If there is a socially-acceptable reason why a woman has well-developed muscles (she's an athlete, a dancer or a gymnast, for example), the mainstream don't have a problem. But a woman who has muscles just for the sake of having muscles is labelled 'a freak' (or something less polite perhaps). Remember the outcry about Cameron Diaz and her 'muscles' (see older post) and then imagine what kind of abuse a picture of your average national level bodybuilder can expect from anonymous web users.
But some female bodybuilders take it a stage further. Put your avarage national level amateur FBB next to a 'normal' woman and the difference is striking. But some female bodybuilders look massive even compared to their peers in the sport. Even among the 'freaks' they look freaky.
I remember seeing Pumping Iron II for the first time. Nothing in my sordid teenage female muscle lovin' imagination had prepared me for the sight of Bev Francis. And although she appears in the film right from the start, two scenes with her are seared into my memory. The first, just before the contest, when she is showing off her legs in her hotel room to some of the other competitors. The second is when she takes the stage and starts her posing routine, bronzed, ripped and more massive than I had ever imagined a woman could be. Truly, an 'unprecedented woman'. Surely, I thought then, there will never be anyone as big as Bev again.
But women lke Christine Envall, Colette Guimond, Rene Toney and others have pushed the boundaries even further.
Often the biggest woman is the crowd favourite at shows, but these super-freaks rarely end up with the first prize. Being the most muscular woman in a sport that is supposed to be all about developing muscles does not guarantee the highest rewards. The mainstream label them 'disgusting' or 'abhorrent', and even fans of female muscle accuse them of 'taking it too far'.
So what drives them? Is it what Rene Campbell has called 'bigorexia'? Do they simply love having such uniquely muscular bodies? I like to think it is rooted in a refusal to conform to societal norms and to ever-changing judging criteria. 'I'm going to be the most muscular woman on that stage, perhaps the most muscular woman in the world, and to hell with you if you don't like it!'
Personally, I can't help but admire such an attitude. And although Denise Hoshor and Gina Davis, big but obviously still feminine, are my absolute favourite female bodybuilders, I can't deny that from time to time only the super-freaky women with her mountains of pure female muscle beef will satisfy my female muscle cravings. It's rather like a marijuana smoker who occasionally needs an opium pipe!
Where will it end? How big can a woman potentially be? In my copy of Richard Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth, there is a picture of a female bodybuilder on stage, hitting an impressive rear double biceps. Dawkins uses bodybuilders (in general, not just females) as an example of how the genes we are given can be moulded to extremes within extremely short periods of time. In the case of male and female bodybuilders this is achieved by pumping iron and taking various substances. For female bodybuilders the moulding process is greater, as their genes are not as naturally prone to developing large muscles as a male bodybuilder's are.
Next to the picture of the FBB is one of a Belgian Blue, a breed of cow. This animal's genes have been so interfered with by humans that it develops huge muscles 'naturally'. Specifically, a hormone called myostatin, which limits muscle growth, has been 'turned off' by generations of selective breeding. What results is a cow which pretty much looks like it's been taking steroids and pumping iron.
Is this, perhaps, the next stage then? Myostatin restricting drugs for humans may be being developed right now (or for all I know already exist). Does this mean that there is therefore no theoretical limit to the muscles a woman can develop? Will the female bodybuilders of the future look like something from the imagination of a digital artist like Tigersan?
And if it really is true that there is no limit in theory to the muscular development a woman can have, we can only conclude that in the future the muscles of today's super-freaks like Christine, Colette and Rene might seem quite tame!