Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Karen's XTC

In the course of putting together The Agony & the Ecstasy, FMS came across an image that so perfectly illustrates our point that we felt compelled to give it its own post.

The woman is Karen Smith. We know she is Canadian, and thanks to the all-knowing Muscle Memory, we were able to establish that it was taken during her routine at the Canadian Nationals in 1995. Karen was crowned the lightweight champion.

We know that in the same year she competed at the NPC North American Championships and finished 5th as a middleweight. She also appeared in WPW around that time. What happened after 1995 to Karen Smith, nobody seems to know.

If it's a biography of Karen Smith you're after, sorry to disappoint you. But, thanks to Karen and the photographer responsible, what we do have is a snapshot of her on stage that epitomises our pet theory (of the week!). It's so perfect, in fact, that if we had to give the photo a title, it'd be something like "The Ecstasy of the Female Bodybuilder".

Take a good long look for yourself.

There's no rush... Muscular beauty like this needs time to be appreciated. Her left shoulder (right as you look) curves out so beautifully, the muscle full and pumped. The pose ripples through her left pec muscle (right as you look), and what a joy her old school nothing-but-muscle chest is to behold! Look at the tendon at the top of her thigh, so pronounced as she flexes hard onto her right leg, flaring her glistening quad...

You probably don't need me to tell you where to look!

What I'm looking at is a woman in absolutely the best condition she can be in, but whether I think she is actually perfect or not is besides the point. What is important is what Karen thought, and especially what Karen was feeling on that stage in 1995.

The image, it seems to me, shows that Karen has fully realised what Tanya Bunsell calls 'the latent image in her mind’s eye', the vision she has of her body at its most perfect.

And how does it feel to realise that image?

She's smiling, her nostrils are flaring. Her eyes are closed.

I think we are looking at Karen's moment of ultimate ecstasy...

And whatever she did before or after that moment in 1995, at least we know that this (clearly) talented female bodybuilder had her moment. And thanks to the photographer, Karen's moment has been caught forever. Forever in ecstasy.

Unfortunately, there's no footage that we know of of Karen at this show, but you can watch her routine from the North Americans. She's not in quite the same peak shape (only strengthening our argument that the Canadians was her peak), but at least you can get a feeling for her considerable stage presence for sure. She's on from 0.38 for about thirty glorious seconds in this round-up of the winners on YouTube.

And if by some bizarre chance Karen Smith is out there somewhere today and is an FMS reader (and don't laugh, you'd be surprised by some of the women who do read us, I'm sure) then please, Karen, we would absolutely love to have you get in touch and tell us how we've got it all completely wrong about what you were feeling in this picture...

All our Karen Smith archive

Dedicated, with thanks, to C

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Look of Love: Abs
Natalia Kovalyova willing her six-pack into existence

There are plenty of women out there with naturally well-developed calves. Fewer women are naturally blessed with stronger and ever so slightly muscular arms. These and other women with some natural muscularity fool my female muscle radar on a regular basis. But as far as I know, there aren't any women on the planet with naturally defined six-pack abs - and please, if I'm wrong do tell me where they are).

It's not surprising there is so much navel-gazing (if you'll forgive the pun) going on in the female muscle world. Every single one of these cut and sexy women have put in hours, weeks, months and years of effort in order to achieve their magnificent midriffs. Early morning alarms, intense and painful workouts, the discipline of the diet... The sense of achievement must be immense. But not only that, a woman wouldn't even try to get a ripped midsection unless she thought it was, among other things, a sexy look.

Remember the NPC competitor on Tumblr who we quoted the other day saying how she felt so fat off-season, how she always wanted to look like she did two days before a contest? (see The Look of Love: Mirror, Mirror). Well, in our offerings today we have women who are in or around contest shape, women who are pretty much 100% happy with how their bodies, their muscles, and, in particular, their abs are looking.

Here we are again with female bodybuilders at their happiest at or around competition time (perhaps the night before not so much, but generally). And by the way some of these ladies you see here are looking at themselves and their musclelicious bellies, 'happy' may not be the most accurate word to use. It's "The Look of Love" again!

And Swell loves that look, yes I do. But with summer approaching here in the UK (not very fast, but approaching nonetheless) I'm fearing for my female muscle radar. Summer is the time of bare midriffs. Teens mostly, but the occasional woman in her twenties who thinks she has a toned tummy but doesn't are both going to soon be liable to flash the flesh in the heat of the summer. And that means more false alarms for my poor radar. Even worse, there are the women who are actually fat but just don't care letting it all hang out. No radar issue there, but I have an issue with that. What I don't see - it may be going on elsewhere my friends, but it certainly ain't going on here I can tell you - is fit and muscular ladies baring themselves in the abdominal area.

So, six-pack ladies of the world, FMS says to you, this summer, bare your magnificent midsections! Show the world your musclelicious midriffs. Let's 'ave them abs out!

[You may be thinking that the only reason I'm making this appeal is because I want (NEED!) to see more female muscle in my life. If you are, shame on you. Well, I'm not saying that's NOT a reason, but I do have more altruistic aims in mind here.]

Get them out at home and it might turn on your boyfriend (or his brother, or their Dad), but that's about as far as it goes. Get them out in the gym and you may inspire another woman. Isn't that better? Well, check this out, get them out in the street and by the law of averages you'll inspire a lot more women who have never been near a gym (or have and gave up on January 7th). They will go to the gym, seek you out for advice even. Make you feel even better about the amazing body you already feel very good about. And then there is the added bonus that the wannabes and the tubbies will be shamed into putting their inferior 'physiques' back under a layer at least. We all win.

And while you are at it, you might, from time to time, look down at your own abs with that look, that look of love. After all, we wouldn't want anybody doubting how very very good it feels to be the woman walking down the street, all eyes upon you, proud and aroused in your muscular armour, showing off the rippling results of all that physical exertion and dietary discipline, your superior shredded abs.

If I can't convince you, maybe Bella Falconi can...

"Oh look she’s got man's abs." Free yourself from labeling. It won’t make you better, not even prettier. If abs were for men, women wouldn’t be born with it or with the ability to work to achieve it. And I wear mine proudly. I sweated for it and this is the materialization of the battle 'me against my mind', which I obviously won and win everyday of my life. Weak are those who criticize. Strong are those who regardless of others’ opinion, keep working for their ideals with the right mind set: a champion’s attitude and champions don’t give up. Weakness is ugly. Abs aren’t.

Enjoy, and stay tuned for The Look of Love: Biceps coming soon!

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Agony & the Ecstasy

Lea Wiehl - check her out her Facebook, she's the Danish Georgina McConnell (only smaller!) - took to the stage over the Easter weekend at The Loaded Cup.

This was her competitive debut, her first experience of the physical and mental challenges involved in preparing for and performing at a bodybuilding show. And in the mood I'm in this week, I couldn't help but wonder how Lea was feeling as she stood up there and posed for the judges and the crowd (not to mention all the fans following the show's live stream). And as I looked at Lea, I couldn't help remembering something I'd read by an anonymous female IFBB pro on her feelings about competing...

It's agony to get so depleted, but it's ecstasy to show it off...

The challenges involved in competing are well-documented. But what of the pleasures? In the final chapter of Strong and Hard Women, Tanya Bunsell gives us a unique and invaluable insight into both as she recounts her experience of following "Michelle", a female bodybuilder, preparing and competing in a regional British show.

In her opinion, unless you go through the bodybuilding diet yourself, you can never fully understand what it’s like... With more than two weeks to go before the show, "Michelle" finds herself in a difficult place – I’m tired, I’m exhausted and I’m not very responsive. I know that I can just sit in my vegetative state just listening, but it can come across that I just don’t care. I’m just not very enthusiastic – just plodding along. Sometimes I feel like I’m cold, shut off and isolated and completely on my own – and everything gets blamed on the diet and sometimes I feel so alone with it.

But as we enter the fortnight before the show, "Michelle" transforms, both physically and mentally, as the end of her journey (the contest) comes into sight. Dr. Bunsell observes that her drawn face is animated by her bright, almost translucent blue eyes, with dilated pupils. She describes an ‘almost heightened awareness’. This sublime, ‘euphoric’ feeling manifests itself in an overall feeling of confidence.

This is demonstrated in the gym, when, one week before the competition, she trains in a vest and tight shorts, rather than her usual baggy T-shirts and tracksuit bottoms. Within the gym, Michelle is greeted by hushed whispers, people pointing and shocked stares. Some men even take one look at her and leave the weights area altogether. Instead of her usual reaction of annoyance and frustration as a result of such unwelcome distractions from her training, she now challenges the onlookers in a direct but non-aggressive manner. Far from turning away and avoiding eye contact in a dignified manner, she poses audaciously in front of the mirror for all to see.

With a couple of days to go, her depleted body is crying out for carbs and her intake of water so great she needs to pee all the time. The afternoon before the show and she's suffering from a deep thirst and only having the odd tiny sip of water. But at least she gets to have the carbs she's been dying for. "Michelle" has been looking forward to this treat, but so dry is her mouth that her carrot cake tastes like 'sawdust'.

On the day of the show itself, "Michelle" gets what she calls her 'time to shine'. It's a regional amateur show, but there's a crowd of over 1,000 spectators to perform for as well as the judges. Backstage, Dr. Bunsell witnesses "Michelle"'s final transformation.

As she begins to pump up for the last time, new life is breathed back into her organs, causing the separation between her muscle groups to become so distinctly visible and her veins so prominent that her body looks like an anatomy chart come to life. Her pumped-up muscles glisten underneath the oil and perspiration. It is finally time for that sacred moment. Everything has been building up to this one moment in time.

It seems then that competing is both a kind of physical AND a spiritual experience, much like a pilgrimage in my opinion. The moment on stage is Mecca, and it is 'sacred', and the end of the journey. What "Michelle" feels when on stage is, sadly, missing from the account, but Dr. Bunsell tells us she looks confident, radiant and proud as she stands with the lights shining down on her and the audience clapping and cheering.

At this point, Dr. Bunsell claims, "Michelle" is storing memories that will serve to get her through the process of contest prep again. The journey has been both spiritual and physical, so they are memories of 'sensations and emotions' rather than events.

And it is these memories of her 'sacred moment' that will help enable "Michelle" to compete again and to once more achieve the objectively insane ambition of depleting her body of excess fat and ridding it of as much water as possible, until it is at its most unhealthy and weak. It is the memory of the 'ecstasy' that makes the 'agony' bearable. And the moment of 'ecstasy' is the 'sacred' moment when she is posing on stage.

Congratulations to Lea, to "Michelle" (she won the contest in the book in case you were wondering), and to all competitive female bodybuilders, pro and amateur, whatever their division or federation. FMS wishes you all the ecstasy you can handle!


Strong and Hard Women - sadly no paperback edition as yet.