Back in the golden era of female bodybuilding, there was only one category you could compete in i.e. that of Bodybuilding! Today on the other hand, the categories are few and far between for physique competitors…
What is iconic however is that what started out as female bodybuilding is now declining in numbers and moving towards a culture of bikini, fitness and figure competing. John Romano in his article “The Death of Women’s Bodybuilding” puts the decline of Female Bodybuilding down to “Man Face.” I ask whether or not this is true or perhaps social standards the culprit of fitness competitions today?
While there is plenty of room to compete in whichever category you feel appropriate – bikini, figure, fitness, athletic, physique etc. There does seem to be a degree of sexism in regards to how jacked you can be if a lady.
The most potent example of this being the infamous drop of Ms. Olympia from bodybuilding altogether in 2015. As well as the “20 percent rule” by IFBB in 2005, which basically asked all female bodybuilders to tone it down a bit…
John Romano in his article, calls it “Sucked out, drawn in, sunken eyes, veins in their foreheads, sharply angled jawline, a bigger nose, and a general coarseness to their dark orange skin that makes an oil tanker’s mooring rope look silky — kinda the way their voices sound too.”
John Romano remarks are harsh. My own personal opinion however is that, today things have been taken to the extreme subsequently damaging bodybuilding for the sport it once was. This is not just in female bodybuilding but men’s also. The amount of categories you can choose from to compete in demonstrates this. Extremes are never a good thing, politics even tells us this.
Today, bodybuilding no longer resembles that of what it once was, in the days of Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stuck in a culture of “the bigger the better” and the use of steroids in killer amounts to manipulate the body to new levels never seen before…Gone are the days of symmetry
FEMALE BODYBUILDING: FROM BODYBUILDING TO FITNESS COMPETITOR
Bodybuilding is not nor ever was meant to be a beauty contest but rather based on symmetry, muscle mass, definition and the ability to show of the body at its best. You could say a form of human art.
Competitors develop posing routines and hold these multiple times on stage against fellow competitors. While muscle size, shape, and symmetry are pivotal to winning, the posing routine is a vital element. You could have the best body on stage perhaps but miss out, as you are not able to show it off the best.
Finesse is therefore definitely needed and it is well know that some of the top bodybuilders out there used ballet teachers to help them structure transitions for in-between poses. As well as the effort that goes into composing posing routines, the physical demand should also be remembered. Athletes are also on stage dehydrated when breaking a sweat tensing up! There really should be appreciation for bodybuilders and their evolution from weightlifting, hard word and dedication to on stage. It certainly is a sport in its own right and one based on individual achievement
Concernedly, beauty however started to become the central issue though. As the women kept getting bigger the more apparent it became. The media even jumped on board. This is when terms such as “she looks like a man” starting hitting the headlines hence social norms set. Unfortunately, as a result the female bodybuilding division took brunt in decline of popularity due to this social ridicule.
Steroids have always been a touchy subject and likewise muscle on females. Society did not respond the right way and even though the men of the bodybuilding world where getting bigger also and so created the windy road to bikini, fitness and figure competing sport. The new socially accepted categories and a sad day for females of bodybuilding.
The twenty percent rule, which required all competitors to cut back muscle size, is a representation of this. A less muscular woman in their view would make a more acceptable female bodybuilder. There could be question as to whether the ask was sexist.
While performance enhancing drug use is prevalent in sports, when done by women it the extra complications are more prevalent. Men use them but are accepted, as it is their hormone. For women however it is tabooed. It is not even spoke of and could be argued one of the reasons for poor drug choices by women at times, due to bad advice by a male partner etc. perhaps. The main concern with steroids is appearance. Unfortunately with women, sometimes a boundary can be overstepped which cannot be taken back, leaving them with permanent vitalization side effects such as hair growth or a cracked voice. Everyone reacts different and sometimes the risk may not be worth it.
How strong the compound is determines the risk of side effect. Female bodybuilding should not however be looked down upon due to their use of steroids. Yes, it may be a more heavier use but it does not mean to say it is not used by bikini, fitness and figure competitors on a lower level. It is just more accepted because they aren’t as muscly with in your face side effects. The steroid use can even be brushed under the carpet if needs be…
FEMALE BODYBUILDING: FEMININITY AND SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE
Bodybuilding primarily survives on being connected to the fitness industry through supplement companies, exercise equipment, and magazine publishing. Sex sells and for me I believe this is why female bodybuilding has moved towards being “fit”, “toned” and “healthy. Society has not yet accepted muscular women and until they do it will never be openly promoted. A magazine will not sell or make profit from a non-social standard.
This is what I believe determines the future of female bodybuilding. Girls have shifted to competing in bikini, fitness and figure, as this is what is appealing and makes money. Supplement companies etc. will not want to sign you up unfortunately if you are too muscly, leaving female bodybuilding unappealing and perhaps not even an option to make a living at.
My only wish is that if bodybuilding could go back the era of 1970 when judging was based on the evolution of the body and immune to societal standards. Drug use would not be so excessive and more about good training and a healthy diet to lean out. The degree and pursuit of muscularity today has unfortunately has created a facial and physical image no longer appealing to enough of an audience to support- caused by the distorted looks from extremes.
Portraying women as sex objects continues to be more profitable to companies. Portraying women, as accomplished athletes does not make money. Beauty has different meanings to people and aesthetics have changed dramatically throughout the evolution of bodybuilding. Some prefer the larger muscular body; others prefer a moderate mid-range physique middleweight. Society has set the standard for a “toned” appearance.
The new fitness fad of “strong is the new skinny” may seem like it is accepting muscularity, by promoting women to participate in strength training. The reassurance that you will not become too muscly if you lift weights tells us the other…
Women with power are viewed as unfeminine or unattractive and unacceptable to the majority of society. Again politics even tells us this as it is harder for women to get in office, Sarah Payne, Margaret Thatcher and Hilary Clinton all prime examples.
The fact is a woman of a certain physical size will not be accepted by the mainstream. They could have the most pretty and full faces, but will be repudiated. In society there is a general consensus of what we find attractive and acceptable. It is these social standards that create what an audience of female bodybuilding is willing to support. A woman may be considered attractive, but because she conflicts with traditional gender roles not so.
The idea that a woman could challenge a man on a physical level is unsettling to some. Often also men who feel threatened by women’s advancement in society, may feel that the physical domain is the only area they have left. Female bodybuilders and women in sports challenge this.
FEMALE BODYBUILDING: THE FUTURE
Sadly, the general public never supported female bodybuilding and the fitness industry never supported women as athletes. Instead it is in a culture sex sells Instagram with its soft porn could even be argued to be the playboy of today. Until social standards are shook female bodybuilding will remain in a culture of bikini, fitness and figure competing.