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They’re Headed Our Way!
It will exist as one of those frozen moments, an incredibly happy micro-Camelot (because nothing so orgasmically pleasurable can last longer than a synapse), sandwiched between grim discoveries in Kosovo and in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, when we all stopped to breathe collectively, “Yes!” We knew this was coming, we had been talking about it for weeks, but it happened too perfectly even to have been scripted. It united the whole country, connected generations, genders and races. And it was the greatest day of female bodybuilding.
How else can you call it when the predominant image across America is of an ecstatic female athlete, ripping off her shirt and bowing triumphantly before the entire world, and no one asks the question? Newsweek cover: “GIRLS RULE!” The cover of Time: “What a Kick!” The cover of Sports Illustrated – wait, isn’t this a MALE realm, where women are just a sidebar?
But you can’t argue with the numbers: 90,185 fans (including the president) plus a billion via TV have seen Brandi Chastain’s double biceps and Nike sports bra. Twenty-three million dollars in tickets sold for the games. Two point nine million households watched the game against Brazil on July 4, a larger audience than Game 7 of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Final. One hundred thousand girls started football between 1990 and 1997, before Mia Hamm has become a household word…
As significant as those numbers are, they only begin to tell the story, which was unfolding in the media weeks before Brandi punched that top right corner in front of Gao Hong. Cheers alongside the usual crowd of painted preteen “mini-Mias” were (gasp)…guys! And that gets the attention of advertisers because young men are their primary demographic. Guys…women’s sport…soccer? What is happening here?
As far back as anyone can remember, women’s sports and soccer have never been taken seriously on the whole. Perhaps tolerated. The prevailing attitude could be summed up by a sportswriter from the Philadelphia Daily News who scoffed at any implication that the women’s soccer revolution was more than cute, a mere blip in sports, a “win-one-for- United States “. -go-girls-go instant.” Ho-hum. The hype had been orchestrated, even to buses full of bored male fans. Women’s football would never shatter the national conscience, because it is not no more national consciousness, except for NFL football. “Good night” he breathed. “Good slot. Three weeks before Eagles camp…”
Funny thing about it: it echoes the big wheels of bodybuilding politics. I can’t sell these women or their pageants, but we’ll let them languish. Give the big money to the boys. Time notes the pay disparity with female soccer players, “some of whom earn less than $30,000 – coffee money for a male professional.” Sound familiar?
Try this for the irony: while women brought finesse to bodybuilding poses, they actually made football more physical and aggressive. Aficionados say women’s football is more exciting and attacking than men’s, noting that “women are more likely to have one-on-one confrontations”. The women, adding mano-a-mano in a male sport? Dayamn! But that final shootout was absolute mano-a-mano.
However, to dwell only on the games and contests themselves is to miss the point. True connoisseurs of female muscle must understand that competitions are just an excuse to bring these women together, out in the open, where they can be seen in a justifiable format. Bodybuilding competitions have never been the last word, and never will be, especially since we need them to maintain some kind of momentum. Whether they know it or care, Brandi Chastain and her cronies have undoubtedly done more to advance the cause of female muscle than all (virtually unknown outside of bodybuilding) Ms. Olympias.
How else could you have US News and World Report marveling “now you’ve got big, strong, sweaty women spilling…and fans excited”, and Time announcing “Now It’s Sexy to be Strong”. Or Newsweek telling us “…muscular young women with exceptional skills…had become a new kind of national hero”.
You’ve got it all here in one epic package: the “aging” lioness(s), Michelle Akers in flight, who heroically exerts herself during the big game, but rips off IVs and oxygen mask to stumble through the final; the reluctant idol, Mia Hamm, beautiful, modest (when she’s not challenging Michael Jordan “I Can Beat You” in multimillion-dollar spots), her poster adorning countless girl’s (and boy’s) bedroom walls ), his jersey number 9 the hottest number in town; the dark, enigmatic and unsung savior, Briana Scurry; and of course, the cliché seen around the world, “I-ran-for-this-body-that-I-am-proud of”, Brandi Chastain… These women are household names. And that matters to us because their prominence is forever tied to tense, sweaty, muddy quads, bone-crushing crashes, and hard exertion. It’s raw muscle, displayed according to (always an Achilles for the public acceptance of bodybuilding), and therefore needs no excuses. Distinguished? Ha! You tell Mia she’s not feminine!
And it can only get better; many of these women are more muscular, especially in their legs, than the bodybuilders of the McLish era. Football is exhausting. Football is punitive. Football is about sprinting, jumping, diving, sudden changes of direction, explosive kicks, pushing your feet before you even touch the ground, long and precise throws overhead . And now, sports nutrition and bodybuilding are universally practiced; in fact, the same issue of US News and World Report that covered the game also featured an article espousing high-intensity weight training for everyone.
What does all this mean? This means that over the next few years you are going to see these women become much more muscular as game-action standards rise and a new generation of Mias enters the field, unhindered by outdated notions of physical accuracy and sport. – conditioning (read: squats are cool). We’ll have to do something about these baggy uniforms. It’s not Lenda or Andrulla; it is not the appreciation of muscle for its beauty, rather than for what it can do. But it’s a rising head for female muscles, and we’ll take it. We will take it!
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