Iron Man Magazine – Women’s Bodybuilding: Freaks or Not (2001)
Iron Man Magazine is a popular fitness publication. It was founded in 1936 and has remained in circulation ever since. Iron Man Magazine covers bodybuilding, powerlifting, and weightlifting. The magazine was developed by Peary Rader and Mabel Rader. They were a husband and wife team that started the long running fitness publication. Over the years, the publication changed focus. When it made its debut, it was designed to educate the public about strength sports. Mabel Rader’s story is a fascinating one. At first she did not approve of her husband’s strength training hobby. Then she got involved herself and loved it. Mabel became an advocate for women in strength sports and later served as a judge as well as referee for contests. She was a pioneer in a time in which women’s involvement in fitness and sports was limited. By the end of the 20th century women were active in bodybuilding, powerlifting, and weightlifting. The irony is that an article that appeared in 2001 issue sounded like comments from the 1950s. One writer displays his sexism and dislike of women’s bodybuilding. While there is nothing wrong with having an opposing view, hateful vituperation is inexcusable. Fitness magazines tend to have an issue with female athletes. The claims that are put forward can be refuted. Women’s bodybuilding does not spawn confusion. The perplexing elements is why some still hold on to their prejudice or repudiate anyone who is different.
Female bodybuilders would not be freaks according to the basic denotation. Freak can be defined as ” a person, animal, or plant with a physical abnormality.” Being a muscular woman is not a physical abnormality. The word freak itself has been subject to scrutiny. The word came from a longer phrase “freak of nature.” The word became a pejorative, because it dehumanizes people with physical deformities. What was worse was freak shows that were a part of circuses, amusement parks, dime museums, and vaudeville houses. People with disabilities were also subject to this type of humiliation. Freak shows were popular mostly in the US and Europe. At the height of their popularity during the 19th to early 20th century it was another form of entertainment. Viewed from a 21st century perspective, this was degradation of other human beings.
How can women be designated as freaks, when men are not ? The average man does not look like this. Based on the columnist’s criteria all athletes would be freaks, because they deviate from the norm.
Obviously, the writer does not have any knowledge of this sordid history. The context in which he uses freak is for women who deviate from the norm. If that is the case then men should be called freaks also. Male bodybuilders have taken size to the extreme. They did this far beyond what women did. The reaction was not as negative. The fitness and sports world clearly operates on a double standard. If a man wants to reach his physical potential it is praised. When a woman wants to build strength and muscle it is an abnormality. These beliefs are more illogical considering it was published in a magazine that promotes the sport.
Detractors like to attack fans of female bodybuilding. The ones they focus on the most are the very dedicated schmoes. The columnists calls them perverts and suggest they are deviants. What he states are tired stereotypes. Schmoes are just men who love the most muscular and strongest female bodybuilders. Men have types of women they like. Liking muscular women is not strange or odd. The bizarre part is that people’s reaction to this preference. Some are either confused, judgmental, or disgusted. Only a few ask a question to learn why. No one would question a man looking at a fashion model or Hollywood actress. The criticism for someone’s preference is the antithesis of choice and freedom. A man should be able to select what woman he likes and not be dictated to by society. There are many forms of beauty and the muscular female physique is one version.
The Ms. Olympia does have devoted fans who attend every year. It makes no sense to disparage a fanbase that can generate profit.
It should no come as a surprise their a men who like muscular women. This is the only sport in which women compete in limited clothing. The male bodybuilders can sometimes be the biggest schmoes around. A top male bodybuilder may have little time to invest in relationships. An average woman might not be willing to be around a man with such a focused goal. The sport is very much a lifestyle and is time consuming . Being with a female bodybuilder would be easier considering she would be more understanding. The some male athletes appreciate that their female counterparts have the same love and passion for the sport. The columnist does not represent all men or their opinions. Women might think all men are against them, but tend to forget that their is substantial male support. Some men like this in secret, because they are afraid to express their support. So it is not just women who have to deal with the consequences of sexism in strength sports. Fans are ostracized for liking the sport.
Session wrestling has been part of the female bodybuilding subculture. The author calls it prostitution. That is not correct, because sessions may not involve sex. This does not mean relations between client and athlete do not happen. While considered a fetish activity, the main objective is to wrestle. Fitness women have also done this as well. Other women have done this in other divisions. The reason obviously is one related to money. Doing a few sessions can pay for certain things an athlete might need. Some motivation for this might be that women just like exerting some of their immense physical power. This could be a female version of power fantasy.
Seeing as some athletes are paid low, session wrestling becomes extra income. Women from all classes are doing sessions. The exact number is unknown.
When this article was published in Iron Man Magazine, fitness was a new class. More would follow and the women realized they could make large sums of money from sessions. Sessions existed even before the 2000s. Calling session wrestling prostitution would just be calling all the women prostitutes. Session wrestling is an activity that is part of the subculture. Sessions are neither negative or positive. They are just a part of the female bodybuilding subculture.
The fitness versus bodybuilding is a ludicrous argument. For a period of time, it appeared that the IFBB was trying to phase out female bodybuilding in favor of fitness. Whatever the class women have a certain level of muscularity. Marla Duncan( who the author sexually objectifies in a disgusting way ) was a fitness model, but had well developed muscularity. She could have competed in the bodybuilding class by gaining a few more pounds. A size bias exists in bodybuilding for women, which is illogical.