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Lisa Lyon
January 25, 2012 8:01 PM   Subscribe

[all links nsfw] Although [Lisa] Lyon briefly served as unofficial chairperson for women’s bodybuilding in its infancy, her fondest desire was to explore bodybuilding as an artistic medium. Elevating bodybuilding to the level of fine art, Lyon was photographed by the likes of Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe, and was the first female bodybuilder to appear in Playboy.*

What ever happened to Lisa Lyon. Frank Zane told me many times over how bright, creative, and spiritual she was. Rumors hold she spent time in mental institutions, resurfaced in photos with Patti Smith, then became John [C. Lilly]’s ‘adopted daughter’. I do know she was Phi Beta Campa for her undergrad and took a MA in film science, grew up in the film industry in Little House on the Prairie before bodybuilding, excelled in kendo. As such, even time in a mental gig suggests an outsider copying with the insanity of mass, lemming culture, not a crazy person. Thirty years ago I was enthralled and captivated not only by the aesthetics of this amazing young woman, but all the more so by the hints of an amazing person – amplified by what Frank and Christine Zane had to say about her.* (porny ads)
posted by Trurl (27 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I still have a copy of Body Magic around the house somewhere.

Spy's October 1991 issue included a major article on Lyon (go to page 40). Some NSFW pictures and some rather sad text, which is probably the source for the italicized quote above. I don't know what she's actually been doing since then, except for that Mapplethorpe video you linked.
posted by maudlin at 8:22 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


NSFW - Lisa Lyon by Tadanori Yokoo (1985)
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:55 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Either bodybuilding has changed a lot in the last few decades, or she was always unusual. Since she doesn't have freaky striped muscles and weird angular bulging everywhere, I mean. She's the first bodybuilder I've seen who I think looks genuinely good, instead of just weird (although she was on the skinny side).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:08 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bodybuilding has changed a lot in the last few decades.

Iris Kyle has been Ms. Olympia for the last six years.
posted by Trurl at 9:15 PM on January 25, 2012


Trurl: "Iris Kyle has been Ms. Olympia for the last six years."

Yeah, see, that... that's not so good.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:26 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that as a 12-year-old, I (feverishly) thumbed through a book of black-and-white art photo book in a K-Mart of all places that included closeups of Lyon's muscular vulva (as seen through spandex tights).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


That SPY magazine link is a whole lotta nostalgia. I am of course no different than I was when I read that magazine standing at the rack in Shinders, but *man* those people are *old* now. :)
posted by lon_star at 9:39 PM on January 25, 2012


Phi Beta Campa, you say?
New band name called.

She's the first bodybuilder I've seen who I think looks genuinely good, instead of just weird (although she was on the skinny side).

Frankly, the early era of female body-building had a lot of baggage carried over from mainstream culture, primarily homophobia, which meant women had to still pursue some standards of female attractiveness. Sometime in the 1980s there was a changeover from "pretty" bodybuilding to "pure muscle" bodybuilding that was more in tune with the pre-existing (and ever more extreme itself) male culture. I'm sure somebody has some links to explain this, as my sum total of knowledge has just been typed.
posted by dhartung at 9:46 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, see, that... that's not so good.

Clearly the most important thing for women everywhere is to be attractive to you all the time.
posted by rodgerd at 9:57 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Phi Beta Campa? Sounds like some kind of Scouting merit badge.
posted by zomg at 9:58 PM on January 25, 2012


rodgerd: "Yeah, see, that... that's not so good.

Clearly the most important thing for women everywhere is to be attractive to you all the time
"

Not at all. I just don't think it looks good. And it has nothing to do with it being a woman, I think male boydbuilders with the same type of build look equally grotesque.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:01 PM on January 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


First time I ever heard of Mapplethorpe was as a pre-teen in a public library somewhere looking for pictures of nekkid ladies. Lisa Lyon's physique has been seared in my brain ever since. Years later I was confused and disappointed to discover that Mapplethorpe wasn't primarily known as a pornographer. Because those photos were hot.
posted by Erroneous at 10:03 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sometime in the 1980s there was a changeover from "pretty" bodybuilding to "pure muscle" bodybuilding that was more in tune with the pre-existing (and ever more extreme itself) male culture.

Start with Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985) (apparently completely available on YouTube: part 1 here). The core drama of the film is the contrast drawn between the less massive, more stylish women, like Rachel McLish (somewhat more developed and more cut than Lyon) and the women who really want to BUILD, like Bev Francis.

(Sorry, YT audio is out of synch.)
posted by maudlin at 10:06 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, see, that... that's not so good.

Clearly the most important thing for women everywhere is to be attractive to you all the time.


A sagging condom stuffed with walnuts is attractive only to chipmunks.
posted by qinn at 10:27 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clearly the most important thing for women everywhere is to be attractive to you all the time.

Not even slightly, darling. I only like males. But even I agree with Joakim regarding Ms. Kyle. And you will accept that gay men are the ultimate arbiters of style, or else (we'll stop by and redecorate your house!)
posted by Goofyy at 11:17 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Either bodybuilding has changed a lot in the last few decades, or she was always unusual. Since she doesn't have freaky striped muscles and weird angular bulging everywhere, I mean. She's the first bodybuilder I've seen who I think looks genuinely good, instead of just weird (although she was on the skinny side).

They hadn't yet refined the fine pharmacological and dietary art of pre-competition dehydration yet. Those muscle striations don't show up otherwise.
posted by srboisvert at 1:54 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The womens competition has always had problem with women "losing" their femininity by being big and muscular. Yes it's stupid, and we could have a long talk about how the men are judged on their bodies and the women are judged for being women. It looks like the fitness competitions were introduced in '85 to offset the idea that women can be fit but don't have to be big. Although I thought it was later but it looks like they didn't pick up steam for a couple of years. Cory Everson really wasn't that big, and the women packing a lot of muscle didn't show up until Lenda Murray in '90.

Bodybuilding as a whole, which mostly boils down to the IFBB, really looked at symmetry as a part of it's core for judging. It wasn't until the early to mid nineties when that was totally thrown out the window, ushered in by Dorian Yates who became Mr. Olympia. By the time Ronnie Coleman had won in '98, all they were looking for was the beefiest guys up there. The womens competition followed that same curve of increasing muscularity.

You can probably chart when bodybuilding really started getting crazy by looking at the progression of Flex Wheeler and Ronnie Coleman. You can kind of see when both of them thought they might as well start injecting the rest of the medicine cabinet a some point in the mid 90's or so.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:05 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, yes, Bev Francis. Had the same kind of luck as Flex Wheeler, and also ended up being outpaced, just like him, while frantically trying to look how the judges wanted the competitors to look. More of an exception than Flex, as he was pretty much the rule in the men's competition.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:19 AM on January 26, 2012


"And you will accept that gay men are the ultimate arbiters of style, or else (we'll stop by and NOT redecorate your house!)"
posted by Splunge at 5:00 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]



I'm pretty sure that as a 12-year-old, I (feverishly) thumbed through a book of black-and-white art photo book in a K-Mart of all places that included closeups of Lyon's muscular vulva (as seen through spandex tights).


Looking at the photos linked here, I think I also (and equally feverishly) spent a formative five or ten minutes looking at photos of her, too. Probably the Maplethorpe book, but I'm not sure.

The change in bodybuilding, both for men and for women, strikes me as extremely freakish, which I guess might be the point.
posted by Forktine at 5:31 AM on January 26, 2012


GirlsWithMuscle.com offers broad coverage of the current state of women's physique development. I was impressed by Cinderella Landolt, Mavi Gioia, and Pauline Nordin.
posted by Trurl at 5:39 AM on January 26, 2012


The change in bodybuilding, both for men and for women, strikes me as extremely freakish, which I guess might be the point.

Yeah, I came in here to say something similar. I can't say whether or not those dudes in the 70's, or Charles Atlas, Jack LaLanne, or Lisa Lyon would have, given access to modern techniques, gone for them (I strongly suspect not), but I really hate that it seems to me that bodybuilding has gone from striving for an ideal of physically capability to an obsessive transformation into a useless freak.
posted by cmoj at 5:54 AM on January 26, 2012


Interesting post, thanks.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:15 AM on January 26, 2012


The big giant bulging muscles and freaky striations? That's drugs. What you see in bodybuilding today is primarily an ongoing pharmacological experiment. I'm not judging that one way or the other, just saying that's what it is. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between bodybuilders who didn't use drugs and those who do.
posted by rusty at 7:21 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was interesting to glance at the clip of Pumping Iron II above. Also interesting is the note appended to it: "begining or the end of "real" women in era of fitness and bodybuilding competitions..." Not sure if the YouTube poster was being ironic with "real" or not.

That Spy article was something of a shock to me. I'd heard about Lyon from a lesbian friend of mine that I'd gotten a big crush on in college whose girlfriend, an amateur bodybuilder, had a poster of Lyon (this one or something very much like it); I found Mapplethorpe's book not too long after that, but had no idea that they had a closer relationship than artist and model, nor that she'd had a whole career in Japan. It's weird to look at her exercise book or the video of her Japanese workout show, both of which look like standard fitness guru stuff, and imagine this whole parallel life as some kind of latter-day Warholesque scenester superstar.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:50 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bodybuilders have been using drugs for as long as they could. Everyone you see in Pumping Iron is juiced. The 90's didn't just bring about a change in physiques, it became a point when several things happened. Such as: the internet opening up the availability and decreasing the cost of usable anabolics and generic HGH, discovery of new drugs like IGF and the abuse of insulin, grad student chemists offering up new designer drugs. At this point there is a plethora of different drugs available to build muscle and lose fat and the popular guys and gals on stage take a large variety of them to compete, and they've been doing it for a long time.
The interesting aspect of the women's competition is that they have mostly held back. Watching a couple of clips of Pumping Iron II, it appears some or most of those women were were using also.

On a side note, I've never watched Pumping Iron II, and WOW is it terribly 80's. Must watch soon.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2012


So, what ever happened to Lisa Lyon?
posted by bonefish at 1:00 PM on January 26, 2012


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