing information.


The dendrites act as communication links between other neurons. This is where the signal is received. Receptor sites also contribute to the process. Axon terminals then send messages . The action potential or neural impulse is the electrical signal in transit. The myelin sheath acts as an insulator and contributes to the speed of action potentials. The nervous system is the master control system of the human body. If it were to completely shut down, that would be the end of life. neural communication does occur electrically, however it is estimated that 99 % happens chemically. The synapse acts as a connector between axon terminal and receptor site. Neurons do not have a direct connection to one another and the synapse must act as a bridge.

 The nervous system can be divided into two parts. The central nervous system consists of the spinal column and the brain. The spinal column contains bundles of neurons that communicate with the rest of the body. This is known as the spinal cord. The brain is the director of activity. There is a protective structure known as the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid. The skull protects the brain where it is encased. The peripheral nervous system consists of two parts. These include the somatic and autonomic nervous system. This system requires the work of both afferent neurons and efferent neurons. Afferent neurons must send information to the nervous system. The efferent neurons must send information from the nervous system. The subdivision of the somatic system uses afferent neurons to relay signals from sensory receptors in the eyes and ears. they are also collecting information from receptors involved in taste, touch, and smell. This subdivision is also responsible for fine and gross motor activity. It has been theorized that smell plays a role in sexual attraction, mostly the work of pheromones. One type of pheromone known as a releaser which contains    androstenone, androstadienone and androstenol could be active in human beings. There is a science of sexual attraction that is still unknown and being examined. It is more than just culturally or socially based; it is both biological and anatomical.

Structures of the brain can influence behavior and emotional states. The female muscle fetish could be part somatic nervous system based. The autonomic nervous system must play some role as well. This subdivision is responsible for internal regulation of the human body.  This part of the nervous system is also pivotal to arousal and different emotional states. The endocrine system acts in concert with this subdivision system. It is mostly the work of the sympathetic and parasympathetic system activity. The female muscle fetish could be a response to the stimuli of the image of the strong woman. The human brain is complex. It is the product of both millions of years of evolution and genetic information. This may hold the key to explaining why  some people have predilections for certain fetishes.

        The fetish as a general concept remains a mystery. At one time there was a separate classification. Partialism was a term once used to describe arousal from body parts not related to the reproductive organs. The fascination  posterior or legs  for example could fall under this classification. The DSM once separated this from fetishism, because it classified it as something different. Fetishism is no longer part of the DSM.

The man with the female muscle fetish may have a preference for a certain part of a woman’s body. Traditionally, the lower body has been emphasized. Legs and glutes tend to be major favorites. This explains why in many mixed wrestling productions there are nothing but women putting men in scissor holds. The emphasis is to see the power of a woman’s legs. This is the demonstration of partialism. The term has fallen out of use and today fetish is just used to describe a whole range of arousing inducing stimuli. Female muscle fans also have a fascination with other parts of the body. Some like biceps, abs, or a full chest.

The term fetish was coined by French psychologist Alfred Binet. He was also known for developing one of the earliest IQ tests . When he coined this term in the early 20th century There was still much unknown about sexual behavior. It was too controversial to examine academically. When the stigma and taboo were decreased scholars began serious investigation. Fetishes are not a modern day development. Such behaviors could have roots in humankind’s evolutionary history. Some psychologists claim that a fetish can be established as early as four years old. This claim would be difficult to prove as definite scientific fact, but is not impossible. Although fetishes are seen as strange, they are not unhealthy. The only way it could be unhealthy is if it causes harm to the individuals or others. People may have a number of sexual kinks which describe a number of sex practices. According to a study from the University Bolongna the common fetishes are ones related to feet, stockings, boots, or gloves. These were once again based on surveys, so it may not be clear how precise they are. The female muscle fetish may not be as large, but the possibilities are bigger when considering the global population. The term fetish suggest that there some pathological behavior involved. There is not correlation between pathological behavior and fetishes. The appearance of fetishes can be the result of sexual expression.

Each individual has a “turn on” which technically is sexual expression. This is the reason why some couples may engage in role play or other types of activities. There is a ritual in this process. Alfred Kinsey was the pioneer of sexual science who in the 20th century interviewed 17,000 Americans about their sexual behavior. His work was done in the 1940s and 1950s during a period in which sexuality was not openly discussed. The data he collected was an important resource for future scholars. William Masters and Virginia Johnson went beyond surveys and actually examined sex in a laboratory. They observed people engaging in sexual activity of various types from copulation and masturbation. For the first time there was actual documentation how men and women physically and physiological react during sex. They discovered that men and women function on a sexual response cycle. This happens in four stages which includes arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. A fetish would probably fall under the arousal stage in the sexual response cycle. A fetish may just merely be another way people express their sexuality.

      Evolution and genetics must play a role to a degree. Genes are segments of DNA which has a presence in the nucleus of the cell. Genes are important to the process of heredity and sexual reproduction. Genes are also involved in the production of proteins. It is important to understand that there are multiple genes that are responsible for various traits of an organism. Genes are in larger groups known as chromosomes .Genotype does not always link to phenotype. Genes do not always determine physical characteristics. Genes may give potential for what traits a person has ( body type or height ), but environment can influence phenotype ( exercise and nutrition can dramatically change the physical characteristics of the body ). Genes can be capable of polygenic expression. Numerous genes could contribute to particular traits of a person. The study of genetics has reveal much about human evolution. The brain has become more complex with the increase of endocranial volume. The cerebrum became bigger compared to our early primate ancestors. Humanity was given a new power of introspective thought, reasoning, language, and the ability to produce art. The body was not just changing physically; humanity was morphing psychologically.

Genetic mutation, genetic drift, and anatomical changes would lead early homo genus species to change in both phenotype and genotype. 

As the human brain became more developed so did emotions and behaviors. Richard Dawkins an evolutionary biologist describes the way genes spread similar to a computer program. The self gene wants to preserve particular traits and continues to propagate through other organisms. Altruism may not be the product of group benefit, but rather the desire to see certain genes spread through a biome. Genes and phenotype play a role in sex selection. The reason men and women may find certain traits attractive is because it is biology, genes, and past history of human evolution producing these feelings or actions.


It is not impossible that the rise of the fetish that is just now being studied in human sexual behavior, was present in the homo genus species. The whole basis of sexual drive and motivation is influenced by the need for humanity to produce offspring. What is called love may just be nothing more than a biological impulse, rather than an emotional relationship.Human evolution has been a process that took close to 5 to 7 million years. Human are part of the family hominidae. Primates derived from a common genetic ancestor, which explains why humans share genetic similarities to chimpanzees. Human emerged recently compared to other organisms.  It is estimated humanity made its appearance close to 150,000 years ago. More is being revealed from fossils and from biogenetics. Charles Darwin was the pioneer of evolutionary theory suggesting that natural selection operates on selecting particular traits for an environment. Herbert Spencer coined this term and his views were strongly associated with social Darwinism. Such ideas were applied to social problems and justified discrimination as well as class structure. This idea is part of the realm of pseudoscience. While social Darwinism as a scientific idea has been discredited, the term survival of the fittest is no the best description either. Rather it is the survival of the best acclimated in an ecosystem  organisms who can produce the most  offspring . Fitness in this this terminology means the organisms who are successful at producing offspring. This is by definition direct fitness. This does not mean the strongest people will survive. A weak person could reproduce many children and would be in terms of  Darwin’s theory fit for survival. They are passing on genes and traits more so compared to others who are not successful at doing so. This is not as simple as it seems. Offspring are not exact  genetic blends of their parents. Darwin’s theory of evolution also describes indirect and inclusive fitness.

Fitness used in an evolutionary context does not mean the strongest will dominate. It is referring to chances of producing offspring so that genes can spread. 

What actions organisms take are to ensure survival and the production of more offspring. Inclusive fitness involves a group in which certain behaviors contribute to the survival of the species. This explains why human being are social animals. The evolutionary past require some level of cooperation among a family, clan, or kinship group.  This does not mean there is no competition for mates. The reason sexual dimorphism exists in certain animals is that it is part of sex selection. Physical differences act as a tool of attraction. It is not impossible to say that the female muscle fetish is rooted in evolutionary history. An attraction to particular features of a woman’s body may be an nonverbal signal of fitness. The trait of physical strength may be something that a man with this fetish subconsciously wants  in his offspring. This is only theoretical. There is still more to be discovered about human evolution and its relation to human sexual behavior.

         The female muscle fetish  does have a cause. Psychologically it could be based on behaviorist, psychoanalytic, or imprinting theories. A sociological perspective sees it nothing more than being placed in an environment. If one was raised in an atmosphere of female athletes or muscular women, it may become something appealing. The internet and mass media exposure does have an influence on thoughts and ideas. Biologically the brain and with the assistance of the endocrine system are responsible for sexual desire and cycles. There is the debate in regards to whether this is nature or nurture based. The answer to the question is not one or the other. Human behavior is a product of both nature and nurture. It would be erroneous to say that both stand independently of  one another. It is both interaction and collaboration that occurs between these two concepts. There still remains the puzzle to how much does one act on the individual. Sex and sexual fetish are a combination of these two concepts of nature and nurture. The psychology, biology, and the internet have demonstrated that fetishes are more common than previously thought. Fetishes are not unhealthy, but suppressing them could cause a person a level of distress. There still remains a level of stigma attached to the concept. Only further study and eliminate false notions or preconceptions. The female muscle fetish has multiple causes, but its origins remain unclear.


Zimbardo, Phillip. Psychology Core Concepts.  New York : Pearson, 2009.

Cherry, Kendra. Essentials of Psychology. New York : Fall River Press, 2010.

Perry, Philip. “Are Sexual Fetishes Psychologically Healthy?” Big Think, Big Think, 19 Feb. 2017,

Griffiths, Mark. “Survival of the Fetish.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Jan. 2014,

Gregoire, Carolyn. “The Strange Science Of Sexual Attraction.” The Huffington Post,, 14 Feb. 2015,

Spelman, Dr Becky. “Understanding Sexual Fetishes.” HuffPost UK, HuffPost UK, 31 Jan. 2017,

The Female Muscle Fetish : Psychological, Biological, and Social Causes

CNN Money : Inside the World of Women’s Tackle Football

Originally aired in 2017, this news clip exposes audiences to the world of women’s tackle football. Over 4,000 women play competitively in the United States. Sadly, they do not get the stardom or income of NFL players. There still is a major gender divide in sports in terms of  media exposure, pay, and cultural attitudes in regards to the female athlete. Football continues to be a sport that is more male dominated than others. However, that has not stop women from organizing their own leagues and playing. Women continue to be a huge part of the sports world and their numbers are increasing as fans and athletes.

CNN Money : Inside the World of Women’s Tackle Football