To See Her is to Understand Her

To understand Yvette Bova, feast your eyes on her body. It’s the right thing to do.

“It’s impolite to stare” is a common piece of advice many of our mothers and grandmothers gave to us as children.

Whether the object we were staring at was a person in a wheelchair, a short person with dwarfism, or a man wearing a dress; the point our elder was trying to make is that by staring at this person for a longer than normal amount of time, we could be making them feel uncomfortable, singled out, or “freakish.” Nobody wants to feel like a social outcast, even if their outward appearance suggests the sentiment isn’t misplaced.

To not stare is to imply that this person should be treated as “normal,” even if they are not. Or even if they are intentionally trying to not be normal. You can’t tell me someone with a face tattoo doesn’t know this will bring additional attention to their appearance. If they get annoyed with people staring and asking them questions about it, why did they acquire it in the first place?

But the point is well taken. Very few of us want to be stared at because we don’t want to feel like an anomaly. We want to be accepted for who we are and not thought of as an outlier. People who appear abnormal on the outside – for whatever reason – just want to be accepted as normal. A small child stopping, staring, and *gasp* coming up to them and asking unwanted questions violates that very principle. So mom and grandma were correct (as usual). Just put yourself in their shoes (or high heels) and ask yourself how you would like to be treated.

This same idea, naturally, doesn’t always apply to female bodybuilders. FBBs, on the other hand, look the way they look by choice. They did not get there by accident or by happenstance. An FBB’s intentional choice to sculpt their bodies to look a certain way is etched into every muscle fiber. You see a female bodybuilder’s body and you can tell – with absolutely no ambiguity – who she is, what she stands for, and what her worldview revolves around.

Debi Laszewski has achieved her Final Form.

Can you tell who she voted for in the last presidential election or whether she prefers Elvis or the Beatles? Well, no. You can’t derive information that specific, but you can certainly deduce that she works out regularly, eats differently, and can probably defeat you in an arm-wrestling contest pretty easily. That much is really darn obvious.

Unlike a burn victim whose scars will forever tell the story of that tragic incident, a female bodybuilder proactively decides to be as bulky, sculpted, and aesthetically pleasing as she wants to be. It’s a choice, not a designation. Her muscles are part of her identity; an identity that she’s chosen to craft from scratch. And her hard work must be appreciated. After all, what’s the point of looking great if no one is around to look at you?

Whenever a female bodybuilder goes out in public, she knows that she will be stared at. And not just by children, but by everyone. Most well-behaved adults will try to be as inconspicuous as possible when they look at her. Some will be more successful than others at hiding their intentions. Whether you are intrigued by what you see, disgusted, grossed out, confused, curious, or uncontrollably aroused, we can all agree that one cannot simply look upon a muscular woman and not have any kind of emotional reaction. Unless you are so accustomed to being around female bodybuilders that seeing one in public is as mundane as seeing a Seattle hipster wearing flannel. If this is the case with you, please let me know where you live ASAP!

But here’s the difference. Whereas a person with a physical deformity or handicap deserves to be treated with respect and not singled out for being different, a female bodybuilder looks different on purpose…and wants to be looked at as being unique.

This, of course, doesn’t excuse rude comments, insults, or physical harassment. Then again, why anybody would want to provoke a strong female bodybuilder who could beat your ass to a pulp is beyond me. But I digress.

Go ahead. Look at Sondra Faas. It’s okay.

FBBs know they look unusual. They know their lifestyle (hours upon hours spent lifting at the gym, strict dieting, etc.) is out of the ordinary. They know not everyone approves of a woman having big muscles. They know they’re taking a risk. They know they could fail. They know they’re challenging taboos, social expectations, and norms. But these warnings do not deter them from pursuing their dreams. In fact, the desire to openly defy these realities may be fueling their life’s work.

So when an FBB goes to the grocery store (back before everyone had to wear face masks and carry around sanitizing wipes everywhere), she can expect that people will stop and stare at her. And you know what? That’s exactly the idea. Maybe not in every case, but generally speaking. Many FBBs talk about how fun it is for people to stare at them in public. They intentionally wear tight clothing because it shows off their muscles. They aren’t annoyed by the additional attention, but rather are flattered by it. Within reason, of course.

But more than feeding one’s ego, it’s important to remember why bodybuilders – both male and female – choose to do what they do. They build their bodies up to look a certain way because it makes them feel empowered, strong, dynamic, superhuman, and yes, freakish (but in a good way). This concept goes into overdrive when we’re talking about women who pursue bodybuilding.

Men are socially expected to be strong alpha providers. While technology, science, engineering, and innovation have made “strength” in the traditional sense somewhat obsolete for survival (we no longer have to hunt and gather our food, but instead patiently wait in line at Costco at least six feet apart from each other), the symbolic importance of physical strength still survives. There’s no practical reason for Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, or Phil Heath to get as massive as they are. But there are plenty of reasons to do so from a professional perspective. You know we’ve advanced as a society when people can earn a living doing impractical – but awesome – things. Gaining hundreds of pounds of muscle isn’t going to make it easier for you to pay your mortgage, but the product endorsement deals you get because of your muscles certainly will.

Kim Buck on full display.

Okay, okay, so men are expected to be strong. We are accustomed to seeing men look big, muscular, invincible, and dominant. But what about women?

There’s no need to go too deep into this, but women are taking a much bigger risk in getting super bulky than men are. Their unnatural muscle mass makes them more unusual because we don’t expect women to ever get that big. Not because they are not able to, but because our society doesn’t encourage them to. The “strong independent woman” trope is more about attitude than it is about practicality. We want to raise our daughters to be mentally and emotionally strong, as opposed to literally strong. Unless you want your little girl to grow up to be a millionaire MMA fighter who can subsidize your future retirement.

All of this is to say that a woman with big muscles is a woman who defies social norms, whether she intends to or not. A woman gains big muscles proactively, not passively. And in doing so, she’s opening up herself to the types of criticism and backlash that a male counterpart would not face. So, what does this all mean?

This means that she is meant to be stared at. Maybe not intentionally, but in principle. An FBB is meant to be looked at. Her body of work (pun intended) is meant to be appreciated. It is meant to be a spectacle. She is a work of art who deserves to be displayed at a museum, even if this museum is more symbolic than literal. In this case, the museum she is displayed in is the real world she inhabits. A supermarket. A public park. A gym. A church. A busy street corner. A nightclub. A library. A restaurant. A bar. An airport. And so on.

Look at Kim Birtch. LOOK. AT. HER.

Wherever she is, whatever she’s doing, she’s meant to be seen. Because to see her is to understand her. You understand her raison d’etre. Her life’s purpose. Her muscles aren’t meant to be hidden. Her muscles aren’t a secret. They should be proudly exhibited as openly as possible.

Here’s a great example. Watch this video of Margie Martin at the 2019 Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championship. It shows a portion of the show where an interviewer speaks to all (or most) of the contestants in front of the whole audience. Watch and be prepared to be dazzled:

Whew! Wow!!! What a moment. What a time to be alive. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be there at that moment in time? I think many of us would have passed out if we saw Margie unexpectedly strip down to a bikini – or try our best to suppress an uncomfortable erection straining in our underwear.

This moment perfectly encapsulates what I’m talking about when I say “to see her is to understand her.” Margie’s beautiful body doesn’t deserve to be hidden underneath that dress (despite her dress leaving little to the imagination as it is). Her beautiful body deserves to be proudly presented in front of an audience of hundreds of screaming fans. Her body deserves adoration. She deserves those screams and applause. That single moment was when Margie was at the Peak of Her Purpose. When her body was being SEEN by everyone in plain sight.

Granted, it would have been socially inappropriate for her to have stripped completely naked. So sporting just a bikini was the maximum of how far she could have gone. But the larger idea remains intact: she was bare. Or as bare as she could possibly be. Her nudity (or near nudity) didn’t make her vulnerable, however. The exact opposite, in fact. Her nude state made her as powerful as she could ever be. Wearing that dress was a disservice to herself, her identity, and her very philosophical purpose. In order for her to fulfill her maximum utility, she had to be as naked as possible in front of as large an audience as possible. There’s no other way around it. It was almost a requirement. Anything less than that would have been an abdication of duty.

Once her dress came off, she had accomplished her personal version of Nirvana. She had reached her summit. Her peak. Her true self. Her real form had finally taken shape. Not just the fact that she had spent the last several months training to become as hypermuscular as possible. No, more than that. In that moment, her body was being seen by the public. By the world. By the whole universe. Even God Himself had to stop whatever He was doing and say out loud, “Damn! She looks great!!!” This was the moment when her final form had reached its zenith.

This is how a female bodybuilder fulfills her destiny. When she’s SEEN. When people are LOOKING at her. When her body is out in the open, almost as in-your-face as possible. When she’s not holding back. When her audience gets more than they bargained for. More than they wanted. More than they actually deserved. When people are staring at her, they are not only doing her a service, they are almost obliged to. We are obligated to SEE her body. We MUST stare at her because to not stare at her would be a sin. It would be a moral failure on our part.

In that moment, Margie was making a statement, whether she knew it or not. She was making a statement that her body must be looked at. Closely. Inspected. Judged. Appreciated. Loved. If you want to truly understand who Margie is and why she does what she does, all you have to do is see her.

See.

Her.

Look.

At.

Her.

Watch.

Her.

Observe.

Her.

Margie’s body isn’t just a part of her identity. It’s the very foundation of her identity. If you don’t look at her body, you will never understand who she is. You’d be a blind person trying to describe an elephant to another blind person. You can try your best but you’ll always fail. In this spirit, go ahead. Look at her. Stare at her. Feast your eyes on her. Make sure she is SEEN. When you look at her body, you aren’t just looking at her body – you’re looking at her soul.

Building muscles is her job. Seeing those muscles is yours.

The Perfectly Normal Female Bodybuilder

There’s nothing normal about Margie Martin.

Fans of female bodybuilders often describe them in the most robust and hyperbolic terms: Angels. Goddesses. Queens. Alpha females. Dominant. Powerful. Stronger sex. And so on.

While this reaction is completely understandable, it obfuscates a larger truth that, at first, may seem like an insult but is anything but: Female bodybuilders are normal people.

Wait, what?

Yes, this is true. The strong muscular ladies we love are just like you and I. Just like Hollywood celebrities who occasionally suffer through bad hair days, messy divorces, professional setbacks, and cabin fever from being quarantined indoors (although it must be nice to live in a luxurious mansion during these difficult times), at the end of the day they’re just like us. Sort of. The same is true for female bodybuilders, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.

Female bodybuilders carry an almost mythical social status to their fans. We describe them in divine ethereal terms because they do seem nearly God-like. Or sent by the gods. Or a physical manifestation of God. Or a literal god. We treat them – even though we theoretically know they’re simply human beings who’ve achieved something marvelous – like deities because bombastic terms are the only terms that seem appropriate. It feels insulting to frame them as being beautiful women with big muscles. Our descriptions of them must go the extra mile because not only do they deserve it (and they do), to not do so would seem like a gross mischaracterization.

Yet, as much overhyped praise we may shower upon them, it is valuable to remember that FBBs are simply normal human beings who are no different than the rest of us. This is important not just for ethical reasons (there is no excuse for abusing or harassing a female bodybuilder you have a celebrity crush on) but for practical reasons as well. Female bodybuilders were not born that way. They did not purchase their muscles from a grocery store or online boutique. They earned their muscles through hard work, sacrifice, grinding away day after day, and making life choices that most of us would reject in a heartbeat.

Most of us could live like a bodybuilder for a couple of weeks. But very few of us could last for several years. Or decades.

Aleesha Young didn’t get to be this way by sitting on the couch eating Oreos.

This is why for me, I do not find female muscle growth fiction (FMG) very appealing. I understand why certain people love that sort of content – both as consumers and creators – but that’s not my jam. This is no disrespect to anyone who does love FMG art, just an expression of a personal opinion. I’m not into FMG because part of the reason why I love FBBs is specifically because of the hard work and sacrifices they must endure in order to achieve their coveted physiques. The lifestyle of a professional (or dedicated amateur) bodybuilder isn’t easy. One does not become that massive by accident, happenstance, or through shortcuts (no, steroids does not automatically make you that large). It requires focus, determination, intentionality, and making difficult decisions that could have lasting repercussions.

One of the reasons I love female bodybuilders is because they “earn their beauty.” Some FBBs – and I will respectfully withhold naming any names – are not born with natural traditional beauty. But don’t worry! They more than make up for it by transforming their bodies into the statuesque figures of muscle goddesses. A woman (or man, for that matter) who isn’t blessed with genetic beauty can become an Irresistible Muscle Queen through hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and the belief that human limitations are subjective. They “earn their beauty” in the same way we earn a paycheck at work. Nobody not named Andrew Yang wants to give us money for doing nothing, so we must earn it. Likewise, female bodybuilders earn the adoration of fans like us because they too have earned it.

FBBs are perfectly normal because that is how they started out in life. “Normal” is the default, not an insult. We are all normal to a certain extent. Whether or not we transcend that normalcy is entirely dependent upon what choices we make in life. It should be obvious that every female bodybuilder has made a series of choices that make them abnormal in the eyes of society. And for the record, “abnormal” isn’t an insult, but rather a descriptor.

I love FBBs not because they are more than human, but because they are perfectly human. They are not goddesses or angels. They are regular flesh-and-blood human beings who live by the same laws of physics, science, and biology as the rest of us. They haven’t “cheated” science through divine means. Synthetic steroids and human growth hormones may seem like cheating from a competitive perspective, but it’s still science. Like I said before, steroids are not a magic potion. They’re not an elixir conjured up by a coven of witches hiding in a mountainous cave. To believe that is to misunderstand what steroids actually are.

A gorgeous shot of the beautiful Theresa Ivancik.

Setting aside the steroid debate for a moment, FBBs are especially beautiful because they have chosen a path that is scientifically feasible, but emotionally and physically difficult. It’s not a mystery how Rene Campbell became as massive as she is. We all know how she did it. In fact, thanks to social media many bodybuilders (both male and female) are remarkably transparent about their daily routine, diet, training regimen, and supplementation choices. The instruction manual has been laid out for us. But not everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and assemble the Ikea kitchen cabinet themselves.

And unlike climbing a mountain, planting a flag, and taking a selfie to prove that you did it, once you become super muscular, you must continue to work hard day-in and day-out to maintain your physique. Rene’s muscles will shrink if she stops lifting, eating right, and supplementing regularly. So in order for her to remain in top shape, she must continuously live the bodybuilder lifestyle as long as she wants to look the way she looks. But once you’ve climbed the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, you can brag about that accomplishment for the rest of your life. Nothing can take that away from you. It’s yours forever.

But a muscular physique does not last forever. It would be like climbing a mountain that never ends. Or hiking up a trail conceived by M.C. Escher – just when you think you’ve reached the top, you realize you’re still at the bottom. Which means the only way you can go is forward without risking falling backward.

Maybe this is why I always preferred the Indiana Jones, Die Hard, and Mission: Impossible movies over anything Marvel has produced over the past several years. There’s something fun about seeing a “normal” person (in Hollywood terms, I’m using that word loosely) rise up to the circumstances and defeat the forces of evil using nothing but his sheer willpower, intelligence, cunning, improvisational skills, and luck. Watching superheroes like Wonder Woman, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor smash bad guys into a pulp is fun enough, but it gets dull after the first five minutes. There’s something about having a superpower that makes the action less exciting.

Tina Nguyen rocking the yellow dress.

Likewise, female bodybuilders don’t have superpowers. They weren’t given large muscle mass by some magic spell, scientific experiment, or divine intervention. On the contrary, nobody gave it to them. They had to earn it. Bit by bit. Day by day. Little by little.

“The Perfectly Normal Female Bodybuilder” is, in fact, the highest compliment I can give someone. It acknowledges reality and expresses how impressive the existence of an FBB really is – and why we all must respect their accomplishments. She is not a freak. She is not a genetic outlier. She is not special. Rather, she is perfectly normal…and has chosen to become abnormal through readily available means and methods.

This should be a valuable reminder why we must be especially thankful to female bodybuilders (as if we really needed another reason!). We are not entitled to their existence. We do not deserve them. We do not have them because we asked nicely. FBBs exist because they choose to exist. You or I had nothing to do with it. FBBs look the way they look because they want to look that way. The rest of us are along for the ride. We are a passive audience, not an active participant. Without us, FBBs could still exist. To believe otherwise is to demonstrate a horrid lack of humility.

We should be thankful for FBBs because they have the option to “undo” their accomplishments and deprive us of their beautiful bodies. When a muscular woman decides to “retire” and give up the lifestyle, it’s understandable why many of us greet this news with the feelings of melancholy. It feels tragic because it feels like a death. Her muscles will, over time, slowly “die” and disintegrate into nothingness. The human being still lives on, but her muscles have retreated into the afterlife. However, we should also be thankful for the fact that there are hundreds of more women who will gladly take her place. So the supply chain isn’t broken. But that doesn’t mean we can’t “mourn” every loss when it comes to us.

Just as FBBs can return to “normal” after a year or two of not training and eating a high protein diet, “normal” women can become as statuesque as Cindy Landolt or Aleesha Young if they put their minds to it and do what it takes to achieve that look. “Normal” is a two-way street. Whether you’re leaning into the FBB lifestyle or taking a step back, nothing about you changes. You’re still the same mortal human being you were either way. Your outer shell can morph in a variety of ways. This doesn’t affect your inner self.

Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia looks to be feeling lucky tonight.

But if we’re being honest for a moment, that’s really what this is all about. Who you are – or can become – on the inside. What really defines us is who we are as people, not how we look or appear. Muscles come and go. Your body is just one part of your identity (albeit an important part, no doubt). The other part – arguably the most important part – is how you treat people, your surroundings, and your legacy.

Inner growth. Emotional growth. Intellectual growth. Developing into a better human being who can make a real impact in people’s lives. Isn’t that the essence of living on planet Earth for the short finite amount of time we have here? Shouldn’t we all strive to leave our planet in better shape than when we arrived on it? To say during our lifetime that we truly made a difference? Not all of us have an epic legacy that future generations will remember. Some of us will be remembered by millions, others will be remembered by a few hundred. But every one of us can control what we do in the here and now.

Nobody said it would be easy. Life throws curveballs at us all the damn time. We may occasionally swing and miss, but at least we’ll go down swinging. Female bodybuilders are teaching us this lesson: you cannot hit a homerun without swinging your bat. Staying still will achieve nothing. But this choice isn’t just reserved for an elite few. Rather, this is a choice any one of us can make.

Any one of us. No matter how “normal” you think you are.