It's time to man up and admit it: We’re turned on by a woman who can shove us across a bedroom. Consider the visual majesty of undefeated UFC superstar Ronda Rousey, whose stirring Valkyrie visage is even more beautiful than the perfectly executed arm bar that vanquishes her hapless opponents.
Or American Ninja Warrior’s “Mighty” Kacy Catanzaro, the tiny gymnast with a rippling bod of steel who jumped and climbed her way to glory as the first woman to finish the notoriously tough obstacle course. Then there are the untold legions of distractingly toned fitness models on Instagram, whose ripped physiques recall the bodaciously buff Jen Selter far more than those bulky lady bodybuilders of yore. No question, muscular babes ￼￼￼are enjoying an appreciation not seen since Lucy Lawless kicked ass in an armored onesie in Xena: Warrior Princess—possibly why NBC reportedly is bringing the ’90s show back.
“Men are definitely starting to notice strong women,” confirms Catanzaro. The 5-foot, 100-pound dynamo’s boyfriend (and fellow Ninja competitor) once boasted that if they had the same body mass, she’d easily be stronger than him. “I’ve never had an issue dating a guy who was intimidated by my strength,” she says.
How did we reach this muscular moment? “As widespread acceptance of sexual fluidity becomes more common, so does the masculine desire to see women who embody strength and power,” theorizes sex blogger Mandy Stadtmiller, author of Dear TMI-ary. “I used to be self-conscious about being 6'2'', but I’ve now noticed more men expressing desire for a warrior princess versus a princess needing a warrior to save her.”
Culture is responding, too. Tom Hardy’s Mad Max took a backseat to Charlize Theron’s tough-as-hell Imperator Furiosa. The Superhero Industrial Complex green-lit a Wonder Woman movie, with talk of franchises for Black Widow and a female, Spider-Man-related superhero. In actual comic books, Thor was rein- carnated as a woman last year, and her titles handily outsell dude Thor’s.
“It’s awesome that men love strong, empowered women,” says Amy Schumer, who satirizes her own body-image issues on Inside Amy Schumer. “As someone who played volleyball, and boxes now, I’m glad guys want to get busy with me—but we would do it even if they didn’t.”
Fair enough. But there’s also an undeniably erotic fascination going on here. “An athletic woman is strong all over, if you know what I mean,” enthuses fitness expert Kiana Tom. But, uh, just to be clear—what does she mean? “We can hold creative positions for hours, and have amazing endurance.” Enjoy keeping up with that. You’ll be sore in the morning.
Photos by Matthew Stockman / Getty Images