Are Female Bodybuilders Actually Men?

Kim Buck is ALL woman.
Kim Buck is ALL woman.

The answer is simple.

No.

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Oh, were you expecting me to elaborate further?

Alright, I can do that. Judging from what WordPress tells me, the question “Are female bodybuilders actually men?” is a question that frequently brings people to my humble blog. That also includes questions similar to it such as “Are FBBs really men?” or “Do female bodybuilders become men?” Aren’t you glad we have tools like Google at our disposal in this curious age?

This curiosity is unto itself curious. Is there a small group of people in this world who genuinely think female bodybuilders are actually male bodybuilders in disguise (or female bodybuilders who’ve magically transitioned to a different gender)? Or is this meant to be a joke? Or, these folks do know female bodybuilders are actually female…but they just want to make sure? Hey, the world can be a confusing place. It never hurts to ask, right?

Uh, right. It doesn’t hurt to ask. I’m totally in favor of people quenching their thirst for knowledge. Human beings are curious creatures, which means we constantly need our curiosity taken to its rightful conclusion. Ignorance has never served anyone well, as far as I can tell.

So I have no beef against anyone who does an innocent Google search in regards to this question. It may seem silly, but I don’t think it’s spiteful. Biology can be a fascinating area of study. How can a translucent jellyfish with no discernable internal organs survive? How can some creatures like Komodo dragons and hammerhead sharks reproduce asexually? Not all of them do, but scientists have observed many of them being able to. How is that even possible?

Well, it is possible. Life is full of mysteries. This is especially true when our worldviews are perpetually being challenged, poked, and prodded. You don’t need a degree in Gender Studies from Oberlin College to know that our traditional male/female dichotomy may not always accurately describe all of us. Postmodern philosophy has broken apart our black and white way of thinking about the Universe, for better or for worse. I’ll let you decide which it is.

But what cannot be argued is the existence of doubt. Are we human beings truly born male or female? Are these the only two categories that can possibly exist? Could there be more? Or, is gender unto itself not a real thing, but instead an artificial social construct created for arbitrary reasons? To tell you the truth, I will not take a stand either way. How the heck am I supposed to know?

How can one actually think Ava Cowan is maybe a man?
How can one actually think Ava Cowan is maybe a man?

At the heart of this discussion is the concept of doubt. There are many truths that we think are true…but in the back of our minds we know that there exists the possibility that they may not. Unless we’re not terribly self-reflective, people should consistently challenge their own beliefs so that they can continue to grow and mature. It’s not a sign of moral cowardice or intellectual fraud, but rather an admission of humility. We do not know all that there is to know, and what we think we know we may not actually be right about. To admit that is to convey wisdom, not foolishness.

People who are familiar with female bodybuilders but are not closely connected with them are right to be curious. Those of us who are intimately familiar with FBBs – we either have met many of them for muscle worship/wrestling sessions or we pay close attention to them from a distance – have no doubts as to the gender identities of these gorgeous ladies. They’re women, simple and plain. Of course, they’re women whose physical appearance is unusual. But that doesn’t change who they are as people. They may not behave like “normal” women and could perhaps accomplish feats of strength that surpass that of many men, but that still doesn’t make a difference whatsoever. Female bodybuilders are female, period. There’s no argument there. However, one could frame this debate in terms of how we define “gender” to begin with.

Simply put, is “gender” a purely biological trait or is it an indicator of one’s personal identity? Without getting too deep into the weeds, let’s just say that there probably isn’t a definitive answer to this question that will satisfy 100% of us 100% of the time. We don’t live in that type of philosophical atmosphere anymore. We have far too many diverse ideas and viewpoints out there to establish any kind of universal understanding. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it could be when these differences are used to intentionally divide and conquer us.

A better angle to take is to analyze who female bodybuilders are and what makes them so special. In addition to reading every single one of my previous blog articles (which, um, you should), let’s gain a better grasp of this topic together by establishing this concept:

Female bodybuilders challenge the way we see the world.

More than anything else, this nugget of truth cuts to the core of the matter. This is the meat and potatoes of our discussion. Female bodybuilders cannot help but turn our worlds upside down. They may not intentionally try to do so, but they do so nevertheless. It’s nearly inevitable to start to rethink how we view the world when we see photos of a woman with big burly muscles. The sight of them goes against how we view femininity, masculinity, human potential, and sexuality. All our lives we’ve assumed that women are the “weaker sex.” Is this not actually true? Are women indeed the weaker sex, or are they just at a natural disadvantage? You know, sort of like a sprinter who begins the race 20 yards behind the other competitors. The sprinter can still win, but it’ll take some extra effort (and perhaps a bit of luck) to do so.

Diana Tyuleneva wearing a hot BDSM outfit.
Diana Tyuleneva wearing a hot BDSM outfit.

The presence of a woman with muscles also challenges how men view themselves. If she can get that big, why can’t I? If I’m struggling to bulk up at the gym, what excuse could I possibly have when I’m scrolling through Instagram and notice some Finnish chick named Minna Pajulahti deadlifting more than me? Female bodybuilders can, understandably, create feelings of inadequacy in guys who are already somewhat insecure about themselves. This is not an indictment. It’s just the way things are.

Seeing a woman with big muscles also begs us to ask the question: Is there a limit to what humans can do? And to be clear, this goes for both men and women. Can human beings slowly but surely evolve to be able to swim under water for hours at a time? Or fly through the sky? Or become as strong as an ox? Or upgrade our intelligence level to unprecedented heights, where we will be able to teach advanced physics to grade school children? I cannot say yay or nay, but how one cannot stop to ponder such possibilities is beyond me. After all, seeing a female bodybuilder be able to lift heavy weights at the gym is like a smack in the face. If that doesn’t wake you up to challenge your preconceived notions about the Universe, I don’t know what will.

But more than anything, female bodybuilders force us to move the goal posts in terms of what is possible and what is not possible. Don’t say that certain physical feats are impossible because the moment you do someone will come around and shatter that opinion into a million pieces. Don’t say that a woman with muscles can’t be sexy. I can provide you with a list of hundreds of names that will test that belief. Don’t doubt the fact that female powerlifters can’t surpass the accomplishments of male powerlifters. Just do a Google search of Becca Swanson. You’ll be glad that you did.

What we thought we knew we need to reevaluate. What we were taught may be wrong; even if it was taught to us in good faith. But in addition to beliefs, female bodybuilders also change the way we view sexual attraction.

Before, we assumed that people who are attracted to women are attracted to just, well, “normal” looking women. However, the discovery of muscular women (and to be fair, other nontraditional-looking ladies) throws us for a loop. We ask ourselves how we can possibly be attracted to a woman who has bigger muscles than most men. Does that mean I’m secretly gay? Or is this perfectly normal? How can I tell either way? These questions abound, much to our consternation.

Eventually, many of us will reach the conclusion that it’s perfectly fine to be attracted to muscular women because…they’re still women. Obviously, they don’t look like most other women you encounter in everyday life, but that’s not an indicator of anything unnatural. It’s unusual, but it doesn’t cross any forbidden boundaries. To repeat the answer provided at the beginning, female bodybuilders are not men. Not even close. So why is there even a debate?

Well, there deserves to be a discussion about this topic because of the initial, involuntary gut feeling we received when we first encountered the world of muscular women. Due to all the reasons listed above, the presence of muscular women triggers in our minds an adverse reaction. Like side effects from taking prescription medicine (we’ve all wondered whether vomiting, cramps, and possibly death are acceptable trade-offs for alieving us of the sniffles), it’s like our brains are fighting off a foreign agent when we look upon an image of a woman with big muscles. We feel repulsed. Or confused. Or extreme cognitive dissonance. Or maybe, unexpected and uncontrollable sexual arousal.

Denise Masino may be well-endowed, but she's not even close to being a man.
Denise Masino may be well-endowed, but she’s not even close to being a man.

These reactions are unexplainable. They’re inconceivable. They’re not normal, yet we’re intrigued to learn more. The sight of a muscular woman stirs up in our imaginations all sorts of thoughts and feelings. We begin to question our previously held assumptions about, well, everything in the damn world. We feel compelled, for no logical reason, to do a Google search about whether or not female bodybuilders are actually female or if they’re somehow “male” by some perverse definition.

We realize it’s silly. We know in the back of our minds that female bodybuilders are definitely women. But we can’t help but feed our curiosity. We must know for sure. In the dark recesses of our imaginations there’s a tiny part of us that thinks that maybe FBBs are not really women in the traditional sense of the word. Or maybe they’re women…sort of. Kind of. Maybe they’re men…sort of. Kind of. Or perhaps they’ve transitioned into a third option. Uh, right?

Yikes. What the hell am I thinking?

You want to slap yourself in the face, but resist the urge to do so. That’s good. No need for self-flagellation. At the very least, you can smile to yourself, look into a mirror, and whisper to no one in particular: “Hey, what I Google in the privacy of my spare time is my business and no one needs to know about it!”

Which is true. Of course it is. No one will ever know what you choose to Google, unless you believe all sorts of wacky conspiracy theories. Do search engine crawlers count?

There’s nothing male about female bodybuilders. There are plenty of FBBs who exhibit masculine qualities, but that’s a whole other story. Masculine/feminine are behavioral and physical signifiers that have no biological connections. A man can have a “feminine-sounding” voice and still be 100% a man. A woman can have “masculine-looking” facial features but still be 100% a woman. Biology is more objective than arbitrary gendered descriptions that societies have used for centuries. Whether these identifiers are good or bad is up to you to decide. Volumes of books have been written on the harm produced by gender roles, so I don’t feel too obligated to rehash these ideas at this time.

Suffice to say, it’s not a bad thing to have questions. Being inquisitive is a sign of wisdom, humility, and practical intelligence. Nobody knows the answers to everything. That’s simply impossible. Heck, as incredible as this sounds, despite all the breakthroughs we’ve made in recent generations in regards to theoretical physics, we still don’t know even a fraction of a fraction of what there is to know about the Universe. Theorists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking are like the One Eyed Kings leading a pack of blind subjects. But in this case, they have one eye that’s peering into the world through a coffee straw. They are able to speculate about the world at levels that most of us will never be able to comprehend, and even they can’t manage to scratch the surface. Far out, man!

Makes you not feel so guilty about wondering if Denise Masino is secretly a dude, huh?

I can assure you that Denise Masino is not a dude. Despite the impressive amount of meat dangling between her legs, I can assure you that it’s all feminine meat. Nothing masculine about it. She doesn’t have a penis. Though her phallic-like clit sort of resembles a really tiny penis (especially when she uses a clit pump), there’s no doubt that it’s a clit, end of story. Beneath her impressive feminine endowment is her vagina, an organ I don’t believe too many men can say they also have.

Maryse Manios isn't everybody's cup of tea, but there's no doubt that she's a lady. No doubt at all.
Maryse Manios isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s no doubt that she’s a lady. No doubt at all.

As far as I can tell, it is not possible for a woman to become a man without an intricately planned series of hormonal therapy sessions administered by trained medical professionals. I am no expert about the female-to-male or male-to-female transition processes, but lifting weights at the gym (and yes, even taking synthetic steroids to help you bulk up more) will not do the trick. Of course, I don’t think too many folks actually believe this. So to reiterate, it’s hard to not question your assumptions when you’re faced with examples that challenge them.

Female bodybuilders are not actually men. I understand why someone would allow their minds to drift in that direction, but at the end of the day there’s no evidence to suggest that such a phenomenon is even scientifically possible. But that doesn’t mean we should mock people who do dare to Google such a titillating question.

There’s an old saying that “it never hurts to ask.” Well, that’s not entirely true. It can hurt if the person(s) to whom you’re asking the question retaliates in any sort of way. However, that’s the beauty of the Internet. You can ask away with little risk to your reputation or ego. I may not have all the answers, but I am qualified to provide a small degree of insight onto the issue of female bodybuilders and their gender identities:

Female bodybuilders are female, not male. You can take it to the bank and bet your life’s savings on it. But if even a slight hint of doubt creeps into your mind, remember this: That’s perfectly okay.

The “Alternate Femininity” of Female Bodybuilders

A striking pose by Karen Garrett.
A striking pose by Karen Garrett.

The unfair stereotypes associated with female bodybuilders are both too numerous to list and cringe-worthy when heard aloud.

“Female bodybuilders are gross because they don’t look like women!”

“Female bodybuilders are disgusting because they secretly want to be men!”

“Female bodybuilders are unappealing because women aren’t supposed to be that muscular!”

“Female bodybuilders aren’t real women because…well, isn’t it obvious?”

How many times have you heard opinions like these? Maybe not word-for-word, but generally speaking does any of this sound familiar? In all likelihood, fans of female bodybuilders and female bodybuilders themselves have probably come across vitriol like this way too often.

In an attempt to shatter some of these negative stereotypes, let’s discuss a concept that a student of gender/sexuality studies should be well versed in: gender as a social construct.

The theory goes that the idea we’ve come to know as “gender” is an arbitrary set of rules, roles and beliefs that is artificially created by culture rather than inherent biology. The differences between men and women are considered “differences” because “we say it’s so.” While certain physiological characteristics separate the male and female sexes (genitalia, hormone levels, reproductive system, etc.), other factors like behavior, intellectual abilities and hierarchal positions in society are nothing more than just a product of the paradigms we’ve created over time.

If we assume this theory to have at least a certain degree of validity, this somewhat debunks the above mentioned stereotypes as, simply put, a bunch of hogwash.

Of course female bodybuilders are real women! They aren’t men. Men are men and women are women. A woman with muscles is still a woman, despite how (admittedly) unusual it is. Who says women aren’t supposed to be that muscular? Just because we don’t see that sort of thing every day doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.

The idea that female bodybuilders aren’t “feminine” plays into traditional gender roles that most human societies have adapted to a point. Yes, it’s true there are certain cultures out there where women are more of the “hunters” than the “gatherers,” but these types of societies are far and few between. For the sake of debate, let’s just assume that the “men are the stronger sex, women are the weaker sex” dichotomy is universally agreed upon.

Famke Janssen might be the most gorgeous woman on the planet.
Famke Janssen might be the most gorgeous woman on the planet.

It should be mentioned that “femininity” can have a fluid definition. Is “feminine” simply defined as any characteristics that a woman displays, or does there have to be a certain level of “social agreement” on these characteristics? For example, even though weightlifting is traditionally regarded as a male pastime, if more women took up the hobby, over time wouldn’t we start to associate the activity as more “gender neutral?”

Smoking was once seen as strictly a male-dominated activity. Then women started to smoke as well once feminism took off as a major social force. At the time, a woman having the right to smoke in public was a real feminist issue. Our society once upon a time ago looked down upon that suggestion. Then, things changed and both genders were given the “right” to light up a cigarette (now, ironically, smoking is looked down upon not for reasons based on gender, but health).

Perhaps it might be fair to say that female bodybuilders are part of an “alternate femininity.” They’re still feminine, but not in a traditional sense.

One could argue the decision of a woman to take up the sport of bodybuilding is unto itself a feminist act. It’s an act of a woman defying social expectations to achieve results that are both self-empowering and openly defiant of the “weaker sex” label. While many real life FBBs may not actively consider themselves “feminists,” no one can argue that the sport by itself creates problems in how we define traditional femininity.

A lovely pose by Alana Shipp.
A lovely pose by Alana Shipp.

But not “alternate femininity.” The sport of female bodybuilding doesn’t contradict gender roles; it makes it more inclusive of other roles. Men are not the only ones allowed to be physically strong. Women can too. This doesn’t violate the gender divide, rather it challenges us to reconsider whether a divide really exists in the first place (or should exist). Thus, gender roles can’t be contradicted if there is nothing at all to contradict.

The “alternate femininity” theory is based on the idea that if gender is a social construct, everyone is allowed to define gender in their own way. How can you be wrong in your own personal opinion?

So, we can now define “feminine” (and its counterpart “masculine”) in a new way:

Feminine is anything a woman is or does.

This definition completely eliminates the factors of social expectations and cultural rituals. Feminine is not defined as anything a woman is or does as defined by society, but instead anything a woman is or does PERIOD.

For example, if a particular woman likes to drink beer, watch football and play violent videogames, all these activities are “feminine” simply because a woman is doing it. It doesn’t matter that most of us associate these activities with the male species. What matters is what happens on an individual level, nothing more and nothing less.

Who wouldn't go gaga over Sofia Vergara?
Who wouldn’t go gaga over Sofia Vergara?

When we view the world of female bodybuilding through this lens, then theoretically we shouldn’t have any issues here. If a woman wants to bulk herself up, she has every right to. But not only does she have the right to do this, she isn’t betraying her sex, her femininity or her relationship with masculinity. A female bodybuilder isn’t seeking to become masculine. She’s still feminine. Just a different kind of feminine.

It begs to be mentioned that “separate but equal” is not what this is about. “Alternate femininity” is not a separate kind of femininity, but rather a substitute for how we commonly define as conventional femininity.

Alright. So…what’s really the point of all this nonsense?

The main purpose of this conversation is to prove the point that there’s nothing really unusual about straight men being attracted to muscular women. While on the surface this does indeed seem strange, when you logically play out this scenario from beginning to end, this is really much ado about nothing.

Straight men are attracted to women. This simple fact has been accepted for generations upon generations. But if we add the condition of “straight men are attracted to muscular women,” why does everyone suddenly become irrational and think this is some kind of abomination?

I want to be poolside by Simone Sousa!
I want to be poolside by Simone Sousa!

If one of your male buddies told you while you were hanging out over drinks that he thinks “Sofia Vergara is hot,” well, I can’t think of too many guys who would disagree. So why is it considered weird when that same guy also says “Alina Popa is hot”? It’s a matter of personal preference, not some arbitrary set of hard-and-fast rules about what kinds of women men are allowed to be attracted to.

This dispels the rumor that we love female bodybuilders because “they look like men” or that “we’re secretly gay.” This cannot be further from the truth. Our sexuality is not in question. When I fantasize about being with a woman like Amber DeLuca, I’m not thinking about her as one of my guy friends. I don’t daydream about downing cheap lagers with her while we shoot pool or go bowling. Instead, I’m imagining a scenario involving a romantic candlelit dinner, expensive red wine, flowers, an idyllic beach-side resort and hours and hours of very hot and sensual lovemaking.

Oh yeah!

I want to connect with her emotionally and intellectually, not just physically. My romantic fantasies involving an FBB would not seem out of place in a sappy Nicholas Sparks novel. Just the amount of weight the leading lady can bench press might differ a tad!

To summarize, let’s attempt to reduce this discussion to its most basic elements:

Men are attracted to beautiful women.

Sound crazy? Nope. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. As a straight guy myself, I can attest to how accurate this sentence is. Men are attracted to beautiful women. Who can possibly argue with that?

The caveat, of course, is that men define “beautiful” in different ways. And guess what? They have every right to! No man should ever constrict himself over what kinds of beauty he appreciates in the world. Life is too short to limit yourself. Never box yourself in. If there’s something in life that really gets your gears running, don’t shy away from it. Embrace it!

Aaaaaaaand finally, a much-anticipated photo of Adriana Lima.
Aaaaaaaand finally, a much-anticipated photo of Adriana Lima.

I am attracted to women like Lisa Cross and Lindsay Mulinazzi not just because of their muscles. You see, it’s not just about the muscles, or her strength, or her bulk. It’s everything about her. Their personalities. Their intellect. Their drive, dedication, motivation and desires. It’s the total package that makes me go gaga for them.

Simply put, I’m attracted to Miss Cross and Miss Mulinazzi because they’re beautiful women.

Denise Masino is a beautiful woman.

Gayle Moher is a beautiful woman.

Victoria Dominguez is a beautiful woman.

Iris Kyle is a beautiful woman.

Kate Upton is a beautiful woman.

Halle Berry is a beautiful woman.

Katy Perry is a beautiful woman.

They are all beautiful women. The only difference is how universally regarded their beauty is. It’s as simple as that. Most of us can agree that Bar Refaeli is super gorgeous. But not everyone can agree that Monica Martin is equally gorgeous. But the truth is that both opinions are correct. Who is to say that they’re wrong? To each his own, right?

Too often, when we discuss the subject of female bodybuilders and the men who love them, we get way too caught up in talking about an FBB’s muscles. Yes, her muscles are very important, but that misses the mark. To reiterate a previous point, it’s not just about her muscles. Her muscles are just part of why many men are attracted to her. Her muscles are not the “be-all and end-all” of her beauty. They are part of a larger package.

And what package is that? Simple. She’s a woman.

A woman. That’s right. A woman. A very beautiful (and muscular) woman, but a woman nevertheless.

Adriana Lima and Alina Popa are both gorgeous; no if, ands, or buts about it. They just are. No need to explain why. No need to put either of them in a separate category of gorgeousness. No need to justify Miss Popa’s beauty compared to Miss Lima’s. Nope. Both are stunning. End of story.

The “alternate femininity” theory of female bodybuilders really boils down to the simple idea that men are attracted to them because they’re women. We find them beautiful. We love their femininity. Granted, we may define “femininity” differently from the general population, but the essential idea remains the same:

Men are attracted to beautiful women.

This core concept is at the heart of why men like me and countless others love female bodybuilders. We find them beautiful. There’s no way I can reduce this argument any further. It is what it is.

Is there any ambiguity left?