by exercising regularly and eating right never took root. Even after the advent of bodybuilding contests in 1939, the public looked askance at artificially created physiques. As Shelly McKenzie relates in Getting Physical, The Rise of Physical Culture in America (2013), Americans were grappling
Phillip Chipman and Kevin B. Wamsley
foundational exposure to the early proponents of physical culture—exercising both the mind and the body for overall fitness and health—and bodybuilding, leading Gagnon towards a decades-long commitment to winning the fitness and bodybuilding market in Quebec. His chief competitors in 1940s and 50s Montreal
Peggy Roussel, Jean Griffet and Pascal Duret
The present article examines the transformations that have taken place in female bodybuilding in France from a sociological point of view. Adopting a comprehensive approach, we describe the contextual influences thought to be responsible for the decline of female bodybuilding. Starting from the premise that the extremely muscular female bodies seen in women’s bodybuilding are the reason for the downfall of the discipline, the analysis focuses on three subcultural influences: the appearance of Beverly Francis on the competition scene, the aesthetic criteria favored by the federations, and the use of nutritional supplements and doping substances.
Alan M. Klein
While the projection of ideal images is very important in American culture, it is in the subculture and sport of bodybuilding that it gets carried to the extreme. A 4-year study of bodybuilding’s mecca—Southern California—revealed a fundamental set of discrepancies between what the subculture projects as ideal and what actually goes on. These discrepancies are examined to determine which ones result from changes that have taken place in body-building and which are structural to it. It is shown that as the sport/subculture altered its image to achieve cultural respectability, it inadvertently created new problems. The shifts are examined within the context of studies of deviance and point to the need for long-term ethnography in sport sociology.
Jennifer K. Wesely
Bodybuilding is a body technology that involves the building of muscle through hard work lifting weights. Although technologies like bodybuilding can reify dominant constructions of gender. I suggest that bodybuilding also reflects the attempts of participants to be active agents in the choices they make about their bodies. This article addresses the body as a work in progress and uses in-depth interviews with male and female bodybuilders to examine the ways that gender identity is consistently negotiated as participants reshape their bodies. This ongoing identity negotiation is reflected in the ways participants assess various body technologies, like bodybuilding, muscle-enhancing drugs, and cosmetic surgery as natural or unnatural. Based on the responses, I explore the idea of a natural/unnatural continuum as a framework for understanding the ways that the participants fluctuate in their assessments of hugely built and other technologized bodies.
Shelly A. McGrath and Ruth A. Chananie-Hill
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.
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.
Angelique Aspridis, Paul O’Halloran and Pranee Liamputtong
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.
Philip G. White and James Gillett
This paper provides a critical decoding of advertisements in Flex, a popular bodybuilding magazine. The analysis focuses on the visual and narrative representation of the muscular male body and bodywork practices in advertisements promoting bodybuilding technologies. The images of the muscular body found in bodybuilding advertisements encourage masculine self-transformation through bodywork. Moreover, the taken-for-granted representation of the muscular body as natural and desirable is rooted in an ideology of gender difference, championing dominant meanings of masculinity through a literal embodiment of patriarchal power. The foregrounding of the muscular body as a cultural ideal offers conservative resistance to progressive change and alternative masculinities by valorizing a dominance-based notion of masculinity.