A Female Muscle Fetish Might Not Actually Be a Fetish

"Fetish" is a strong word. And Betty Viana is a strong lady.
“Fetish” is a strong word. And Betty Viana is a strong lady.

Readers of this blog will frequently see the words “female muscle fetish” grace across their screen. Heck, it was an article titled “Top 10 Misconceptions About Having a Female Muscle Fetish” that practically put me on the map (albeit, a very small map) in the first place. So I obviously owe a great debt to the SEO gods for this phrase.

But after years of thinking about this tantalizing topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that “fetish” might be a slightly misleading label. Words having their own meaning, but it’s the connotation behind words that often times matters more. For many of us, the word “dentist” might make us cringe because of how much we hated going to the dentist as kids (and adults). Even if our dentist was the nicest person on planet Earth, the experience of having cavities filled in and anesthesia injected into our mouths was too traumatizing to make up for it.

Likewise, the word “fetish” can bring up certain associations that aren’t always true or fair. Simply defined, a fetish is “an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression.”

Whoa. Sounds heavy. Sounds serious. Sounds…confusing.

So when most of us use the word “fetish,” we’re most likely using it wrong. It’s a strong word, just like “hate” and “love.” Generally speaking, when we say the word “fetish,” we really mean “something you’re really sexually into.” Emphasis on the word “really.”

The world of female muscle fetishism runs a wide spectrum. There are guys who think fit women are sexy but don’t spend too much time thinking about them. There are guys who obsess over being physically dominated by a woman. There are some who enjoy this kink every once in a while. There are others who cannot fully enjoy sex without this aspect mixed in with it. And there are most of us who are in the middle.

Eve Stevenson is showing off how she got those big biceps.
Eve Stevenson is showing off how she got those big biceps.

The word “fetish” should probably imply a more extreme version of liking muscular women. But a lot of us aren’t that into it. We lust over Mavi Gioia, but we’re not willing to go to unhealthy extremes to meet her in person. We love being physically dominated by a female (either dominatrix or bodybuilder), but we’re not going to break our bank to satisfy this kink every weekend. We have our limits and we respect those limits. So is that truly a “fetish” or a “keen interest?”

But this discussion has less to do with psychology and more to do with terminology. On a larger cultural level, the concept of “female muscle fetishism” tends to imply a number of characteristics about the person who has this fetish. Some of them include, but are not limited to:

  • He (or she) enjoys being physically beaten or abused by a strong woman
  • He (or she) has low self-esteem and derives pleasure from putting their insecurities on display
  • He (or she) is obsessed with their fetish to the point it will most likely ruin their lives
  • He (or she) is socially deviant in some way
  • He (or she) should seek help
  • He (or she) obviously doesn’t find other body types attractive if they have this type of fetish

Essentially, the stereotype associated with female muscle fetishism is that the people who love strong women have a level of sexual attraction to them that either crosses a line or gets eerily close to it. What is that line exactly? Usually, it has something to do with exhibiting unhealthy or socially inappropriate behavior. They need to be counseled before they take things too far. After all, can someone who’s into muscular women be able to hold a fully functional relationship with a “normal” looking woman?

Are we really that far outside the norm?

But I beg to differ. I don’t speak for all guys (and gals) who adore muscular women, but I can say with great confidence that my tastes are not outside of what society deems to be acceptable. Admittedly, it is unusual for a guy to really dig big, buff women…but it’s not rare. The readership statistics of my humble blog alone proves that there are folks all across the globe who share this interest.

Nobody defined the 90s like Pamela Anderson.
Nobody defined the 90s like Pamela Anderson.

This is why I’ve come to the conclusion that “fetish” may be too strong of a word. I’ve also used the phrase “female muscle fans” or “female muscle lovers.” I’ve written at length that my love for muscular women isn’t just physical or sexual. I admire their dedication, confidence, attention to detail, self-discipline and unwavering belief in themselves. The life of a bodybuilder, especially a female bodybuilder, is an arduous journey. Whoever is tough-minded enough to embark on that journey deserves our praise.

For me, and perhaps for many of you, we love muscular women – but they are not the only types of women we love. For almost 20 years I’ve harbored strong celebrity crushes on Famke Janssen and Rena Mero. As a teenage boy, I cannot tell you how many times I fantasized about Pamela Anderson while, ahem, “taking care” of myself in my bedroom. I don’t care that all three of these women are in their 40s. If the opportunity were to come up, I’d make sweet love to all of them (of course, I’d probably have to be extra careful about Miss Anderson, but that’s a whole other issue!) all night long.

Perhaps it’s not an accident that I discovered Famke Janssen when she played the sexy dangerous Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye (1995), a move that’s now 20 years old. In addition to GoldenEye being my favorite James Bond movie (The Living Daylights is a distant second, followed by 2006’s Casino Royale in third place), it obviously struck a chord with me as a prepubescent boy watching a character with raw animalistic sexuality killing her enemies by choking them with her strong legs. Also, Rena Mero was a WWF Diva for the longest time. She also beat her opponents senseless with her ruthlessly brutal strength. I understand both women were playing characters, but their impact has definitely left a mark on me.

Famke Janssen remains just as beautiful today as she was 20 years ago. Maybe more beautiful, if I may say so myself.
Famke Janssen remains just as beautiful today as she was 20 years ago. Maybe more beautiful, if I may say so myself.

I don’t hold too many celebrity crushes today, but certainly there are non-muscular women who excite me just as much as their buffer sisters. The young lady I currently have my eye on (I don’t think she likes me very much, but that’s not important right now) is as skinny as can be. She’s really darn cute and has almost no muscle mass whatsoever. No big deal. I still really like her!

But would any of you consider Famke Janssen or Rena Mero – you may have to rewind your clocks back to the 90s for a moment – a Bond villainess and a WWF wrestler, outside the norm of “sexy?” I wouldn’t. If I had to choose a celebrity crush today, I might lean toward Monica Bellucci (who, once again, is a Bond woman who just turned 51). Once again, is that so bizarre? If I had to choose between spending a night of passion with Ms. Bellucci versus Denise Masino, I’d probably pick Monica. But it would be a close battle.

See? My female muscle fetishism does have boundaries! I can still be reasonable every once in a while.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. For me, muscular women aren’t the only type of women I love. They’re just one particular type I find especially appealing. Just because Thai food is my favorite cuisine in the world doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy a delicious Italian dinner here or there. Baseball and football (not soccer. Sorry, non-American readers) might be my two favorite sports to watch, but if a basketball game were to sneak up on my TV, I might sit down and see what’s going on. Especially if an all-world player like Steph Curry is playing.

Muscular women are just one tool in the toolbox. They have a body type I find quite arousing, but that doesn’t mean non-muscular women don’t also turn me on. It doesn’t have to be “either, or.” Rarely in life do we have to choose between two stark contrasting choices. We can have it both ways!

But alas, odds are I will continue to use the phrase “female muscle fetish.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with this description. It might be a bit inaccurate, but it’s not entirely incorrect.

The self-proclaimed "Bond woman" herself, the Italian Goddess Monica Bellucci.
The self-proclaimed “Bond woman” herself, the Italian Goddess Monica Bellucci.

On the other hand, it is indisputable that many of us feel a level of attraction to strong women that can be indescribable. It pulls us in and refuses to let go. At least once a day (usually after I get back home from work) I need to check out my usual lineup of favorite female muscle-related blogs. I’m not such an addict that I need my “fix” while sitting at work. But when I’m at home, how can I not spend a few minutes and browse new photos of Juliana Malacarne, Lindsay Mulinazzi, Amber DeLuca or Monica Martin? Can you really blame me?

There’s a fine line between “keen interest” and “unhealthy obsession.” I cannot fully describe to you what they are, but I have a pretty good idea. An unhealthy obsession develops when you cannot control your own actions. When you become “addicted” to it, that’s when you know you’ve crossed this sacred line. I am not advocating for anyone to jeopardize their relationships and personal lives over our shared interest. If you feel like any of your sexual fetishes are causing tangible harm to your life, please seek out professional help immediately. I cannot stress this point enough.

Whatever happened to Rena Mero, a.k.a. Sable?
Whatever happened to Rena Mero, a.k.a. Sable?

However, most of us are not in this camp. Thankfully, we love muscular women but our love for them does not have a despotic stranglehold on us. “Fetish” might be too bold of a word, but it definitely serves the purpose of describing our “keen interest” as something that goes beyond a casual diversion. There’s nothing casual about our fandom. It’s made an indelible mark. But is it unhealthy? I would positively say “no” to that.

Words have meaning. But so do emotions. And gut reactions. We know beauty when we see it. We may not be able to put an actual word – or string of words – to it, but we don’t have to. We can appreciate something without slapping an artificial label on it. Fetish or no fetish, that’s somewhat irrelevant. It is what it is. We love muscular women. Period. What this love should be called matters very little to us.

Respecting Those We Lust After: The Sexual Objectification of Female Bodybuilders

Dina al-Sabah, the Muscle Goddess from Kuwait.
Dina al-Sabah, the Muscle Goddess from Kuwait.

I love female muscle.

That should be obvious to everyone. I really love strong women. I love the way they look. I love the giddy feelings they give me whenever I look at pictures of them. I love meeting them in person for muscle worship sessions. I love talking to them about their careers, their lifestyles and the sacrifices they’ve had to make to achieve their immaculate physique.

But there’s a problem here. A problem I feel compelled to address both honestly and openly.

Am I objectifying them?

It’s a fair question. Do I merely lust after these women instead of “admiring” them as world-class athletes? Is my attempt to intellectualize my respect for female bodybuilders just my way of hiding the fact that I really think of them as sex objects instead of human beings? Am I dehumanizing these women whenever I have lustful thoughts about them?

All fair questions. And all of them deserve to be discussed in detail. I’m a big proponent of open, productive dialogue. So let’s begin this discourse!

Of course, I’m biased (because I’m talking about myself), but I don’t believe I’m objectifying the very women I’ve spent the past few years writing about. But let’s first discuss semantics. What exactly does “objectify” mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “objectify” means “to treat as an object or cause to have objective reality.”

Simply put, in regards to interpersonal relationships, it means when you treat a person not as a human being but as tool for your own personal benefit. In popular vernacular, “objectify” usually connotes sexual objectification. When someone treats another person as merely an object for their selfish sexual gratification, that person is objectifying the other. This is considered dehumanizing because you don’t care about their feelings, thoughts and/or point of view. You only care about what they have to offer you personally.

Countless books and academic dissertations have been written on the subject. I highly encourage you to read more about this if you’re truly interested.

But on the other hand, it’s perfectly normal to be sexually attracted to someone. Human beings have desires they cannot control. I didn’t choose to be smitten by the beauty of my high school crush. It just happened. Yes, I liked her for different reasons too (she was very smart and we came from similar cultural backgrounds), but her physical beauty was what initially attracted me to her. Everything else I liked about her I discovered later once we got to know each other.

The object of my desire, Monique Jones.
The object of my desire, Monique Jones.

The same goes for my love of female muscle. I love muscular women. I love the way they look. I think muscles on a feminine form is beautiful. Beautiful beyond words. Beyond description. I’ve written many essays discussing why I love female muscle and how psychologically impactful they’ve been on me. Many of my readers share this love with me. Just take a moment to read some of the comments on my articles.

But my love for female muscle isn’t just aesthetic. It’s also emotional. I think it’s brave to sculpt your body to a standard that completely contradicts what society at large preaches to us. I’m a strong believer in the social benefits of women lifting weights at the gym (there are also obvious health benefits too). I think our world would be a much better place for all of us if we encouraged the “strong is beautiful” mantra instead of “skinny is beautiful.” The latter has faced significant backlash in recent years. The former is just starting to emerge.

So, where does that leave us? How is it possible to humanize someone that I can only see from a distance?

I will admit that there is a fine line between objectifying a woman and being sexually attracted to her. Obviously, I will never actually meet most of the women I’ve come to love. I’ve only met three female bodybuilders in my life, all from participating in muscle worship sessions with them. So for me, it’s hard to get to know someone you simply…can’t ever get to know. Unlike my high school crush that I eventually mustered the courage to ask to the Homecoming dance during my senior year in high school, I will have virtually no chance of meeting and interacting with any of these FBBs.

But that’s not my only “way out.” I realize that an FBB is a human being, no different than you or I. I fully understand that a muscular woman doesn’t exist solely to satiate my own personal fetishes. Even the three FBBs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting I treated with the utmost respect. I tried to be kind. I apologized to one who had the misfortune of having a lot of cancellations before coming to Seattle. I know many of these women may not even like doing these sessions, but they do them because it gives them a consistent source of income. Travelling takes you away from your friends and family. It’s tough to financially support yourself when you’re involved in a career that isn’t terribly lucrative.

On a personal level, I recognize their humanity and never feel I am entitled to receive whatever I want from them. I hope other people who interact with FBBs do the same.

Dana Lynn Bailey is a living legend.
Dana Lynn Bailey is a living legend.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to preach some “holier-than-thou” message and condemn anyone who made a mistake and treated a muscular woman with rudeness. That is not my intention at all. Rather, I’m just trying to wrap my mind around rationalizing my love for female muscle without falling into the trap of “objectifying” them.

Let’s put it this way: the concept of misogyny. Misogyny is “the hatred of women.” I am far from being a misogynist. But as any feminist critic will tell you, there is a long list of behaviors and attitudes that can be construed as “misogynistic.” Unfortunately, when discussing sexuality, gender relations and feminist theory in general, too often the discussion becomes a shouting match instead of a productive discussion. It’s easy to label men like us as misogynistic because of how much we lust after FBBs.

Is my love for female muscle linked to some deep-seeded hatred for women? Do I love them because they’re women who are more like men, whom obviously I believe are far superior? The answer to these questions is a resounding “NO!”

A great shot of Roberta Toth.
A great shot of Roberta Toth.

My love for muscular women has nothing to do with the fact their physique makes them “look like a man.” It’s easy to slam a person as “objectifying” a muscular woman when you don’t see the world from their perspective. If anything, we’re anti-misogynistic because we love these women for being empowered, powerful (both physically and mentally), determined, goal-oriented and not caring what the rest of the world thinks.

But I digress (boy, what a cliché!) This can be a little extreme. I don’t think too many people who criticize men who love strong women truly believe they actually hate them to any degree. Instead, I think the main criticism we face mostly comes from the accusation that we fetishize these ladies. For example:

White men who only date Asian women are always accused of fetishizing them:

You don’t like them because of who they are. You like them because you love their Asian features and behaviors. You don’t care about them as a person. You only married her because you can’t get enough of her slanted eyes, black hair, slim figure and golden yellow skin. You keep her around because you expect her to be subservient and satisfy your every sexual desire unconditionally.

We’ve all heard this before. And this is just one example. There are plenty more out there. Suffice to say, men who love muscular women might also be slandered for feeling the same way:

You only like them because their muscles turn you on! You only like them because you find their bodies attractive, not them as people. The only purpose a female bodybuilder serves to you is to help you satisfy your personal sexual gratifications. They’re a fetish to you, no different than watching porn or seeing young girls in Catholic school uniforms.

And so on. We’re not fans of these women. We’re creepy, animalistic chauvinist pigs. The fact these women are physically strong means nothing. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. If you put muscles on a woman, it doesn’t change the fact you’re unequivocally objectifying her.

I really love Lindsay Mulinazzi.
I really love Lindsay Mulinazzi.

But let’s hold on for a moment. All judging aside, there’s nothing wrong with being enamored by someone’s physical beauty. It’s nature. It’s natural. It’s a product of hormones, biology and generations and generations of reproduction. Also, there’s nothing morally reprehensible about being physically attracted to someone. Man or woman, gay or straight, it’s all part of human nature. But how you treat a person, however, is a whole other can of worms.

That’s really what this entire conversation boils down to in a nutshell (wait, can you really boil something down to a nutshell? I may have meshed two idioms into one…). How you treat a person. The Miss America pageant is criticized for putting attractive young women on display for no purpose other than to give male viewers something pleasant to look at for a few hours. The Legends Football League (formerly the Lingerie Football League)? Infamous at best. Misogynistic at worst. But nevertheless, no one watches it for the “sport.”

I will admit this is a difficult subject to broach. This conversation hits a lot of us on a gut level. It’s hard to separate my personal desires from my yearning to communicate fairly and objectively. So here is how I will approach this issue:

Objectification, at its core, is a personal thing. Try as we may, we can never know what’s in someone’s heart. Are there men out there who treat FBBs only as sex objects and not as people? Yes. Are there people (men and women) out there who detest FBBs because of their outdated definitions of “femininity?” Yes. Are some female muscle fantasies (for example, wanting to hurt, degrade or humiliate an FBB) shared by some of us rooted in misogyny? Yes, it’s quite possible.

Diana Tinnelle Stanback is someone I've recently discovered. Why haven't I known about her longer?
Diana Tinnelle Stanback is someone I’ve recently discovered. Why haven’t I known about her longer?

I’m not here to deny that objectification happens. I’m not going to argue that misogyny is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, both are still prevalent in our world.

But…we’ll never know for sure how someone feels. What lies in your heart is something no one else will ever know. I know in my heart that I’ve never dehumanized a muscular woman. I treat them as people, not toys. But no matter how much I try to convince myself of this, there’s always that lingering bit of doubt in my mind.

The sport of bodybuilding is all about aesthetic and judging this aesthetic. It goes against what we’ve been taught about how to treat people. A judge at a bodybuilding contest judges a competitor purely based on what their body looks like. How nice they are, how smart they are, and how hard they’ve worked to get to this point doesn’t matter. What matters is how they appear in your subjective (though based on predetermined objective criteria) viewpoint. This goes counter to our culture that teaches us not to be shallow and judge someone on their looks. But within the context of the sport of bodybuilding, this type of judgment is completely justified.

A bodybuilder willingly puts themselves out there to be judged. This requires a level of self-esteem most of us do not possess. So if you really like how they look, is that such a bad thing? After all, their livelihood depends on improving their body’s appearance. If fans out there love the results, what’s the harm?

So we’re in a strange situation where we’re discussing people who willingly put themselves out there and dedicate their lives to shaping their bodies to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. While a bodybuilder’s chief objective isn’t to maximize their sex appeal, inevitably they’re going to enhance their sex appeal whether they like it or not. True, they’re athletes, not models. But when you sculpt your body to superhuman proportions, eventually somebody’s going to notice!

The lesson to be learned is simple: treat others as you would want to be treated. The Golden Rule is as old as time, but it’s stood the test of time for a reason. It’s a damn good rule to follow!

Don’t treat a female bodybuilder like a piece of meat. If you ever encounter one, treat her with respect. Don’t expect her to do certain things for you or allow you to do certain things to her just because you saw a video of her doing similar activities to a paid actor. Recognize their humanity. Accept that it’s perfectly okay to find her sexually attractive, but don’t allow this attraction to warp your perceptions of them.

The Blonde Muscle Goddess Cindy Phillips.
The Blonde Muscle Goddess Cindy Phillips.

Essentially, don’t be a jerk. You’ll be fine if you always act as kind and respectful as you can.

Will some people continue to ridicule you? Of course. Will certain folks still insist there’s something fundamentally “wrong” with you? Naturally. Just tune them out. Only you know what’s in your mind and heart.

The issue of sexual objectification is a tough one to tackle. Human history is chock full of battles between people wanting to be acknowledged as human beings and people who refuse to treat them like that. This still continues today.

People are people. We are all people trying to make our way through this confusing universe. Our time is limited here on planet Earth. We shouldn’t make things harder on each other if we can avoid it.

So embrace your female muscle fandom. And show your appreciation for these ladies and all their hard work. It’s the most respectful thing you can do.