i'm searching for the womanwith perfect pecs. I look for her on the newsstand, in the gym and in the mirror. She's the new magazine cover girl, the role model for young female athletes and she's who I want to be.We're talking a muscled woman -- not the politely toned 80s Jane Fonda type, but the ripped woman who used to show up on ESPN 2's bodybuilding shows at 3 o'clock in the morning but who's now become a pop-culture phenomenon.My quest began three years ago. I started playing hockey with men, and realized I had to get physically stronger to compete. It was only rec hockey, but I had no choice. I was being pushed around like the Ouija-board pointer in the Amityville house. I started weightlifting, just enough so I could push back against a bigger guy and stay upright on my skates.
Afraid to go out to a gym, I lifted in my apartment. There was more fat than muscle to work with, and I hadn't seen many women pumping iron at my Yonge-Eglinton club. I was shy and a little embarrassed.
My interest in the subject peaked in September when it was announced that WWF wrestler Chyna would grace Playboy's October cover and get an inside photo spread.
Chyna is the WWF's female superstar, a sort of female Lou Ferrigno who's taken the male-dominated wrestling world by storm.
Chyna fascinates me. She has obviously taken steroids to build her huge body, and has admitted to doing so. But she says she's clean now.
She's had her jaw surgically altered to give her a more feminine appearance. I imagine she did it because steroids calcify bones, and a few years ago her jaw had thickened so she looked like she'd bitten down on a horseshoe.
Her breasts aren't real. She's been upfront about how getting bigger breasts helped her career and how one implant broke while she was wrestling.
Her honesty, humour and dedication to her body -- she started building her mass as an unhappy teenager and was ridiculed because of it -- have won me over.
I pick up Chyna's Playboy issue. Never in the history of the mag has there been such a cover woman. I know that's nothing to cheer about, really.
Playboy remains the glossy bastion of female exploitation, a publication that allows men to believe they're cultured in that slippers-and-pipe way, and that they could score the naked babes between its covers if only they had their chance.
So while I hate the magazine, I'm rooting for Chyna to show everyone who wants a peek that she's stunning, in that surgically altered, steroid-enhanced sort of way. There's no easy answer to why I need her to succeed, but it's become important to me.
It turns out that the Chyna issue is one of the fastest-selling in Playboy's history.
"It was extremely popular," says Playboy public relations exec Elizabeth Norris. "I can tell you that the autograph sessions were absolutely unbelievable. People, including women, waited in line overnight, and they went crazy."
Why has Chyna, who's called a freak by some, captured her audience's attention?
"Part of it is due to the popularity of her wrestling," Norris says, playing it safe by not commenting on Chyna's obvious attributes.
Then I get my chance at an up-close look. Chyna's set to make an appearance at the Festival Hall Chapters to promote her fitness video. The day before, I'm at the Paramount Cinemas, and there, on a cold October night, is a guy lying outside the store in a sleeping bag .
The next morning, he's awake and inside the store, lined up with about 20 others. His name is Rob. He's burly, has a handlebar mustache, 30 extra pounds and droopy eyes. He's a cook, and he and his son Tom of the same droopy eyes have taken time off to come down for the signing.
"What's so special about Chyna?" I ask.
"She's the best," says Rob. "She's the only woman wrestler to fight men." "She's hot," adds his son.
The lineup is split evenly between men and women, and I want to know what the women think. Four teenage girls got up at 5 am to drive into town and secure a spot in line.
"Chyna's awesome," says an almost squealing Burlington teen. "She takes on guys and she's not, like, a cookie-cutter woman. She's strong, and I think her body looks beautiful. I don't care what anyone says."
"Would you want your body to look like that?" I ask.
She thinks, and thinks some more. "Yeah, sure."
I don't believe her. I can't imagine this girl at her high school prom with a backless dress and bulging muscles. That would be brave.
That afternoon I join the media lineup to get my Chyna eyeful. She's huge. I mean, her arms, breasts, thighs are bursting through her tight clothes. She's got a slight lisp when she speaks, and a drag queen's voice. She moves like a long-haul trucker but is careful to include stereotypical female movements -- like tossing her long hair over one shoulder -- that look more learned than natural.
Up close, she is actually freakish-looking. But you know what? I like her even more.
She smiles politely at her fans and signs her video and the Playboy issue.
My eyes move back over the fitness videos and the Playboy magazines. They represent the dichotomy that plagues female athletes. Are they respected for what they do or for what they look like?
I think of Brandi Chastain, who kicked in the winning penalty shot in the 1999 Women's World Cup soccer final and peeled off her shirt in glee to reveal a sports bra and a buff upper body. She made the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.
But would she have made those covers if she'd kept her shirt on? Did Chastain turn America's greatest soccer triumph into a peep show?
Voyeurism and women's sport go hand in hand, and the line between celebrating a woman's body and exploiting it doesn't just get crossed, it gets braided into a knot that's impossible to untangle.
All I know for sure is that Brandi, Chyna and I are changing the way society sees women.