Collected Outbursts, in original form, both published and unpublished, in defense of the Sisterhood of Iron…
SNAPSHOTS ARE COOL, BUT 8 X 10’S PAY THE BILLS
(Musclemag International, September 1999)
It made for terrible press. A year or so back, Lou Ferrigno, selling photos at his Arnold Expo booth, declined to pose for a snapshot. He pointed to a sign announcing the cost of his 8 x 10’s, and returned his attention to the line of fans waiting patiently in front of his booth. The guy who wrote to the magazine about it went on to wail that his kid had been emotionally scarred by the snub. The youngster’s ability to worship superstars would forever be stunted by the realization that his idols might only be big lugs with little hearts. Big, bad, filthy-rich Hulk stomps a little tyke’s dreams. Boo-hoo!
Now Big Louie’s no angel. And his unhappy childhood is hardly an excuse for the petulance he’s known to exhibit from time to time. But if you were to get honest opinions about this incident from other bodybuilding and fitness stars who’ve spent any time selling photos, most of them would tell you that Louie was on the right track. Maybe he even took a fall for them.
In case the word’s not out yet, bodybuilding isn’t the NFL, the NBA or WWF. It’s not the World Series. Don’t even think about evoking the schmaltzy images of the “aw-shucks” ball-playing legend who sticks around for hours graciously posing for photos and signing everything thrown his way. His millions were in the bag before he even strutted onto the field. And your grabshot’s not detracting from that in the least. His earnings come from what he’s done, not from the way he looks.
Bodybuilding’s not in the same league. As Steve Neece has pointed out, the combined prize money for this year’s pro bodybuilding and fitness events will total under one million. And most of those competing won’t see any of it. Of those who do, a handful might get an endorsement contract. But the vast majority of these athletes will be left out in the cold, working regular nine-to-fives. They compete when they can afford to. Some pro sport! And you want to begrudge these folks the chance to make a few bucks selling 8 x 10’s?
“But April Hunter over in Met-Rx’s booth was giving away autographed glossies,” a fan might whine. Uh-huh. Met-Rx paid for those glossies, and paid for her to be there. Again, a different ball-game. She’s part of that handful; her payday’s in the bag. Grab-shots aren’t gonna bother her a bit.
What’s amazing is the presumption by fans that they’re doing you a favor by asking you to pose like a prop or piece of furniture- that all your years of grueling training and dieting is nothing more to them than a free backdrop. Of course you’re going to be gracious about it all because you don’t want to be get the lousy Louie rap. So you spend the day being directed to forced intimacy by a succession of clueless monkey-see-monkey-do’s who’ve never considered that your reason for being there has nothing to do with their adroitness with a disposable Kodak.
At the Arnold Expo, I worked at an exhibit booth with several spectacular women who generated a never-ending throng of shutterbugs, but were upset by the concomitant loss in sales of their 8 x 10’s. Not wanting to put the girls in the position of being the heavies, I posted a hastily-scrawled sign: SNAPSHOTS ARE COOL, BUT 8 X 10’S PAY THE BILLS. The shutterbugs ignored the sign. Some even posed under it.
I’ve asked numerous athletes how they deal with this, and I get shrugs. Gotta be nice. Gracious. Humble. Cal Rifkin. Not a Louie. Louies get bad press.
But Louie had a point; the athletes aren’t stuck in these booths all day for lack of anything else to do. They’re trying to break even in a sport which costs more than it generates. One magazine publisher has suggested that a purchase be a prerequisite for a pose, which isn’t a half-bad idea. I don’t have an answer. But I would propose that whatever the solution, it be adopted as a convention that the fans are aware of, much as diners are aware that waiters work for tips or that a Walkman in the gym means “No, you can’t work in.” And that whenever possible, the onus of playing the Louie rest with someone other than the athlete.
Then he/she can keep quiet and nobody gets hurt.
A “BARD” DAY FOR WOMEN’S BODYBUILDING?
(Musclemag International, Feb 1998)
The last thing bodybuilding needs is another entry in the bard wars, the fusillades of Ross, Neece, Duchaine, Romano et al. having provided ample splatter-fest. But the blind assaults on female muscle by Rick Wayne in All-Natural Muscular Development beg for a reply -here, if nowhere else.
Having turned 43 recently, I’m old enough to remember Rick’s preeminence as bodybuilding’s Plimpton. Glibly mandarin, with a background in Caribbean political commentary, a Mr. World (all-natural?) and Arnold cohort, he was remarkably credible then, never mind that the thesaurus and ego (self-hyped in Limbaugh fashion) often got in the way. Now, a “near-geriatric casualty of bodybuilding” (to use his phraseology) and restless in St. Lucia, he’s out to convince us that female bodybuilding ended with Cory Everson. Anything beyond is irrelevant.
Of course I’ve been told that he’s irrelevant. Didn’t he say of the Rachel-era bodybuilders that “women were simply not meant to look like that?” And then, didn’t he contradict himself several times later when it was convenient, extolling Rachel, Cory and Gladys, later busting on “soft-core” women, hollering aloud at the 1985 Ms. Olympia “Bring back the drugs!” and marrying an Olympia competitor before returning to condemn all women who would dare outmuscle a centerfold?
It’s the drugs, Rick says now. There’s no such thing as female muscle without the Needle and the Nasties: facial hair, cross-striations, hideous visages, baritone voices and three-inch clitorises… This is female bodybuilding. Is there anyone out there who really likes this stuff?
Much of my reply to Rick was quoted in his postmortem article in the July ANMD, including my agreement that the drug-induced gender-bending and competition extremes were as objectionable as the requirement for plastic tits. But I also insisted that muscle, in and of itself, was not unfeminine except to the sexually insecure. Rick jumped all over this argument sensing perhaps, that the shoe fit. He ignored the rest of my letter where I pointed out that female muscle is possible without drugliness. I’d included a photo of my friends, Linda Wood-Hoyte and Renita Harris, two lovely women whose accomplishments are ignored even as ANMD touts their male counterparts.
Rick ignored them as well. He had to. Their existence demolishes his argument. Instead, he offered some lame parable about Teagan Clive’s brutalization at the hands of a roughneck thug as refutation of the sexual-intimidation argument, disregarding the fact that though there are hundreds of mid-weight Gracie-Brothers clones who could beat the living bejesus out of any one of these noisy IFBB male bad-asses, they don’t represent the norm. Inevitably Rick turned to the standard innuendo about those men who admire female muscle, the “less than male” thing which postulates that any guy who likes women who “look like guys” (even by simply possessing muscles) must be short on testosterone, less than a Real Man. After all, the Real Men, those lumpy, veiny studs who fill the pages of our muscle magazines and supposedly represent our aspirations, say they don’t like musclewomen: Me Tarzan, etc.
So I’m a schmoe. Okay. Must be. I don’t go gaga over Dorian and Flex. I wanna look at women. And while I don’t give a damn for the contests, give me the full-blown glory of a Laura Bass, Michelle Ralabate or Lesa Lewis in a short skirt or cut-offs and you can call me anything you want. Sure it’s sexual, but it’s also artistic, athletic, and socio-historic, little of which could be said of the swimsuit bunnies.
Rick has probably never considered that his and society’s rejection of the formidable female archetype comes from centuries of programming whose more severe aspects are visible in some Middle East cultures. More than muscle frightens these guys. Take this TV series Xena, for instance for instance. While a hit with women and kids, Xena’s regarded warily by men as “butch.” Is it her muscle? Nope, she’s got less of that than a Sports Illustrated model, though full breasts erupt voluptuously above her chain mail. Is she ugly? No, despite those silly bangs, she’s strikingly beautiful. Does she get it on with Gabrielle? Probably not, though the suggestion is maintained for titillation. Xena’s humped her share of men, but that’s not dwelt upon. What Xena does is gracefully deflate male egos and mow down scores of testosteroidal cretins who threaten her. Soft and squishy perhaps, but not submissive. This makes her “butch.” Even if freed from the self-destructive requirements and rituals of competition as now practiced, women’s bodybuilding still faces this societal stupidity. We can only hope that these women will weather the Wayne-storms and acknowledge the thousands of admirer whose voices are involuntarily muted, themselves subject to derision from the same sources.
This past April, while in Guadeloupe, I found Marie Mahabir, France’s greatest female IFBB pro, living in near-reclusion in the suburbs of Pointe-a-Pitre, not only unheralded by her people, but also disdained by them. Though she’s not a stunner in the fashion of Frederique Auchart, Marie has a less-conventional beauty in her strong Gallic features and a sensuousness more fully appreciated in person than in the static scariness of the magazine contest photos. “Je me cache,” she told me, pointing out the tiny studio, devoid of any weights, where she trains her clients: “I hide.”
Well, the rest of you ladies had better look out and hide yourselves, ’cause Ricky’s back, eloquently caustic as ever. He’s tested the wind, forgotten his roots, gotten on the payroll, and he just might run you all underground- unless, that is, one of you lands in Castries and takes his thesaurus away.
TO HELL WITH PHYSICAL CORRECTNESS
(Musclemag International, December 1994)
Playboy magazine is still at it, bombarding me with entreaties to resurrect the subscription I’d maintained for 20 years. Today I received a wad of snappy sweepstakes propaganda offering me a BMW and a world tour in exchange for completing a survey questionnaire to describe my perfect woman. Here’s one of the items: “I believe the perfect woman’s measurements would be ____bust _____waist _____hips.” Here’s another: “I believe the perfect woman’s weight would be _____.” The rest of the survey is equally vapid, and I’m tempted to complete it with rogue answers if only to let these people know how far gone I am.
Women’s bodybuilding is to blame for this, of course, having imbued me with a sort of sexual snobbery. When I had “normal” tastes, the conventional standards of beauty were satisfactory. It seems odd to think that those malnourished models and pneumatic Playmates once actually represented physical near-perfection. Now that I look for muscular fullness and definition, they suddenly seem deficient. I wonder how Iman would look with 50 pounds more muscle. Anna Nicole Smith- so what? Keep your Cindy Crawfords; I’d rather look at Lenda. Even the Ms. Fitness types are only a dilution of the real thing.
‘Women bodybuilders? They look gross,” said one of two young ladies in minis and boots who had accosted Ralph DeHaan and me as we surveyed the night scene in the hotel bar during the Jan Tana last summer. I’d heard that more times than I can remember, from nearly everyone I know outside of the sport, and I smiled, biting my tongue. “Different tastes.”
“You mean you actually like women to look like that?”
“You betcha,” I said. “That’s why I drove down here from PA. Not only do I like that look, but that’s the only look I like anymore.”
The two drifted away, and Ralph, whose vision has yet to be similarly narrowed, said ruefully, “I guess we won’t be seeing them again.”
Yeah, well, the statement had to be made and I will make it without hesitation, even if it rankles ‘polite” society –especially if it rankles polite society. If the muscular woman is going to be accepted as anything more than an odd curiosity, it’s going to require more men to openly express admiration and, yes, even a preference for her.
If you’re among the uninitiated, you’d be surprised that taking such a stand is as solitary a thing for a male to do as putting on serious muscle is for a female. Even the great Rick Wayne, whom I’ve long admired for his political incorrectness, bugs out on this one, not being able to reconcile his tastes with his judgment. In the March 1984 issue of Flex he wrote, “More and more female contests are turning into exhibitions of T & A -enjoyable, true, but hardly what female bodybuilding is supposed to be about. Put your muscle behind hardcore bodybuilding. Let’s dump the soft-core pap that some of our misguided brothers and sisters insist on offering us.” Ten years later in Muscle Media 2000, when asked about women’s bodybuilding, he replies “It’s disgusting,” while brushing off the observation that he married one of these “disgusting” women.
Dr. Al Thomas, the professor of literature whose scholarly contemplations of the female physique over the past thirty years will be better appreciated sometime in the next century, paid for his ardor with such societal pressure that he felt it better to become silent, yielding his rightful limelight as the revolution’s laureate. And despite what the magazines portray, most male bodybuilders are not attracted to muscular women. Very few of those grinning, hypertrophied studs we see every month really like their women any more physically formidable than Marla Duncan. Of course, neither do most of the magazine publishers. Must be part of being a “real man.” Me Tarzan, you Jane.
If one aspect of this “physical correctness” can be considered emblematic, it comes down to two fatty protrusions midway ‘twixt chin and navel. Even before my enlightenment I couldn’t relate to the macho reverence with which my peers regarded the female breast. At least now I understand it, particularly since the muscularization of women threatens the sexual security of most men. Now, more than ever, with women challenging his physical supremacy, the average male, lazy in his sexual perceptiveness, will insist on those globular fixtures to help him identify the gender. With a man’s machismo quotient being directly proportional to his sexual paranoia, most guys aren’t going to openly express desire for anything which isn’t “stacked.” The boobs want boobs.
Two years ago, when the problems with breast-implants made front page, Newsweek concluded its coverage by lamenting that what really was needed was a more sensible physical ideal for women. They didn’t elaborate. Nor were they amused at my irreverent response.
“Believe it or not,” I wrote, “there is a considerable segment of our population chortling deliriously over this breast-implant uproar. This is in addition to the armies of lawyers who’ve replaced the plastic surgeons in the “gold in them thar hills” karma, in addition to the merely-jealous who couldn’t afford the operation, and in addition to the feminists. This is a group…whose cause, if taken up by the population-at-large, would effect the greatest revolution in the history of modern woman…” Newsweek wasn’t buying women’s bodybuilding though, not even with the photo I’d included of one of our more exotic, albeit unadulterated, female stars. They’d done their part, and anything less than appearing solemn could offend their readership.
Not subject to any such constraint and not giving a damn about what detractors of the sport think, I don’t mind saying that if the rest is put together right, if the glutes, quads and hams are full and hard, if the calves flare, if proportionate muscularity resides elsewhere on her frame, I couldn’t care less if a woman has the mammary mass of a 12-year old. And while I understand the career necessity which has driven many of our best female competitors to breast-enhancement, I applaud those women who have thus far resisted it. They’re years ahead of their time and should know that, commercial viability notwithstanding, those who will accept them as they are probably are the only one whose opinions are worth considering.
One of the last items on this Playboy survey offers only two choices: ” I believe the perfect woman would be …
-good with children.
-good with in-laws.
I feel compelled to add my own choice:
-good with a squat rack.
And big breasts? With apologies to James Thurber, I say they’re either fat or fake and I say to hell with ’em!
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