Subverting the Ideal? Canadian Female Bodybuilders' Resistance of Idealized Femininity
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Women’s bodybuilding challenges the social construction of the female body as frail or limited (Bunsell, 2013). In the context of competitive bodybuilding, however, women’s colonization of the muscular body is policed through judging criteria that require expression of femininity on stage through gestures, posing, make-up and hairstyle (Lowe, 1998). This study examined the experiences of nine female competitors to understand the ways in which they perceive and negotiate the expectations of idealized femininity within current bodybuilding competitions. Qualitative methods (in-depth, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic fieldwork) were used. The analysis was informed by feminist deconstructions of sex, gender and sexuality in sport (Dworkin & Wachs, 2009) as well as by Foucauldian understandings of discipline/surveillance and technologies of the self (cf., Rabinow & Rose, 2003). The data gathered went beyond this focus to underline the contradictory views that some female bodybuilders hold of female muscularity and femininity. These views pointed to the influence of broader cultural perceptions on alternative versions of femininity constructed by bodybuilders. This influence, in turn, seemed to play a role in the bodybuilders’ acceptance or tolerance of the competition judging criteria. In short, the analysis demonstrated that the participants were able to negotiate the judging criteria, albeit at times reluctantly and with frequent expressions of criticism and disapproval.