“Big Freaky-Looking Women”: Normalizing Gender Transgression through Bodybuilding

in Sociology of Sport Journal

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Shelly A. McGrathUniversity of Alabama

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Ruth A. Chananie-HillUniversity of Northern Iowa

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Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with 10 college-level female bodybuilders, this paper focuses on several aspects of female bodybuilding that are underexplored in existing literature, including purposeful gender transgressions, gender attribution, racialized bodies, and the conflation of sex, gender, and sexual preference. We draw on critical feminist theory and the social constructionist perspective to enhance collective understanding of the subversive possibilities emerging from female bodybuilders’ lived experience. Collectively, female bodybuilders’ experiences affect somatic and behavioral gender norms in a wider Western-type industrialized society such as the United States.

McGrath is with the University of Alabama, Department of Justice Studies, Birmingham, AL, smcgrath@uab.edu; Chananie-Hill is with the University of Northern Iowa, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology, Baker Hall 324, Cedar Falls, IA, rchill@uni.edu.

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