COVID-19 and the Socially Distant Female Bodybuilder

Who wouldn’t want to be quarantined with Cindy Phillips?

As of this writing, the world is given the unexpected and ultimately thankless task of having to deal with the outbreak of COVID-19, a particularly nasty strain of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. We do not yet know how long this international crisis will last or what the ultimate cost will be in terms of human life, economic health, and social structures. What we do know is that lawmakers are issuing orders for citizens to practice “Social Distancing,” which basically means staying at least six feet away from people and living life as a government-imposed hermit.

COVID-19 knows no national borders, does not respect cultural norms, and can spread like wildfire if it’s not properly contained. This is why these drastic measures – which also include shutting down certain businesses, laying off employees who work at those businesses, and encouraging those who can still work to work remotely – are deemed necessary by our elected (and non-elected, depending on where you live) leaders.

Quite bothersome, this inconsiderate variation of the coronavirus happens to be!

“Social distancing” is quite the academic term for staying at home and binge-watching Netflix all day (even if you’re supposed to be “working” away from the office). Yet, this has become a commonly used colloquial expression that will no doubt show up on the list of “Word of the Year” when 2020 is all said and done. Assuming we all make it that far, of course. Oof.

For fans of female bodybuilders, these trying times add an additional level of turmoil. Due to travel restrictions, muscle worship and fantasy wrestling sessions are on hold indefinitely. Female bodybuilders and wrestlers aren’t able to travel from city to city…and many would-be customers aren’t allowed to leave the house unless they’re healthcare workers, heading to the grocery store, or going for a jog around the neighborhood. Like the restaurant business and other service industries, the Female Muscle Economy is going to experience a major financial recession in the coming weeks. Clearly, this is a no-win situation for everyone involved.

Yet, one cannot help but notice a striking similarity between feeling distant from co-workers, family members, and neighbors and actually being geographically distant from female bodybuilders. Unless you live in Southern California, parts of Brazil, or are lucky enough to happen to know a few FBBs personally, most of us are (unfortunately) not within close proximity to the muscular ladies we adore. We’re “socially distant” from them by default, not by choice. This is considerably frustrating for those of us who love muscular women, since our tastes for the finer things in life are not easily satiated.

Do female bodybuilders and fantasy wrestlers travel across the country to meet up with clients? Well, yes (in normal times, obviously). If you live in a big enough city, can you purchase a ticket to a bodybuilding competition? Once again, yes, this is an option. So our access to muscular women isn’t nonexistent, but they aren’t nearly as common as, say, the cute girl you meet at the bar drinking alone (or at least you think she’s alone). From what we can tell, there isn’t a designated watering hole where FBBs frequent in mass quantities. So the interactions you do have with a small number of FBBs will be few and far between by default.

It would be hard to stay indoors if Linda Steele did photoshoots like this everyday.

This brings into focus the observation that female muscle fandom can be so frustrating at times because of how distant we are from our beloved ladies. Female bodybuilding is not mainstream. Female bodybuilders are not mainstream. They aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense of the word. Perhaps they are within the microscopic world that we inhabit together (including the readers of this very blog), but not outside of it. Our frustration isn’t major, but it’s ever present.

FBBs can feel like a rainbow-colored unicorn at times. Or buried treasure on a deserted island. Or a supernova. Or galaxies outside the Milky Way. Or Bigfoot. They don’t feel real in a practical sense. We know intellectually that muscular women exist in this world, but we have to proactively go searching for them in order to observe them. Theoretical quantum physics tells us that multiple parallel universes may exist. But no human being has been able to witness one outside of our own. That doesn’t mean the multiverse doesn’t exist, of course. It just means we haven’t been able to see it with our own eyes. Likewise, we know female bodybuilders exist because we have the Internet, old muscle magazines collecting dust in our attics, and Instagram feeds to scroll through. But can we simply walk our dog through a public park and casually see a few FBBs jogging alongside us? No. No, we cannot.

The Socially Distant Female Bodybuilder is the default in our lives. They are beautiful creatures who might as well exist in mythology. We should be reading about them in medieval literature classes or watching them in National Geographic documentaries. Before COVID-19 started disrupting our lives, you could easily go to the grocery store, gym, or nightclub and see lots of young women who look just as beautiful as Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift. Heck, I’m pretty sure I went to high school with at least a dozen girls who looked like Billie Eilish. So because of that, mainstream celebrities don’t feel as “mythological” because we can observe in our everyday lives people who (for the most part) resemble them. Their “normal” counterparts are a dime a dozen.

But muscular women like Amber Deluca or Theresa Ivancik? Yeah, they are not a dime a dozen. One does not simply (walk into Mordor?) go to a trendy sports bar and see a world-class female bodybuilder hanging out with her buddies eating chicken wings and nursing a beer while watching to see if her March Madness (may you R.I.P. in 2020) bracket gets busted. And if you do happen to stumble across that sort of scene, good for you. But that is not the norm for the majority of us. And because this is not normal, it’s easy to think of FBBs as being closer to unicorns than a celebrity sighting in Malibu.

Here’s a personal anecdote: I haven’t met with too many loyal readers in real life, but one time I did several years ago. He’s from a different country but was in town to visit relatives. He emailed me a few weeks before and asked if I wanted to grab coffee with him. I enthusiastically agreed. It’s not too often that you can have a candid discussion about female muscle fandom with someone who truly “gets” where you’re coming from! After work I drove 30 minutes to where his in-laws live. We met at a Starbucks located in a strip mall and talked for more than an hour. We discussed our mutual love for muscular women, our experiences participating in muscle worship sessions, and who some of our favorite ladies are. What a refreshing experience!

Nothing like getting your fix of Maggie Watson.

However, there was one thing he said that has always stuck in my mind. He said the first time he ever met an FBB for a session was a jarring experience. Yeah, I thought to myself, it is! He said he felt slightly disappointed that she wasn’t super tall. I thought that was a strange observation. Most women aren’t super tall. On average, women tend to be shorter than men. She was big in every other way, he tells me, but not nearly as tall as he was expecting. Huh? You actually think all female bodybuilders are tall? If you flip through old magazines or scroll through Wikipedia pages of prominent female competitors, most of them are between 5 to 6 feet tall, the majority of them on the lower end of that spectrum. Most FBBs aren’t as tall as NBA players because most women in general aren’t as tall as NBA players. FBBs weren’t born that way. They began life just like everybody else. So why would they be naturally taller?

Then it hit me why he would think that way. His whole life he’s cultivated in his mind a fantasy image of what an FBB looks like. In their photos, they look larger than life. A clever photographer or camera operator can make a short person seem huge if they’re shot from an upward angle. Especially if the FBB is the only person in frame. A short person is only short if he or she is short in comparison to the other people they’re around. The same goes for a tall person. Short and tall are all relative.

But my friend here, who up to this point had never actually met a female bodybuilder up-close in real life, thought all FBBs were tall because that’s what his fantasy of FBBs told him. To him – and to all of us – FBBs are larger than life. In every way imaginable. But in reality, they aren’t quite so big as we think they are. Don’t get me wrong! FBBs are really big ladies. But they aren’t gargantuan. They aren’t monsters. They’re human beings. They’re just as tall (or short) as most women you meet in everyday life. They just have a lot more meat on their bones. They’re bulkier, but not like the Incredible Hulk. They’re not cartoon characters. They’re still human beings.

Wendy Fortino slaying in that dress.

Your typical FBB isn’t 6’ 5” and weighs 300 pounds. They’re probably more like 5’ 4” and 175 pounds. Does this disappoint you? Whether it does or doesn’t, that’s the truth.

This is true of every walk of life, but the more socially distant we are from certain kinds of people the more likely we are to develop cartoonish perceptions of them. This is especially true in the scumbag world of politics. Even a woman like Nataliya Kuznetsova, who comes the closest to being a “cartoon character come to life,” is rare among her fellow female bodybuilders. She’s in the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent. In a past article, I dubbed her as the “Ultimate Real Human Photoshop Illusion.” This is still true.

Most FBBs will look more like Cindy Phillips or Brandi Mae Akers. If they wore sweatpants and an overcoat, you’d never guess that these ladies are bodybuilders. Nataliya, on the other hand, is so damn bulky that no matter what she does she’ll always stick out like a sore thumb. But that’s her brand. Her raison d’être is to defy scientific limitations. She strives to break our expectations of what is or isn’t possible. So my friend – and many of you also – expected the typical FBB to look like Nataliya…when not even Nataliya can look like Nataliya forever (I have my doubts about how healthy that lifestyle is over a long period of time).

Nataliya Kuznetsova isn’t typical, which is why we must treasure her more.

These warped perceptions are a product of being socially distant from FBBs. It didn’t take a global pandemic to make this obvious. But this is the price we pay for indulging in a niche fetish. It is not readily available. It is a rare opportunity for us to satisfy our urges. Getting our “fix” of female muscle comes at a hefty price tag. But when we do get the chance to live out our fantasies IRL, it’s a treasured experience that we’ll never forget.

I have no idea when the COVID-19 crisis will come to an end. Hopefully very soon. And with a limited number of fatalities. But there’s no doubt that this has caused major rifts in our society that will take months – maybe years – to recover from. For now, it’s an inconvenience bordering on a major catastrophe if global markets become too volatile. The world economy will take a hit, a reality that applies to much more than the Female Muscle Industrial Complex. But when this is all over, it seems prudent that this will force us to wake up to the fact that a civilized society is one that is resilient, adaptable, and rational. We will get through this if we make the right decisions, stand up for our principles, and do our part (no matter how small it may seem) to stop the spread of this disease. Or any future disease.

Like female bodybuilders, we must be tough, persistent, strategic, headstrong, and arrogant in believing we can overcome this. While FBBs may be socially distant from us, their attitude towards life is something every single one of us can replicate. We don’t need to be in close physical proximity to them to learn the lessons they’ve taught us. Even if it’s from a distance.

We Need to Talk About Nataliya Kuznetsova

Nataliya Kuznetsova 4
This is a real human being. Seriously.

By now, you should be familiar with Nataliya Kuznetsova.

Nataliya is the kind of woman that even the most wildly imaginative female muscle fan will admit – if they’re pressed into being realistic for a hot minute – can’t ever really exist.

No woman, even with the help of all the synthetic steroids, supplements, food, weightlifting equipment, and expertise possibly available, can ever actually look like that. Whether you’ve been a bona fide female muscle fan for 40 years or 40 days, you’ve seen your fair share of muscular women. Perhaps even in-person. Yet, the rational part of your brain understands full well that no woman can ever look like her. No woman can ever have arms the size of a Mr. Olympia contestant. Or legs so thick that they resemble actual tree trunks. That’s not physically possible. It’s not scientifically possible. It’s even too absurd to draw a cartoon that looks like that.

Uh, right?

Well, you would be wrong. There is in fact one particular woman who walks on planet Earth – or is it continuously squats and bicep curls on planet Earth? – who defies your expectations of what a female bodybuilder can and cannot look like. She challenges what you previously thought was the limits of human achievement. Sure, guys who take drugs and work out like a madman with his hair on fire can become that huge. But…a woman?

No way! No how! That ain’t right!!!

Yet, it is so right. And it is possible. Her name is Nataliya Kuznetsova.

Nataliya was born on July 1, 1991 in the city of Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai in Russia. She was born just a few months before the Soviet Union officially dissolved; and although the Iron Curtain had fallen, a child had been born who would take her iron pumping quite seriously (did you see what I did there?). She has won many accolades in her life, including being the bench press and deadlift world champion. She’s also a champion armlifter, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen her arms.

She aspired to become a professional bodybuilder at age 14 and never looked back. In addition to breaking several records, she’s dabbled in the field of coaching and personal training – which is not uncommon for many bodybuilders, both male and female. She’s maintained a strict diet since the early days of her career, which has clearly paid dividends. After graduating from the Moscow State Academy of Physical Culture in 2013, Nataliya proceeded to pursue her dream of shattering several powerlifting records.

And put her name in the record books is exactly what she did. In 2014 and 2015 she won various contests in Russia and Europe. While it doesn’t appear that she continues to compete in powerlifting, she’s since gained international notoriety for her unusual eye-popping physique that she proudly promotes on her social media channels.

Oh boy. And she’s also not shy about her usage of anabolic steroids and estrogen blockers. I mean, it’s not humanly possible to get as huge as her without drugs. We all know that. But in her case, it isn’t really about whether or not she “fairly” achieved her musculature. What really matters is that she looks exactly how she looks – and that’s the way she wants it.

Her brand is dependent upon the final result, not the process it took to get to that final result.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 1
Muscles on the beach.

Nataliya is the Ultimate Real Human Photoshop Illusion. You’d swear that she’s not actually real. She must be the product of a female muscle growth fiction artist’s imagination. Someone must’ve artificially enhanced her arms and legs. Or, someone superimposed a male bodybuilder’s arms onto her torso, like a G.I. Joe action figure’s arms being popped inside a limbless Barbie doll.

Yet, that is not the case. She is not a character in an FMG story. Nor are photos of her not genuine (to be fair, very few Instagram and magazine photos are 100% genuine) in the proper sense of the word. Her biceps are really the size of most guys’ quads. Her quads are really as thick as your girlfriend’s torso. It’s all true. It’s definitely not all natural, but if we’re only interested in aesthetics, who cares?

And that’s the crux of the argument. Whether she could ever achieve so much muscle mass naturally – the short answer is “no way, José” – is not the point. Insecure guys who constantly insist that she’s “juicing” or “roiding up” are just projecting their own inadequacies onto a complete stranger. They’re envious that they are unable to get that “swole,” so they need to add as many caveats as possible onto Nataliya’s achievements because it, uh, makes them feel better. Or something like that. I don’t know exactly.

But that’s not really where I’m getting at. Nataliya is noteworthy because she is who she is. Whether she “cheated” or did it through unnatural means isn’t what’s truly important. What’s important is that she’s a human cartoon in the flesh. She’s a female muscle fan’s dream come true, if extreme FMG artwork happens to be your thing. It’s not for me personally, but it doesn’t have to be. I can acknowledge her importance without being totally smitten with her looks.

Personally, Nataliya is a bit too much. Everything about her is superhuman, including her lips. Dang. She makes Angelina Jolie look like the before-and-after photo at a lip enhancement surgeon’s office. I tend to prefer ladies who are both large and traditionally curvy. Alina Popa is my jam. So is Isabelle Turell. And Shannon Courtney. And Theresa Ivancik. And Lindsay Mulinazzi. And many others. I have nothing against Miss Kuznetsova as a human being. I’m sure she’s cool and pretty interesting to be around. Apparently, she’s bisexual – which will make any FMG artist go hog wild when crafting erotically-charged dime novel-style fan fiction.

Perhaps this is a reflection of my limited imagination. Is Nataliya’s physique now the new Mount Everest? Are former Ms. Olympia contestants like Iris Kyle, Tina Chandler, Debi Laszewski, Anne Freitas, and Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia merely the tip of the iceberg? Previously, we may have thought of these ladies as being at the peak of the female muscle pecking order. But maybe our standards were set too low. Maybe women like Nataliya Kuznetsova (are there any others like her? Asking for a friend) are where the proverbial bar is now set. Or should be set. It’s not enough to train for a few hours, give yourself a couple of rest days, and intersperse within your daily routine plenty of Tupperware containers full of brown rice, grilled chicken, and boiled broccoli. Perhaps the new normal should be to train for several hours a day – as if it’s practically a part-time job – and eat as much protein as you possibly can without throwing up. This doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but one must suffer for one’s art.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 2
Nataliya’s quads don’t lie.

Hm. Maybe that’s exactly the point. One must suffer for your art. In Nataliya’s case, her body is her art. Her muscles are her canvas. Dumbbells, vitamin supplements, anabolic steroids, and protein are her paintbrushes. And her Instagram feed is her museum. And we are patrons of her art. Instead of sipping champagne, we down a carton of Muscle Milk. Same thing.

All bodybuilders are artists as well as athletes. They might consider themselves athletes first and foremost, and that would be their prerogative. But whether they consciously consider it or not, they’re also artists. Michelangelo used marble. Nataliya uses her own flesh and blood. That sounds odd, but it’s true. Bodybuilders don’t try to hit a baseball into the centerfield bleachers or dunk a basketball over a 7-foot tall defender. They try to look awesome, prioritizing muscle mass, symmetry, and aesthetic perfection over all else.

Yet, I’m perfectly fine with Nataliya being the exception and not the rule. She can be an Internet sensation who makes our eyes pop out of our skulls. She can be someone who essentially provides fodder for clickbait articles on second-rate news aggregate sites. I highly doubt female muscle fans worldwide are clamoring for more women to look like her. If more do choose to look as extreme as possible, so be it. But we’re perfectly content with more “conventional-looking” female bodybuilders (as contradictory as that may sound) such as Miss Popa and Miss Ivancik. At least, they’re conventional within the context of the world of female bodybuilding.

Here’s a question: Is Nataliya Kuznetsova good or bad for female bodybuilding and fans of female bodybuilders? It’s the question sports commentators always make regarding dynasties like the Golden State Warriors, New England Patriots, the UConn women’s basketball team, Alabama football, Manchester United, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ha ha). Is dominance a good thing? Can the lack of parity hurt the overall product? Or does it enhance it? Is temporary dominance – because dominance rarely lasts forever – actually a good thing because it provides an incentive for others to work harder in order to catch up?

Chances are she’s not going to have much of an effect on anything. Nataliya exists in her own little universe. She’s carved out her own unique niche. She doesn’t really exist in the realm of bodybuilding because she isn’t a competitive bodybuilder (to my knowledge). She’s a mini-celebrity whose body is her selling point. Her extreme physique is why she’s famous, not because she climbed up the industry ladder or won so many accolades that we cannot help but notice her. In a way, she’s the perfect example of how the entrepreneurial female bodybuilder is most likely the archetype that will survive the longest.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 5
Ever seen someone like this at the gym? Yeah, didn’t think so.

The bodybuilding industry’s marginalization of female competitors doesn’t need to be rehashed here. The death of the Ms. Olympia is really all you need to know. Wings of Strength is doing their best to resuscitate the spirit of the Ms. O, and we wish them all the best in this endeavor. Long story short, female bodybuilders need to find alternative avenues of earning an income in order to continue doing what they love to do.

Nataliya has done exactly that.

She’s found a void and filled it perfectly. Impeccably. She busted her tail to look as hypermuscular as possible. She knew not everyone would dig her look, but that didn’t matter one iota. There are plenty of people who will. And do. She’s made sacrifices – including long-term risks to her body – to achieve her Human Photoshop figure. She was able to go “viral” because she stood out from the rest of the herd. There are plenty of muscular women out there. But few are as surreal in their musculature as her.

So because of that, she was able to break through in front of more “mainstream” eyes because of her freakish physique. Cindy Landolt or Minna Pajulahti are famous within the small community of female muscle fans, but Nataliya has been able to rise above that and attract attention from non-female muscle fans. And chances are pretty good that for many people, Nataliya is the only muscular woman whom they care to follow on social media. She’s “famous” – in a 21st century viral Internet meme sense – for being a living and breathing statistical outlier, not because she happens to be a female bodybuilder who’s broken the mold of her predecessors and peers.

And that’s the meat and potatoes of our discussion. Miss Kuznetsova is nothing more than a freakish statistical outlier to the vast majority of Internet-savvy people out there. She won’t help the visibility of the female bodybuilding industry. She won’t hurt it either, but that’s beside the point. She’s a Human Island. A once-in-a-lifetime Black Swan Event. She’s like the people who love to follow Tiger Woods but couldn’t care less about other golfers.

There are golf fans. And there are Tiger Woods fans. And they are often not one and the same. Likewise, there are Nataliya Kuznetsova fans. And there are female muscle fans. And they are not necessarily the same thing.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 3
Can’t tell if those are her quads…or an actual tree trunk.

Some people love Eminem but don’t particularly like hip hop. Some people loved “The Dark Knight” but never read a single Batman comic book. And some people are enamored with Nataliya Kuznetsova but couldn’t identify Alina Popa in a police lineup.

Life is funny like that.

Whether you love her, hate her, or have neutral feelings about her, one thing is certain: You’re totally justified to initially think that this woman couldn’t possibly exist. This has got to be like “Simone,” that 2002 Al Pacino movie about a movie star who’s digitally animated and isn’t really real. Certainly Nataliya has got to be a digital avatar, right? A fake persona meant to punk all of us into thinking a woman could genuinely build muscle mass that male bodybuilders could only dream of? Well, the truth is that she’s real. Very real.

I have no idea how long she can maintain her physique. I’m not a nutritional scientist or biology expert, but it seems reasonable to worry about her long-term health. All that animal protein, steroids, and hormone-blocking drugs can’t be good for you. Years and years of living like that should eventually take its toll, right?

Eh. Maybe, maybe not.

For now, let’s just appreciate who she is and what she’s been able to accomplish thus far. Only time will tell as to how much of an impact she’s making on the visibility of female bodybuilders, if any at all.