Every October 31 we celebrate a very odd holiday. People of all ages dress up in costumes, artistically carve up pumpkins, attend spooky themed parties and/or wander around their neighborhoods begging strangers to hand out candy.
No candy? No problem! Unless, of course, you don’t mind your house getting egged, toilet papered or surrounded by flaming piles of dog feces.
The concept of Halloween, according to experts in folklore, dates back to Celtic “pagan” traditions of welcoming in the harvest season. Halloween also might be rooted in Festival of the Dead-type traditions where people honor their dead relatives and usher them into the Afterlife. In the United States, a Catholic-inspired Cajun tradition began in the early days of North America to spend a nocturnal Mass at graveyards to bless the souls of the deceased.
Getting a creepy vibe already?
But today, let’s face it. Halloween is all about having a socially acceptable reason to dress up in silly costumes, watch scary movies and eat too much sugary candy. Plus, Halloween sort of officially kicks off the “holiday season” which includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
Some costumes range from the innocent to more “adult.” Some people will go as doctors, firefighters, kittens or Spider-Man; while other will choose the more family-friendly route and become a stripper, dominatrix or slutty nurse.
Whatever. Your choice of costume is your choice alone, as long as the company you work for doesn’t have any strict policies against publicly embarrassing yourself.
We dress up because it’s fun to pretend to be something we’re not, even if only temporarily. As kids, we wanted to be Superman and Wonder Woman. So if we dress up like them, isn’t that close enough to living out our dreams?
Perhaps, but there’s another reason why we dress up: to celebrate Halloween’s macabre roots. Zombies, vampires, serial killers, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, monsters and politicians are all par for the course. Who doesn’t like to channel their inner Jason Voorhees or reenact a scene from Night of the Living Dead? Whatever is most frightening is often the most fun.
These two reasons might explain why, as absurd as this may sound, for a female bodybuilder every day is Halloween. Every day is their chance to “dress up” and become something different. To become something superhuman, unworldly and strange. Many fans of female bodybuilders may not consider the presence of a muscular woman to be “ghoulish,” but unfortunately some people out there do. So let’s celebrate Halloween this year by paying tribute to the ladies we love 365 days a year.
Her body is her costume
Every single time an FBB goes to the gym to train, isn’t she essentially creating the “costume” that she’ll wear every single day of her life? Except in this case, her costume is her own body. It doesn’t consist of hats, tights or capes; but instead muscles, veins and sharp angular curves.
It takes a lot of work to achieve the physique of a Katka Kpytova or Alina Popa. Strict dieting, strenuous weightlifting, supplements, drugs, mental toughness, hardcore dedication and sacrifices are necessary to reach that level of muscularity. Not too many people in this world are that dedicated to their craft. But those who are should be very proud of their work.
When a woman builds bulk on her body, she’s making a decision to sculpt a better version of herself. She’s changing her identity. She’s breaking the mold of convention and embracing the nontraditional. Whether she intends to compete or not is irrelevant. The desire to gain maximum muscularity is a statement unto itself. It says “I’m reinventing myself, whether you like it or not.”
The concept of reinventing one’s self through the lifestyle of bodybuilding is fascinating. If our “traditional” idea of femininity includes slender arms, lush curves and a small frame, a female bodybuilder tosses all of that out the window. Her rebooted identity defies these norms while at the same time creating new ones. “Feminine” doesn’t have to be a euphemism for “weak.” It can mean so much more.
Her muscles are what define this new identity. Because muscles are not typically associated with femininity, women like Debi Laszewski are not seen as traditional women even though their womanhood hasn’t changed one iota. Deep down inside, Debi has always been Debi. Even before she took up bodybuilding, Debi was Debi. Now that she’s a world class athlete, she’s still Debi.
Think of it this way: the mere presence of muscles on a woman’s body doesn’t change anything about her. Whether someone changes their appearance for the better or for the worst, who they are intrinsically doesn’t change. Yes, an FBB may gain more confidence during her training, but her inherent identity hasn’t been altered by a single degree. Everyone has an identity. Your body’s appearance is just one facet of that.
In this respect, a female bodybuilder’s muscles act as her “costume” or “uniform.” To put it another way, a football player becomes a football player once they put on their pads, helmet, shoes and protective gear. When it’s not game time and they’re dressed in “street clothes” out in everyday life, they’re no longer a football player. They’re just like you and I. Sometimes, the uniform makes all the difference.
Likewise, an FBB’s muscles acts as her professional uniform. It informs us about who she is and what she does. But that’s not all that there is to her. She’s so much more than her appearance. Her thoughts, feelings, beliefs, actions, relationships, opinions, interests and everything else encompasses her entire identity. Her body is just the uniform she wears as a result of her chosen profession.
Like other self-revealing occupational uniforms (a construction worker’s hat, a doctor’s smock, a radio DJ’s headset, etc.), a female bodybuilder’s muscular body is an instantly identifiable clue as to what she does for a living. It’s her way of announcing to the world what she’s passionate about. It’s an outward expression of self-identification. Her muscles are her costume. Her muscles are her uniform. Her muscles are not her entire identity, but it’s a very important part of it.
Her body as a grotesque costume
It’s maddening. It’s ridiculous. It’s blatantly sexist and stupid. But this train of thought still exists: Muscular women are gross. They’re disgusting. They’re not real women. They’re women who are trying to become men. They’re revolting to look at. They shouldn’t look like that. Blah, blah, blah.
While the previous point talks about a female bodybuilder’s muscles being her living costume, this point discusses her muscles as other people perceive them. Unfortunately, not everyone perceives them in a positive light.
For many people, an FBB’s muscles make her a monster. It makes her a freak. It changes her identity, but not in a good way. It’s scary, frightening, disturbing, repulsive and lots of other synonyms that would tear a thesaurus in half. Her Halloween costume resembles that of a horror movie villain rather than an elite athlete. These perceptions explain why more women don’t lift weights at the gym and are afraid to pick up a dumbbell heavier than 8 pounds.
Thus, another reason why every day is Halloween for female bodybuilders is because for many folks out there, an FBB is a walking and breathing humanistic monstrosity of distorted femininity. Her Halloween costume is her “man-like” muscles that obviously make her so unattractive. Whether her motivation for gaining muscle mass has anything to do with a deliberate attempt at reorganizing her gender identity has nothing to do with this perception. For far too many people, a muscular woman is nothing more than a woman pretending to be a man (or to put it another way, she’s “unnatural” for looking like that).
Or, wanting to become a man. Short of undergoing gender reconstruction surgery, adding muscle bulk to her body is the next best option. This opinion is far from being the most popular reason why women decide to pursue bodybuilding. Most do it for the sport. Others do it for self-empowerment. For many, it might be a “hobby,” but one that they take a bit more seriously than knitting or collecting postage stamps.
For the men and women out there who are genuinely sickened by muscular women…well, that’s life. There’s very little that will change overnight. They might view her like a sci-fi creature from a mad scientist’s laboratory, but the rest of us know better. It’s only a matter of time when women like Lisa Cross are celebrated as much as mainstream female celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence.
Trick or treat?
Just so we don’t end this discussion on a sour note, imagine this scenario playing out in your actual life:
You’re going out trick-or-treating. Let’s say you’re an adult, but you live in a neighborhood where it’s socially acceptable for grownups to knock on doors and ask for candy. It’s getting late, so you know it’s about time to start wrapping up this confection excursion. You have one house left to visit. It’s nearing 9 p.m. (your self-imposed bedtime is 9:30 for whatever boring reason) and your bag of candy is still not completely full.
You knock on the door of a strange brick house standing on the top of a steep hill. It’s covered with moss, ivy, chipped paint and cobwebs. You’re alone. Your heart races but you’re still insisting on gathering as much sweet loot as possible. You approach the house cautiously. You knock once. No answer. You knock twice. Still no answer. You knock thrice. Once again, there is no answer. You wait a beat. Then two beats. Then three. Several more beats pass by, then you finally give up and start to walk back to the main street. Then, out of nowhere, you hear the door open. It creeks loudly. You turn around. And you see who answers the door.
It’s not one, nor two, nor three, but seven gorgeous female bodybuilders having some sort of a spooky soiree. They’re all in costume, ranging from Elvira to a cannibalistic Nazi zombie stripper to a trial lawyer. Seven tall, thick, highly muscular women with the most beautiful faces you’ve ever seen. They seem intrigued by you. They look you up and down at your wimpy frame and even wimpier costume. A glow-in-the-dark cartoon skeleton? Seriously? That’s the best you could do?
The host FBB speaks first.
“Are you here to trick-or-treat?” she asks. Her low, gravelly voice seems to shake the foundations of the Earth.
“Uh, yes. That’s why I’m here ma’am,” you answer timidly.
The seven start to laugh. You might have heard laughter from several other female bodybuilders inside the house that you can’t see. The leader raises a hand to hush everyone up. Everyone becomes silent. But their gaze is still exclusively on you.
“Good,” she begins. “Then you should come on in. We’ve got a very big treat for you.”
The seven FBBs move to the side of the door, inviting you indoors. You can clearly see that the house is infested with beautiful muscular women, all of them more muscular and more beautiful than the rest. There must be several dozens of them in there. Their costumes are very sexy. Everyone is scorching hot beyond description. You’re speechless.
But you go inside nevertheless. The door closes behind you. The party commences.