Female Bodybuilding and the Postmodern Culture

In these increasingly modern times where men’s sports almost always have their female counterparts, female bodybuilding is experiencing a crisis. Unlike before, female bodybuilding was bodybuilding in its purest form. Now it is gradually giving way to the sport’s old adversary, which is femininity.

Bodybuilding is a sport that combines weight lifting, a good diet, and rest. It was originally designed as a male-only pursuit. It soon gained momentum in the 1980s when female bodybuilding competitions began occurring in various regions.

Female Bodybuilding | women in sports bra and black leggings while doing exercise
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Female bodybuilding began with Lisa Lyon.

She was a UCLA graduate and a student of the Japanese martial arts called “Kendo.” Lisa had a typical dancer’s physique: slender and graceful. That would have been considered absurd by today’s bodybuilding standards. But that was a different era. There was a time when female bodybuilding athletes were willing and able to make their bodies look like acrobats.

At the encouragement of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was the world’s most famous bodybuilding icon, Lisa Lyon entered and won the first World Women’s Bodybuilding Championship. Rachel McLish came after Ms. Lyon. She won the International Federation of Bodybuilders’ (IFBB) first Miss Olympia competition in 1980. For a while, McLeish had the soap opera good looks and the narrow-waisted, rippled body of the IFBB’s ideal female bodybuilder, and for a while, she was the quintessential athlete.

The next female to take the sport by storm was Bev Francis, whose 24-inch thighs, buffed pecs, and planned abdomen changed the world of bodybuilding forever. Thus, catapulting it into the crisis the sport is now facing. Bev Francis was bigger, bulkier, and more muscular than any other athlete of her time. Her appearance set a trend in bodybuilding as other athletes strived hard to achieve the level of physique Ms. Francis acquired.

Female Bodybuilding | determined sportswoman exercising on arm machine in gym
Photo by Ruslan Khmelevsky

Ms. Olympia’s appearance on the silver screen in the 1990s brought the meaty woman into viewers’ living rooms.

Their responses varied from awe to shock to disgust. In response to the fans’ reactions, IFBB set the standards of female bodybuilding back to the time of Ms. McLish. This new branch in bodybuilding became known as fitness competition.

Fitness competition is less intense than female bodybuilding. Bodybuilders are fit and toned without adding bulk. However, this contentious new development in bodybuilding has many people up in arms. That was especially among women in powerlifting and strength training circles as well as feminist organizations. The increased magazine spreads of fitness athletes wearing lingerie and swimsuits have sparked widespread criticism.

Even so, this new female bodybuilding type of competition continued to receive garner positive viewer responses. And most believe that the reason for this is that the women in fitness competitions epitomize an era of female bodybuilding where women were good to look at.


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