Back in November last year, Denise Masino, owner of female bodybuilding's most famous bits, took part in an "Iron Debate" for Rx Muscle.com with Dave Palumbo, Mr Rx Muscle and (if I'm not mistaken) the former squeeze of Colette Nelson, and Chris Aceto, "Bodybuilding Guru" and the former Mr Laura Creavalle.
At an hour and a half, it's a weighty watch. The host looks somewhat sedated but he does have one of those deep and deliberate American sports broadcaster voices (like Kevin Gamble on Sky's NFL coverage), which lends the whole thing a bit of gravitas. Palumbo seems to be there to plug product and, in a bizarre moment near the start, show off his baby boa constrictor (for real). And also near the start of the show Aceto confesses he's worried Denise, the first woman bodybuilder to be invited to an "Iron Debate" will be both more attractive to look at and more intelligent than him. And with good reason. As they cover subjects relevant to female bodybuilding - from the growth pf the Physique division to the place (or not) of adult entertainers within the IFBB - Denise proves herself to be informed, passionate and eloquent - not that Mr Aceto isn't any of those things, you understand, it's just that Denise is... well, MORE!
Denise gets the lion's share of voice time, but to save FMS readers the trouble, we have sat through the whole damn thing ourselves and picked out some of Denise's best/most thought-provoking quotes from the show, and illustrated them with some recent images of the ever-smokin' La Masino for your viewing pleasure.
A lot of people have a problem with Physique as a category as opposed to Women's Bodybuilding and they feel the one is undercutting the other. My perspective on it is a little bit different. Bodybuilding is an aesthetic choice, and you know the nature of the sport really is that through years of training and muscle development, you might start off in a lower level, as you continue to train you inevitably become a bigger, more mature athlete. And a lot of times you find yourself pushed from one category into the next. And it is a choice and unlike a lot of people, I think Physique is good for bodybuilding because it's bringing in more people into the sport.
We need new athletes, young athletes in our sport, just like any other sport does, in order to keep the sport alive and growing. And if you look at a professional bodybuilder, or national level... the physiques are so extreme - it's an extreme sport - the physiques feel unattainable to the average person. And unattainable is not inspiring to someone who is going to jump into something they have to commit energy, time and a lot of money into. So I think that the Physique and even the lower echelon categories are really really important. People criticise bikini, they criticise fitness, they criticise figure... And the idea in my mind is how many peope can we get into the fold to grow our sport? To grow weightlifting and training, not just working out and doing pilates and yoga. How many ways can we get people initiated? The stage creates the challenge for the athlete, it gives them something to shoot for. I think Physique three years ago represented a more "attainable" physique for women.
If you look at what happened this year in the Olympia Physique category and you look at last year and the difference between Dana as the first Ms Olympia Physique winner and Malacarne this year. I will tell you, I would say that when I was competing, I was more a Malacarne physique bodybuilder. Malacarne's carrying a lot of muscle on that body. I love it. I think she's a wonderful representative but she's a lightweight bodybuilder to my mind. And to take that point a little bit further, ALL of these women are bodybuilders. If you're in the weight room and you're squatting...
In the gyms there are so many new chicks who are squatting because the aesthetic is changing, women are feeling more empowered and not afraid of having a little bicep, delt. I think all these women are bodybuilders. It's just what level are you at right now and how far are you gonna go?
ON THE OLYMPIA
There's no Women's Bodybulding Olympia coming in 2015. We lost the Ms International stage. Those are two really really bad signs at the women's elite level. It's not a good thing. It's not something I agree with. These women, they're a spectacle, they're really really interesting to look at - never mind getting to know them because they're incredibly interesting women to get to know - but the sport is an extreme sport. It is what it is.
I think it does create pressure for women bodybuilders who still want to compete at the elite shows and on the top stage definitely. I can imagine what it would be like for me if I was still competing, trying to make that decision. As a smaller woman it would have been easier for me because I'm petite to begin with and I was trying to compete with women who had 50 to 60 pounds on me on stage all the time. So this change would have probably benefited me when I was competing, just like the lightweight division did. But I feel for the women like Alina Popa, Yaxeni Oriquen who are amazing athletes, who now find themselves without top stages. And my gut [feeling] is that there will be top stages, it's just a question of who's gonna do the promotion, where it's gonna happen, and how it's gonna be reinvented. That's what I see happening, because it's not going to go away.
I have been producing, publishing, promoting, selling adult entertainment with female bodybuilders as the star in those productions. I didn't reivent the wheel, I just basically took a concept that we know works - for obvious reasons - and I applied a new aesthetic to it. I said, 'Just because you're a female athlete, just because you're a female jock, just because you have muscle does not devalue your sensuality, your commercialisation abilities, your marketablility, your allure.' And in my world, bodybuilding has always enhanced my sexuality, it's always enhanced my sense of femininity. Which is why I do it. It empowers me and always has. Is it appropriate? Absolutely. 100%.
When I started, with my partners, the magazine that we published, it's almost twenty years ago, there were other publishers in the business and people who said it will never work, it doesn't go together, muscle and sex doesn't work. Well, here we are fast forward twenty years and I'm still in the game. A lot of other people are not. As they say, the rest is history.
In all the years I've been doing this and promoting the sexuality of strong women, I really have not had a lot of people confront me with criticism the way most people assume. Now, maybe that's because the conversations are happening outside of my earshot, which is the way people generally do things. What I do is not for everybody, being a female bodybuilder separates me, so I get criticism for that, but honestly, I don't care. At the end of the day it's my choice. I love what I do, I love what my sport does for me, and it's a very creative form of work for me, and that's how I feel about it.
I learned early on that sports are large entertainment businesses, and there has never been money in women's bodybuilding. Why? Because it's not viewed as enough of an entertainment sport. So this is my way of bringing an entertainment value into it, speaking to an audience that clearly was out there.
Bodybuilding for me is a hobby, a lifestyle, a passion, that I found a way to turn into an expressive, creative profession. I'm making my living as a result of what I do, not through bodybuilding the sport - because I never made enough money in purses. It costs me money to bodybuild as an elite professional bodybuilder so I had to reconcile those differences.
My fans have just opened up my mind in some many ways. They've shared so much about their perspective, from all over the world. I have a very rich life because of this sport, because of my participation and because of the fans. I love my fans because they love strong women. I mean how could a woman not love a man - or woman - who loves a strong woman. They champion my independence, my entrepreneurial ways, my perspective, my strength, and my individuality. And they support all of that. So I have great gratitude for my fans.
Many years ago I had a photographer tell me back when we were starting the magazine that you cannot fetishise female muscle. I think he said "it's inappropriate". And I was really taken aback because I knew that this particular photographer loves women's bodybuilding, so he was being a hypocrite and he didn't even realise it. And I told him you can't tell people what they're supposed to find alluring. Women supposedly like men in uniform. Some men like blondes. Some men like small boobs...
If anybody's going to be calling anyone a schmoe, I'll be calling myself a schmoe first because I am a fan of female bodybuilders. I think they're hot as hell.
I've learned so much by just listening to people. And part of why I do what I do, and part of why my company developed to be what it is was that my fans made me realise that they have such great admiration and respect for the strength of the woman bodybuilder that it makes them weak at the knees. And it made me think it's a universal concept, it's a universal thing - power is sexy. And my fans champion that and for that I champion them in return.
What I do think though is that fans of women's bodybuilding, athletics, whatever it is, they need to put their money where their mouth is. They need to go to events, they need to buy 8x10s, they need to sponsor athletes because at the end of the day it's the sports fans that dictate what happens with that sport.
ON THE FUTURE OF WOMEN'S BODYBUILDING
I hope it'll be different. I think the approach to promoting women's bodybuilding needs to be shaken up a little bit. I have ideas!
I'll tell you something I think is funny. When I started out twenty years ago the question was can women's bodybuilding survive? Fast forward twenty years later... To my mind women's bodybuilding is bigger than ever because more women than ever are weightlifting. You want to focus on the elite category, the hyper-muscular women, well, I feel that women's bodybuilding will still be here twenty years from now. And we'll be asking the question again!
Watch the whole "Iron debate" on the Rx Muscle channel
Keep up with Denise in a (sort of) safe for work way via Instagram and Twitter
Plenty to mull over there. Not least how FMS has now managed two Denise Masino posts without a single image of those mighty bits of hers. Enjoy!