Two female bodybuilders became the toast of the country.

Text and Photos by Bill Dobbins

In 1996 I was contacted by the curator of a museum in Akureyri, Iceland, a city a short distance from the capital Reykjavik.  He had seen some photos of women bodybuilders and wanted to put together an exhibition of art photos of muscle women.  After considerable research, he decided my photos were the best of what was out there, so instead of a group exhibition, he decided to feature my images only.

Iceland is still the site of active volcanos, hence the prevelance of black sand beaches.

Iceland is a very interesting country, with a population of only some 300,000, which would be a small city in the United States, they have numerous art museums and several symphony orchestras.  They were extremely well off financially until the banking meltdown of a decade or so ago.  This hit them hard, and they are still in the process of recovering.

But Iceland is extremely interesting in terms of the ecological problems the earth is facing today, especially because of climate change.  In his book Collapse, UCLA professor Jared Diamond describes how early settlers to the country almost ruined the land by cutting down too many trees and other activities which could have been disastrous.  Today this nation has very strict and effective progressive laws regarding land use.

Iceland is warmer than many people think, because the Gulf Stream flows right by it, moderating the climate.  But it is covered with glaciers and has a number of active volcanoes, which create more land all the time. And give the country beautiful and striking black sand beaches composed of volcanic material.  Some may recall a few years ago when volcanic ash being spewed above Iceland caused major disruptions in airline schedules.

To travers the many Icelandic glaciers, guides use very high-tech trucks and always travel in pairs.

As part of its plans, the museum invited me to fly to Iceland with two of my female bodybuilder models. The women chosen were Ericca Kern and Melissa Coates, two pale blondes who looked right at home in a population descended from Scandinavian ancestors.  It turned out that Ericca and Melissa quickly became national celebrities.  Dubbed the Steel Women, they were sought out by Icelandic radio and TV, magazines and newspapers. 

Melissa and Ericca also quickly realized that the best place for them to get bodybuilding food in a hurray was the local Hard Rock Café.  As we drove in from various locations to the city, our hosts would radio ahead to the Hard Rock and order food for the Steel Women.

Iceland is covered with glaciers and there are companies that conduct glacial tours.  This involves extreme off-road vehicles, equipped with all kind of electronics, that always travel in pairs for reasons of safety.  Ericca, Melissa and I were taken around various locations by two of these trucks.  Unfortunately, weather up on the glaciers was too dangerous that day, so we had to settle for less extreme photo locations.  But we did see black-sand beaches and waterfalls of icy water coming down from the glaciers off towering cliffs. 

Waterfalls full of glacier water made for very cold conditiions, so the women needed to wear glacier suits to keep warm between photo set ups.

The women posed for photos at various locations until the chilly weather became just too much to bear.  But being volcanic, Iceland also has swimming pools filled with geothermically heated water and when we visited one of those, the women were quickly surrounded by crowds of very young kids who thought the Steel Women were amazing.  I remember we discussed when it is that youngsters are taught growing up that there is something unacceptable about women with big muscles.

Kids enjoying themally-heated swimming pools loved seeing the “Steel Women” posing.

In fact, considering that Iceland (at least at that time) had no local female bodybuilders, the acceptance of Melissa and Ericca by the entire country, and the popularity of my photo exhibit (it was later estimated that a third of the entire population of Iceland eventually saw my pictures) was truly amazing.


Collapse by Jared Diamond:ß=1611958748&s=books&sprefix=collapse%2Cstripbooks%2C209&sr=1-1

NOTE: Fans of Melissa Coates may be aware she is recovering from a serious illness which resulted in her having her left leg amputated.  Friends have set up a GOFUNDME page to help Melissa with expenses, such as paying for a prosthetic leg.


Errica Kern and Melissa Coates were featured on TV, in magazines and newspapers during their visit to Iceland.