About this book
As seen in People and The New Yorker
Over the last 100 years, the image of the physically strong, confident, muscular woman has
been the object of derision, fascination, and
erotic fantasy; she is often portrayed, in both
photography and illustration, as a sexy dominatrix,
sexless mannequin, or sideshow freak.
In this fascinating collection of rare archival
images from the late 19th to the mid-20th century,
authors David L. Chapman and Patricia
Vertinsky trace the peculiar yet fascinating history
of muscular women in popular culture.
One of the battlefields in this cultural conflict
appeared in popular imagery: posters, advertisements, comic books, magazine illustrations, and (most particularly) photography all offered outlets of expression for many muscular women. Until quite recently, however, such females
were packaged for the general public as physical
monstrosities, lesbian man-haters, kinky sex objects, or beautiful living statues. At the same time, many women, including those in the
emerging female bodybuilder community, have
had to fight hard to reclaim the image of female
muscularity as their own.
Featuring some 200 full-color and black-and-white illustrations, many never before published, Venus with Biceps is a beautiful and historically significant book about gender, image, social expectations, and female power.
A truly fascinating tour of the hardbodied heroines of the photographic age ... I opened the book prepared to gawk at the weirdness of a past when most women were tiny, fluffy, corseted creatures and those who weren't were sent to the freak show, but by the time I'd read it through to the end, I'd realized that nothing of any significance has occurred in the realm of thinking about women's figures for at least a hundred years. An edifying read indeed.
—The New Yorker
A picture is worth a thousand words. Venus With Biceps
needs only one: evocative ... From a feminist perspective, Venus With Biceps
is a powerful depiction of muscular women. Instead of looking to the outside world to tailor to the patriarchal standard, Venus With Biceps showcases women exploring, shaping, sculpting their bodies and taking gender by the reigns.
David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky are to be admired for this excavation and excising of these visual records and stories from obscurity. This is a reading opportunity that can only be described as uplifting, informative and delicious. The book is not weighed down with an overly academic tone; the tone is one of consideration, historical context and fun insight. It does not purport to be an exacting record, but it is a delightful departure point for readers and enthusiasts and a reference to aid the constant inquiries those with mysteriously large calf muscles must engage with, in the experience of this former gymnast reviewer.
Simply jaw-droppingly amazing ... This coffee table-sized paperback is so heavy and heaving with astonishing images that one builds one's own biceps in reading it.
(New York, etc.)
This fascinating visual history uses archival images, posters, comic books, magazine illustrations and photography to trace the history of the physically strong, muscular woman and of society's evolving attitudes toward female strength.
With over 200 full-colour and black and white illustrations, many of which have never before been published, Venus with Biceps
is a compelling and impactful book about expectations, assumptions, image, and the ever impressive ability of some women to pursue whatever they want despite external pressures. It's a book I'll be happily sharing with friends for years to come.
Truly spectacular ... I love that this book exists because so many people still believe that women need to look a certain way, use their bodies a certain way, be in the world in a certain way in order to be women. Strength is for everyone.
Chapman and Vertinsky collaborate for a fascinating portrayal of the world of female bodybuilding ... The authors have created an excellent collection of thoughtfully-curated photos and essays; the result is an intriguing look at a little regarded period in sports history.
A celebration of female strength, Venus with Biceps
proves that today's hard-arm look dates way back---even if, as coauthor David L. Chapman puts it, muscular women "risk being seen ... as dangerous."
Visually stunning, rigorously researched, and thoughtfully written, Venus with Biceps
is as much a treasure chest of rare vintage ephemera as it is a fascinating and important meditation on a contentious facet of gender identity and cultural politics.