Lisa lyon works out with weights 2 1/2 hours per day, six days a week, but when you meet her you see that the veins in her arms don't stick out like worms marching to Pretoria, and her pecs and her lats aren't the size of Utah. She was the first World Women's Bodybuilding champion, but she can't crack a walnut with her biceps and she doesn't use testosterone so she doesn't need a shave.
The eyelashes flutter and the voice is soft, and the words come out like so: "You're not condemned to develop some gross, caricatured body just because you work out with weights. . . People who get to that massive bulky state have made a conscious decison to do it. It's not something that happens overnight -- you have to work hard at it. I don't want to criticize them if that's their idea of beauty; beauty is a subjective evaluation. But I don't want that. So it's a matter of stopping."
And then she strikes a pose. Not a competitive bodybuilding pose as much as a check-it-out kind of pose. No matter how you stack 105 pounds on a 5-3 frame, it isn't going to bulge like a cheap canvas bag.
"Jesus, look at me. People don't look at my body and get intimidated."
Lyon was graduate student at UCLA (undergrad B.A., cum laude, in anthropology) when she started lifting. She says she did it to "get a little more upper-body strength," but after a while she began to see she "was creating a new esthetic and a new standard of beauty -- a high-tech body." Bodybuilders work in front of mirrors, forging their fearful symmetry; they stare so much at themselves that their eyes ought to be eligible for Medicare. sAnd the more she stared at it, the more she liked it, so she began going to Gold's Gym, the Versailles of the Beefcake Palaces, and pumping iron with a vengeance, seeking perfection.
"A lot of the men bodybuilders there resentd being invaded by a woman. They thought I'd be in the way, and they thought I wasn't serious. Some, I'm sure, thought I was there to pick up guys, not weights. And some just wanted to watch me in a sexual way. . . But after a while they realized that I was serious about bodybuilding, and they became very helpful, although I must admit that there was a significant amount of jealousy when the camera crews and the television stations started coming around to film me -- that's why I've always been very careful to give them the respect they deserve."
Not that the acceptance came easily. There are still millions of women seeking that macrobiotic nirvana, trying to pour themselves into Calvin Klein jeans who would take one look at Lisa Lyon's lats and yelp in horror. Lyon's own mother, when she found out that her daughter was training with Arnold (That Was No Beachball, That Was My Bicep) Schwarzenegger, suggested -- only half-jokingly -- that Lisa change her name to avoid embarrassing the family.
But now, at 27 after five years of training and a self-help book called "Lisa Lyon's Body Magic" in which Lyon occassionally poses nude, giving the book a soft-core porn quality, Lyon is built like a jaguar, and mommy is putting the copy of Playboy for which Lisa posed on the coffee table.
"In the '50s you hd women like Marilyn Monroe who were strictly sex objects," Lyon says. "In the '60s you had Twiggy, who started the undernourished, androgynous style. In the '70s there was Farrah. Now, in the '80s, health is a reality. Women are building up their bodies without sacrificing beauty or femininity. . . Vogue this month is all about the active body. It's talking about optimum weight for health -- not skinniness. I feel I represent a trend. And thie isn't just some vain, vapid thing I've done. This isn't, 'Ladies, want to get in shape for the summer?' -- Give me a break."
Ask Lisa how she'd like to look and she says, "Like an animal, a sleek, feline animal."
Ask her what the ultimate compliment to her look would be and she says, "If someone saw me and asked, 'What planet did SHE come from?'"
She is highly articulate, no question about that. And she has a good sense of humor, telling a radio interviewer, ". . . just introduce me as one of the most talented and beautiful women on the planet, and it's an honor to sit across the table from me. . ." A self-promoter of the first order, Lyon realizes that bodybuilding is not yet baseball (or even box lacrosse) in the national mindset, and that already a legion of women lifters, eating steroids and injecting testosterone, have bulked up so fast as to make her look like a Before rther than an After. "I've made my contribution," Lyon says. "I started this sport. It's not my fault other women want to take it farther."
But she knows, as far as cashing in is concerned, it's now or never. She says "a pretty girl can sell anything," but if the trend in women's bodybuilding continues the next flight of champions will look like refugees from a Lon Chaney film festival.
"You can't say it's not veauty," Lyon says.
Then, rearticulating, "Well, you can't stop it."
She was in Washington recently, accompanied by her husband of three months, Bernard Lavilliers, a Fench rock star, and together the two of them looked like unimpeachable sources from the counterculture. For reasons known only to her (and perhaps a punk-rock group like The Dead Boys) she was wearing black mesh stockings, a black leather skirt, a thin, white Saran Wrap shirt, heavy eye shadow and three earrings in each ear. Let's say that you wouldn't have mistaken her for the star of Little Miss Muffett Goes to the Convent. Maybe the best way to describe her look is to say tht she could be a bouncer-bunny at a Playboy Club.
Speaking of Playboy, Lyon says she posed because "if I didn't do it, someone else would have, and they would have trashed her." She says she had full photo control of the layout. "The fact is, I didn't need another picture in Muscle Magazine -- the people who read Playboy are the ones that need to be educated to this concept of femininity."
Speaking of bouncing, Lyon says she hasn't yet been challenged to fight by some bozo on a barstool who knew she was a bodybuilder. "But some guys have asked me to arm wrestle."
Could she . . .
"Probably . . . But I won't be put in that situation -- I just don't read, Victim."