HBO Real Sports Revisits Female Bodybuilding

Female bodybuilding is the foundation for all of the competitive female physique divisions. It was the first division in the IFBB Pro ranks and despite being the starting point for Fitness, Figure, Bikini and now Women’s Physique, female bodybuilding struggles within its own industry. Let’s forget “mainstream media” for a minute. It’s a given that mainstream media won’t focus on female bodybuilder’s dedication, work ethic or pursuit of being stronger inside and out. Instead it’s easier to focus on the darker side of a niche within a niche sport.

hbo real sports
In the latest episode of HBO REAL SPORTS, Bryant Gumbel revisits the topic of female bodybuilding. Four years ago, Gumbel first shine the spotlight on female bodybuilding. There’s not much new to the feature and unfortunately it paints the division as nothing more than a freak show that has to resort to alternative ways in order to make a living.

gumbel iris kyleBryant Gumbel shows a picture of 9x Mr. Olympia Iris Kyle.

The show producers didn’t interview any of the top female bodybuilders and perhaps they asked but the women declined. We hear from Colette Nelson, Lauren Powers and Brande Mae Akers in the segment. Anyone who has met Lauren knows she thrives on the attention she gets and encourages it. She’s not a professional bodybuilder but has built a career out looking larger than life. She discusses the world of “muscle worship” with Gumbel and the topic is sensationalized as you might expect.

What is it? Women charging men, and sometimes women, for a “session” either in person or via a webcam to admire their muscle. Weird? Surely it is to some but then again some might say the same for eating fish out of a Ziploc bag or carrying a chicken breast in your purse. Is it something all female bodybuilders do? No. The producers fail to look into the same line of “work” on the male side of things. Why is that? Who knows but it’s easier to focus on a women who “looks like a dude”.

lauren powersLauren Powers flexes during a “muscle worship session” for HBO Real Sports. 

The topic of female bodybuilders earning less money than men has been going on for decades and it won’t end any time soon. Yes, the women work just as hard as the men in bodybuilding,. Yes, they go through all the things men go through in pursuit of winning. It’s not about who works harder or who trains the most. The same discussion takes place in other sports. Female basketball players don’t earn the same as their male counterparts. Salaries for female golfers pale in comparison to the men. Aside from Tennis and Crossfit you’ll be hard pressed to find a sport where the women earn as much as the men. HBO chose to use “less pay” as the reason why women turn to performing muscle worship sessions. That’s not the reason “muscle worship” exists but it makes for a more sensationalized story line.

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel – Show Synopsis
Host Bryant Gumbel revisits the interesting and often bizarre world of women’s bodybuilding. Although it’s virtually ignored by mainstream media, and offers significantly smaller financial incentives than those available to male counterparts, thousands of participants make a living from the sport, with many pushing boundaries to achieve the perfect physique. In an environment of obsessive workouts, round-the-clock fitness routines and even plastic surgery, performance enhancers often play a crucial and dangerous role in the physical development these women seek. For some in search of extra income, there’s also “muscle worship,” in which female bodybuilders allow male fans to massage and fetishize their bodies.


At the end of the day no one can be shocked that women’s bodybuilding is “virtually ignored by mainstream media” when it’s largely ignored by the bodybuilding industry. Women’s bodybuilding has changed since the first Olympia and we can point fingers a number of directions why it changed but that doesn’t do much good. Where will female bodybuilding go from here? Only time will tell but until the division is embraced within the bodybuilding industry we shouldn’t be surprised by features like the one HBO chose to air.


colette nelson hboGumbel tells Nelson she looks like “a cross between Brittany Spears and Thor.” 

Disclaimer: Reader discretion advised, please consult your physician before beginning any exercise or diet program.