Maddie Godfrey is an Australian-bred writer currently living in London. Her work aims to encourage compassionate conversations about social issues. Maddie has been internationally published, performed at the Sydney Opera House, featured at a festival held in a graveyard and performed a love poem about a burrito. She has also won poetry slams in Western Australia, Oxford, Cambridge, online and all over London. Off stage Maddie has organised a fortnightly spoken word event, co-written a stage show, hosted University workshops and established a multidisciplinary online community. She has been best described as “a poetry fireball” who is “strong in the softest way”. She is not a morning person.
When I first began studying female bodybuilding I thought those women were invincible. In dark tans and Lycra shorts, they looked ready to crush the world.
Academic theorist Niall Richardson discusses the competitive bodybuilding physique as a “monstrous body” that simultaneously evokes awe and repulsion. The bulging muscles and viscous veins of the women I studied had a dangerous power. I wanted to be these women, know these women and avoid ever angering them.
Niall Richardson believes that “we are all body-builders” because the contemporary body is “viewed as a project” that we shape through individual choices. In this way, practices such as applying makeup, wearing clothing and cutting hair constitute “body building”. This extends to what we eat, our exercise regimes and artificial modifications such as piercings or tattoos. In contemporary Western society, every individual wakes up as a bodybuilder because they make decisions that shape their appearance in some way.
Even neglecting an external appearance counts as “body building” because the neglect itself is an active decision. Although watching Netflix in pajamas may feel like a rejection of social conformity, this is still a form of body building because it interacts with social expectations of individual construction.
Are these relatively normalised means of body building as noticeable as the swollen vascularity of the bodybuilders I once idolised? Possibly not. In 1998 Leslie Haywood, a female bodybuilder and academic, discussed how “female masculinity” is often assumed to be passive, with the idea that femininity itself “means not monstrous” . Haywood states that muscular women “challenge traditional ideas that associate women in general with physical weakness and incompetence” and “the female body with softness”.
So is the monstrous female body threatening? Is this visible female strength considered dangerous by society? And why?
In my belief, there is some warped sense of comfort in believing the “damsel in distress” stereotype of behavior. Masculine figures are familiar with their role as savior while femininity becomes associated with passive helplessness. There is a clear outline of gender roles, a binary of power and everyone can read their scripted parts thoughtlessly.
These scripts are utter bullshit.
I no longer idolise the physique and aesthetic of female bodybuilders but I admire their dedication. I value the way that they chose how to construct their bodies rather than allowing dominant society to shape them. In this world where lingerie advertisements force feed me lace for dinner, any point of contrasts feels empowering.
And some days red, silk lingerie is also empowering.
For me, dangerous femininity is about the acceptance of social monstrosity. Giving yourself the ability to overflow past the limits of the measuring cup that patriarchy provided. There is a quote by the band Told Slant that says “I love the way you take up space”, which is tattooed on my thigh. I think taking up space is dangerous and often frightening. How brave to begin yelling in this society that stares at me when I whisper. This feminism, and womanhood, are not dirty words in my mouth.
I am a female bodybuilder. I wake up every day and actively construct myself. I am intelligent, I am not passive and I am proud to take up space in the world around me.
I may not have the muscles and veins I once lusted over, but I still have strength.
How dangerous, to be a young woman so empowered and so unapologetic.
My refusal to live apologetically or exist quietly often results in men saying I am “difficult to love”. This poem was inspired by Warsan Shire’s piece “for women who are difficult to love” and it articulates how I exist as a female bodybuilder and construct my identity without consulting a lover.
To the men who have said I am “difficult to love”
I am not a paint by numbers or Sudoku
I was not waiting for your puzzle piece
It was never my intent to be soaked in sunshine
Expect hurricane, more lightning bolt than sky
Forecast drought and pray you will
perish in my presence
I will chew your expectations of softness
then pick them from my teeth
Spray mirrors with the aftermath
until my reflection screams victory
I was still powerful between your lips
but these thighs do not ache for a mouth
that treats me like a meal
when I am serving revolution
Kneel down and pay attention
To each quake of tablecloth,
Each quiver of cutlery
If you still see this as consumable,
Then call it delicacy
I am a dangerous woman, an open flame
who flirts with the aisles of libraries
I am a volatile concoction of passionate intent,
and an intelligent silence, a razor slicing flowers
Your affection is displaced
I am contentedly untouched,
My hands know how to caress, without acting
as gloves over someone else’s instruments
I am a body of water even if nobody swims in my sea
Do not call me star, do not call me galaxy
Call me human being
Floored and finite
Do not call me day or night
Call me something in between
Something blurred, liminal and entirely unclean
Call me dangerous woman,
A vampire in red lipstick
Who uses poetry to
Suck the blood of patriarchy
If you believe I am difficult to love,
I have spent years learning how to take up space
Instead of crumpling myself for another’s convenience
I was not trying to be loved,
So I am glad it is not easy.
 and  Niall Richardson, “The Queer Activity Of Extreme Male Bodybuilding: Gender Dissidence, Auto‐Eroticism And Hysteria”, Social Semiotics, 14 (2004), 49-65 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1035033042000202924> p.61.
 Leslie Heywood. Bodymakers. 1998. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.