I've been told in the past that there are times when the blog becomes like "a daily love letter to female muscle", and that "your passion for these women shines through in your writing". They were, I believe, meant as compliments - that's how I took them, anyway - but I rarely sit down and start tapping away consciously intending the result to be a "love letter" or to share my passion. It just kind of comes out that way.
Today's post may therefore go horribly wrong, because today I want you to feel the love. Today really is intending to be "a love letter", an unadulterated celebration of the publication that first showed me - and so many others - that female bodybuilders could be seen as just as beautiful, glamorous and feminine as they were muscular.
I am, of course, talking about Women's Physique World.
Given that it's such a key moment in my female muscle lovin' life, I find it surprising that I can't actually recall my first WPW purchase. I go back and look at all the covers at Muscle Memory and I can remember - more or less - which ones I owned at one time or another, but not which came first nor any of the details of that first purchase.
By that time I already had an extensive collection of muscle magazines. I tended to buy them in large stores - WH Smith and the like - rather than at the local newsagent's. I was more anonymous in these places, and could furtively flick through the pages - why I bothered I don't know, there was always at least one woman in the magazines and that was all it took to make the other 200 or so irrelevant pages worth paying for. But my first WPW wouldn't have been bought in a place like this, because, as far as I remember anyway, they never stocked it, so I must have come across it in a smaller newsagent's.
Perhaps the reason I can't remember the first time is that at that moment my higher brain functions (as well as most of my lower ones) must have shut down completely! A magazine with, say ten pages of Cory etc. plus the odd image or two of other female bodybuilders in the "News" section was the best you could hope for in the normal scheme of things, but here was a magazine with nothing but glorious female muscle from cover to cover on every single page. All my Christmases come at once.
Apart from anything else, WPW was where I got my first look at female bodybuilders like Amy Pazzo, Renee O'Neill (who sadly died in 2010), Yolanda Hughes, and Michelle Ralabate. It's where I first laid eyes on Denise Masino, Valerie Gangi, and Marianna Komlos (another great lady now sadly no longer with us). And then there was Meral Ertunc, Zuzanna Korinkova, Natalia Murnikoviene... There might have been one, at best two, contest shots of a top six Olympia finisher in Muscle & Fitness, but certainly very few NPC competitors made it into the mainstream muscle media, and very few female bodybuilders competing outside the US featured at all.
At the time - higher brain functions disabled and all that - I wouldn't have been able to tell you what exactly was so new and exciting about WPW and the images of muscular beauty it contained, but with the benefit of hindsight I think I can see. Magazines like Muscle & Fitness and Flex, if they had spreads of female bodybuilders outside of competitions, would invariably shoot a kind of gym glamour piece. And beyond that, actual images of female bodybuilders in dresses were extremely rare, and always seemed to give the women a softer look, a more mainstream glamour ideal, even if there was a bit of flexing involved - a style that Muscle Elegance would, in due course, take to new extremes (but that particular journey is a different post entirely!).
WPW put the women in the gym, sure. But they also put them in more humdrum, almost domestic locations you might say. In the bedroom, the garden, the pool, the living room, and so on. And they put them in lingerie, as well as the familiar posing suits and bikinis. And best of all, they glammed them up and put them in dresses. And there was MUSCLE. Big, bold MUSCLE. And we are talking big, bold MUSCLE with a two days or so post-contest level of definition too. No matter how glammed up, every shot of every woman was all about the MUSCLE, all about the display.
Ultimately, I think here was the real WPW magic, the marriage of on the one hand the ultra-feminine (dress, make-up, heels etc.) with, on the other, the unabashed display of massive muscularity. I'd literally seen nothing like this before. And I LOVED it!
I widened my search to the back streets of Soho and found shops where you could buy back issues. Each one was an event, an evening (and a good part of the night) to be taken up with devouring what lay within the clear plastic wrapper. I even read the text from cover to cover - really! For example, I learned Denise Masino was part Native American from WPW, that Michelle Ralabate was tiny, and that Judy Miller was, despite appearances very much to the contrary, a grandmother.
Sadly, all those issues I once had lovingly stashed away are now long gone, thrown out before one of my years abroad - I can change, I used to tell myself. But not long after that great purge, I was discovering the world of this thing called the internet, and stumbling upon the WPW website. And suddenly there were more images of glammed up female bodybuilders at my fingertips (and credit card details) than I could ever have imagined possible. And so I started collecting all over again.