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Women’s bodybuilding manifestly challenges hegemonic understandings of the female body as weak, fragile, and limited. Because it has acquired characteristics that are traditionally deemed masculine, the muscular woman is thought to be in need of having her femininity “restored”. Perhaps for this reason, in bodybuilding competitions, female competitors are required to display femininity and implied heterosexuality on stage through their attitude, gestures, posing, make-up, hairstyle, and adornments. The aim of this study was to examine the experiences of competitors in the Bikini category to understand the ways in which they perceive and negotiate the expectations of idealized femininity within bodybuilding competitions. Semi-structured interviews, supplemented with ethnographic fieldwork, were conducted with nine female bodybuilding competitors. The data gathered indicated the contradictory views that some female bodybuilders hold of female muscularity and of femininity. The participants were able to negotiate the judging criteria, albeit at times reluctantly and with frequent expressions of criticism and disapproval.
The author is with the School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.