Bending, Flirting, Floating, Flying: A Critical Analysis of Female Figures in 1970s Gymnastics Photographs

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Julia Weber University of Basel

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Natalie Barker-Ruchti University of Gothenburg

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During the 1970s, a new corporal and aesthetic standard emerged in women’s artistic gymnastics. No longer was grace and elegance the main feature, but acrobatic and somewhat robotic performances. These exercises were increasingly performed by highly trained and sexually immature girls. The Western audience was fascinated by the athletic and innocent-looking gymnasts. The emerging corporality and performance trend combined youthfulness und slimness with physical fitness and muscular tone, a combination that reflected the idealized woman of the 1970s. Sports photographs played a key role in distributing the “new” ideal of femininity. In this article, we consider how gymnasts’ performances of the 1970s were visualized by examining a sample of professional sports photographs. We demonstrate how sports photographs construct and establish gender and body standards through their visual construction of gendered and de-gendered gymnastics performances.

Weber is with the University of Basel, Institute of Exercise and Health Sciences, Basel, Switzerland. Barker-Ruchti is with the University of Gothenburg, Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, Gothenburg, Sweden.

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