Friday, 31 May 2013

Swell Digs: Selma Labat

Sometimes a truly extraordinary FBB comes along.
(forum post)

Selma Labat has made quite an impression in a very short time on the world of female muscle fandom, and it’s not difficult to see why. Stunning exotic beauty, a body carved from stone, and that Brazilian femininity make for a combination that has certainly made Swell sit up and pay attention, and as the forum post above illustrates, I am not the only one she’s hooked.

Having been ‘always dedicated to her body’, Selma has waited until the age of 40 to compete. Her first appearance was at the Arnold Classic Brasil qualifier this year, where she finished second to her compatriot Ana Paula Silva. Her second time on stage was at the recent São Paulo championships, where she took first place in her home town.

Of course, Selma has been hard at work on her body for many many years. Her husband, Fabio Labat, is a bodybuilder himself, and has been responsible for preparing his wife for competition. Nevertheless, it seems like Selma has come to us fully-formed. There’s been no progress to follow - she’s just arrived, as if by magic, and perhaps this is part of the reason why she has made such a big impression.

Her decision to wait until now to get her body out there, as it were, makes me wonder whether she’s on a one-woman mission to prove the old adage that ‘life begins at 40’, although given that she looks better than most women half her age, perhaps she’s just proving that ‘40 is the new 20’, or something.

She may have appeared as if from nowhere, but in the female muscle world at least, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that she’s about to be everywhere. Already she has made TV appearances in Brazil and worked with Awefilms. She has the looks and the body to become the next female muscle superstar and whatever that indefinable 'it' is that sets some women apart from others, Selma Labat has it.

And as if to prove that point, here's Selma doing nothing but walking...

You can see her doing rather more than just walking with her TV appearance on a Brazilian reality TV show here, an interview (in Portuguese) here, and her routine at the Paulista here. You might also want to subscribe to her youtube channel and see if you aren't digging Selma as much as I am before long...


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Swell Digs: Strong and Hard Women

Last summer, I was contacted by Dr. Tanya Bunsell of the University of St. Mary’s University College London. As a result, British FMS readers were invited to take part in a research project about female muscle fans here in the UK, and several of you regular readers accepted the invitation. The results of that research have now been incorporated into Dr. Bunsell’s book: Strong and Hard Women.

One of the reasons I was so keen to help Dr. Bunsell with her research was that for a long time I’d felt frustrated at the portrayal of female muscle fans in the media “as weedy, nerdy, pathetic, ‘living with their mothers at 40 and saving every penny for sessions’, repressed homosexuals, lacking in social skills and having something mentally defective about them.” I hoped that her research might be the first step in dispelling that myth. Unfortunately, the study group of muscle worshippers the author was able to contact through the blog was extremely small, so more research will be necessary. However, more pleasingly, none of us matched the stereotypical profile.

We are, apparently, “middle-class, university-educated, and aged late 20s - late 40s. The majority… heterosexual and… active gym members.” Anecdotal evidence from interviews the author conducted with female bodybuilders who offer muscle worship sessions supports the idea that the stereotype was way off the mark. One female bodybuilder saying “they are of all ages (20–80 years old), ethnicities, classes and appearances”.


But it would be misleading of me to only focus on the chapter (half a chapter, in fact) that deals with the phenomenon of female muscle worship. The book, after all, is about the “Strong and Hard Women”, not about us men who love them, and even that half-chapter is mainly about their attitudes to muscle worship, not ours. Subtitled “An Ethnography of Female Bodybuilders”, it is, without doubt, the most comprehensive and detailed study of the lives of female bodybuilders ever undertaken, and a fascinating look inside their world and their “lived experiences”.

Since I first read the book soon after its publication in April, I’ve been wanting to post a review of it here. The writing of the review, however, has proved to be quite beyond me. Instead, what I think I can do is to describe something about the effect that reading and re-reading this book has had on me.

I’ve been a fan of female muscle for getting on twenty-five years, and during those twenty-five years, I have picked up a thing or two about female bodybuilding. Or so I thought. In the time it took for me to read Strong and Hard Women, I learned more than I had in all of those twenty-five years, and unlearned a great deal of what I thought I knew besides. Reading it has been a life-changing experience in that respect, and that is perhaps the highest praise that any book can receive.

To be honest, I was slightly nervous on first reading. I wondered if I might learn too much about female bodybuilders from the book, that I’d learn things that I didn’t want to know, and that my love of muscle women would be tarnished by that.

It’s true there is a lot of detail here. As much detail as you could want. The author has quite literally got inside the world of the female bodybuilder by, to all intents and purposes, becoming one herself. Only by walking the walk was she able to get the women to talk the talk to her.

On one occasion a potential interviewee asks a male bodybuilder to put Dr. Bunsell through a punishing training session as a test of her credentials before granting her an interview. In another section the author shares a diary entry in which she describes her exhausted muscles: “My forearm hurts just picking up a cup of tea. My hand hurts, my shoulders, biceps and lats – all of which were pumped with blood and endorphins not so long ago.”

But having proved herself, having made her body one of the tools of her research, Dr. Bunsell is able to gain acceptance, and consequently unprecedented access to the world of the female bodybuilder. She’s so trusted by one of the women that steroids are stored in her kitchen while an interview is conducted. In many cases women who started out as subjects become the author’s friends.

It’s this level of intimacy that sets the study apart. From steroids to sexuality, from contests to coping with the ultra-masculine world of the weights room, from friendships to family relationships, every aspect of the life of a female bodybuilder is here. And throughout the book there is the author’s own journey through this world that she (and we) are so fascinated by, as well as the benefit of her academic knowledge, as she explains the feminist issues surrounding the sport.

Quite simply, there is absolutely nothing comparable on the subject to this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough, despite its wallet-busting retail price (Amazon have the book available for less than £70 at the time of writing, and that's as good as it gets right now), I would urge you to buy it.

I feared I would learn too much from reading Dr. Bunsell's book, but while I certainly have learned more than I ever imagined I could, it has only served to increase my admiration for these truly heroic women.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Swell Digs: Jenna Brown

When I hear that a female bodybuilder is 'dropping down' and becoming a physique competitor, I have to admit that sometimes my heart sinks a little, and perhaps a tiny bugle in my head plays 'The Last Post'.

But competitors move up as well as down. So far, I haven't noticed any physique ladies moving up to bodybuilding, but there are more than a few making the move from figure up to physique - cue champagne corks a-poppin'.

One of these ladies on the up is Jenna Brown.

And I have to confess I think I've fallen a little bit in love with her.

If you've not met her yet, I'll let Jenna introduce herself.

Now, tell me you're not just a little bit in love too.

In case you were not paying attention to what Jenna was saying, she mentioned coming from a family of bodybuilders, but as we can see from the transformation pictures, Jenna hasn't been bodybuilding all her life. What a stunning beauty she is now. And quite a natural in front of the camera, I think you will agree.

Still, aren't you curious who this family of bodybuilders are? I certainly am. The only 'Brown' I can think of is the great Marissa Brown. Could Jenna be her daughter? How cool would that be?!

And I have to confess I'm also curious about the room mate she talks about.
Not so much about her boyfriend.

Jenna only started competing last year. Her first contest was the NPC Mid-Florida Classic, where she finished second in her class (Tall Figure). Her second contest, the Daytona Beach Classic last September, was her first win. Most recently, in March this year, she was second again at the NPC Sunshine Classic, still competing in figure.

So, given what she says and the noticeable extra muscle she's gained on that stunning frame of hers, I can only assume that her next contest will be her first as a physique competitor. I, for one, am looking forward to it.

And to finish, a little more of Jenna 'working it'.

Follow Jenna on Instagram

More of what Swell digs tomorrow. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Swell Digs: The Adventures of Ryan Takahashi

Or, to give it it's complete title...


I admire quite a few bloggers. I've mentioned PumpItUp's Female Muscle, the longest-running UK-based female muscle blog many times before here. Area Orion is a fantastic place for news, gossip, female muscle history, and of course, the fantastic female muscle morphs. Insane Muscle Girls, now on Tumblr, focuses on the sexier side of female muscle, while from the US, El Mariachi's Erotic Female Muscle pays homage to the author's favourite women in his own special way. BIG Female Bodybuilders from the UK does what it says on the tin, and Muscle Woman Quixada from Brazil will introduce you to women from, well, Brazil.

Some of these blogs were part of the inspiration for me to start FMS, all of them are highly recommended, but with the utmost respect to those bloggers, there's only one blog concerned with muscle women and the men who love them that I read purely for the quality of the writing, and that blog is The Adventures of Ryan Takahashi.

Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, 'Ryan Takahashi' is a nom de plume. He claims to be a marketing copywriter - the blog providing him with a creative outlet - and I can't see any reason to doubt that, because whether he's writing the fictional adventures of his alter ego or his essays about female muscle, he does it, in my opinion anyway, quite beautifully.

But it's not just HOW he writes that Swell digs. It's also very much WHAT he writes, particularly in his 'essays' about muscle women, men who are attracted to them, and the perceptions of female muscularity in society. When I first came across the blog, reading essays such as What's So Alluring about Female Bodybuilders?, or The Strangeness of Having a Female Muscle Fetish, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts put into words. Perhaps you will find the same thing applies to you should you read them.

And these essays have, again, just my opinion, got better and better. His most recent posts on the subject, Top Ten Misconceptions about Having a Female Muscle Fetish, and Female Muscle and Masculine Insecurity are among his best work.

Whoever 'Ryan Takahashi' actually is, he has a gift. And one of the ways he's chosen to use his gift is to write about how it feels and what it means to be a female muscle head today. I can't imagine a better spokesman.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Swell Digs: Bare Backs

A particular (and extremely specialised) niche of female muscle image that I'm finding particularly stimulating these days is the subject of today's post. Maybe these kinds of pictures remind me of the old 'Back Page' of issues of Women's Physique World magazines. Perhaps, having been an 'abs-man' for so long, I'm just changing and becoming a 'back-man', and, as I noted back in December last year, perhaps Gillian Kovack's posing at the Toronto Pro is largely responsible for that (see Women of the Year 2012). It could just as well be that these images are largely homemade, not professionally taken, and my liking for them stems from this because they're are a relatively new kind of female muscle photograph, still a novelty.

One of the things to admire quite apart from the muscle is the skill involved in taking a picture of your own back. Mistress Treasure/Victoria Dominguez has captioned a self-back portrait that was posted on Tumblr 'This shit ain't easy.' Try it. I almost dislocated a shoulder having a go! But not all of the images are taken this way, which allows us (well, me anyway) to imagine being the photographer, being the guy who gets to hold the camera when your muscle woman wants to check if all those rows and deadlifts and pull-ups are paying off...

...or perhaps just what that new tattoo looks like. A lot of female muscle heads seem to get in quite a tizz about body art. Why, oh why would they cover up such a lovely body with pointless ink, is a common refrain you see on the boards. For what it's worth, I think that, like all art, it's a subjective matter. There's body art I really like, and body art I really don't like. And anyway, does the tattoo really 'cover up' the muscles? Surely these guys are getting body art confused with clothes! And besides, whatever my opinion of the ink, I much prefer a muscle woman with tattoos to a non-muscle woman with or without tattoos.

So, enjoy the selection, marvel at the skill it takes to capture your own back, dream of being the man who gets to take the picture of her muscular back (and give it regular massages), and if you don't like the body art, just look at the muscles.

left: Dani Reardon
right: Kristina Dybdahl

Branka Njegovec

Frida Palmell

Christine Envall

left to right: Katka Kyptova, Angie Salvagno, Estefania Saura Moya

Nina Loebardt


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Swell Digs: Nadi Kor

Her real name is Nadežda Korepanova, which is probably a very beautiful-sounding name - if only I knew how to pronounce it! - and she comes from Latvia. She's a figure competitor, and last year finished second only to rising star Karina Akmens at the NAC Latvia Championships. Why is Swell digging her so much? Well, let me explain...

'Washing My Biceps with Soap 2' (there's a part 1 as well, you'll be pleased to know) is one of the 184 minute or so long clips of herself (last count, there'll probably be ten to fifteen more by the time you read this if she keeps up at her current rate) she has uploaded to her Nadi Kor youtube channel.

They have titles like 'Amaizing Nadi in Season Flexing Her Muscles' (there are eleven parts to that one); 'Fashion Show and Flexing Muscles on Public', which takes place in a store fitting room and unfortunately has just four parts; the most recent series (at the time of writing) is 'Flexing in Tram on Public' (six parts, so far); and my personal favourite title 'Muscles on Girl Are Beautiful, Enjoy...' (an epic, at fourteen parts).

Sure, Nadi has a tenuous grasp of prepositions in English. But then again, how's your Latvian? And sure, all of this is in aid of getting you to contact Nadi and request a private cam show on Skype, which will only be possible once you've made a donation to her cause, I suspect.

A plethora of women advertising such services have emerged in the last couple of years. Some of the other flexers are all about the domination, the abuse. For example, (I don't want to mention her name, but you may recognise her) there's one who begins her clips by greeting the viewers with a disdainful 'Hello bitches'. Not my thing at all.

Nadi, it seems to me, is quite different. I must be her target market, because she couldn't be any more spot on to my taste. There's the sheer volume of clips, there's the fact that so many of her clips involve flexing in public, and there's the fact that she seems to be enjoying showing off so much. For her, it's all about the display, and that's always a winner for me.

If she ever wanted to change the name of her channel, I'd suggest changing it to 'The Ecstasy of Muscle' because I reckon that's exactly what she's feeling.

I know I'm feeling it. How about you?

Enjoy! More of the good stuff tomorrow.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Swell Digs: Ria Ward

A week of some of what has been rocking my boat so far in 2013 kicks off with Ria Ward, a British figure competitor who, despite my tireless research into the British NABBA scene, only really came to my attention very recently when I saw a preview of her new video from the ever-excellent Fit Vids.

The blurb accompanying her video on their website says, Not often are we blown away here at fitvids... but really and truly we certainly have been by Ria Ward. Now, I'm not sure if that's true for them - after all these are the same people who have filmed Kim Perez at her most massive, were responsible for filming a ripped Heidi Vuorela doing curls in pink hotpants, and even have a clip in which Tina Chandler grows before your very eyes. Like I say, ever-excellent. But nevertheless, the description will serve very nicely for Ria's effect on Swell. Blown away sums it up very well!

And not least because I could not believe I'd never even heard of Ria before. This may be a sad reflection of the lack of publicity female bodybuilders receive here in the UK, but it may equally well may be a sad reflection on my own ability to keep up with what's happening on the British female muscle scene. No doubt it's a bit of both, but whatever the reason, Ria is well and truly on the Slave radar now.

Ria's story is just what a guy like me wants to hear, a guy who takes their training seriously enough to make it a habit and who is partly motivated by the hope that their partner will one day join them in the weights room and find they like it more than zumba. Until 2008 I had never stepped foot in a gym, I hated P.E. in school, I had terrible eating habits and lived on junk food and sweets. I smoked and drank alcohol most weekends. I was unhealthy, unfit and unhappy. I didn’t know the first thing about eating healthy or what foods were good for you. My husband on the other hand regularly attended the gym and often tried to get me to come along. I one day agreed and didn’t like it but went along as I used to feel good once it was over with. That's how it began. Well done Mr Ward!

Mr Ward's reward came fast. Just imagine this happening to you, dear reader. Within a few weeks I had got into a routine. I was attending the gym 3 times a week, joined a few classes and started weight training with my husband. Within weeks the changes were amazing. My body was looking great and I felt fantastic and I loved the changes! I started taking such a keen interest that I started reading all about health and fitness and changed my lifestyle. I just wanted to get fitter, healthier, and learn as much as I could in the process. I attended a bodybuilding show and after seeing the beautiful Toned Figure ladies I decided that’s what I want I wanted, to become a figure competitor.

And within a year, Mr Ward found himself married to a Miss NABBA UK. This was my goal. I got myself a personal trainer/figure competitor who knew just what I needed to do to get me on that stage and I had my first ever competition in October 2009. It was NABBA UK and I won! Just one year after I started going to the gym! In one year I completely turned my life around and was up on stage winning my first competition. I doubt he ever stops smiling.

Now 31, Ria is a personal trainer and nutrition specialist who can turn your life around, even running her own ladies bootcamp in her native Rochdale. (And by the way, Rochdale. Home not only of Ria Ward, but also of one of our most successful UK female bodybuilders, Linda Gartside. Once again, Swell is left wondering whether California and Florida are all they're cracked up to be and whether perhaps Greater Manchester and the North of England generally might be a better place for female muscle heads to seek the women of their dreams...)

But enough of my geographical theories of female muscle. Back to Ria! Details of her training programmes and bootcamp, as well as more bio can be found on her website, Fit 4 Life.

And here's the Fit Vids clip that I mentioned at the start. Have a watch and see if you don't start chastising yourself for not knowing about Ria Ward as much as I have been.

Enjoy! More of what Swell digs tomorrow.