Female bodybuilding is a sport where competitors often make considerable alterations to their diets, physical activities, and social lives to successfully prepare for competition. No study had specifically examined the perceived impact of participating in the Figure class of female bodybuilding, which places less emphasis on muscularity and more on feminine presentation. The purpose of this research was to examine the perceived social and psychological effects of participating in the Figure class. Semistructured interviews, ranging from 45 to 90 minutes, were conducted with 11 female Figure competitors. These women experienced many positive consequences as a result of participating, such as a sense of empowerment. However, results revealed that women in the sport of bodybuilding do not need to be “male like” in appearance to experience negative social reactions. Results demonstrated that women competing in the Figure class, with the greater emphasis on feminine presentation and considerably less emphasis on muscularity, also experienced widespread stigma and social isolation.
The authors are with the School of Public Health, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.