As superheroines are stigmatized in the fantasy world of comics for their strength and violence, women body builders are equally criticized in the real world. On Google, the fourth link available when searching female body builders is “20 Revolting Female Bodybuilders”, whereas a similar search for men body builders provides no such links. This difference in exposure and interpretation suggests that society does not accept female body builders as a legitimate business or passion, and that strong women are more abnormal than strong men. The “Revolting Female Body Builders” page best describes societal discontent and unease with women body builders: “[Female body builders] are beautiful in their own way, which is a nice way of saying that they’re beautiful in no way at all… these women could stand to put down the weights and maybe just stick to power pilates”. This harsh reaction to body building is clearly indicative of the general perception as to how girls are supposed to look, and how men frame the standard of beauty for women. According to this article, women are expected to do pilates not because it is something that they prefer to do, but because it will make them beautiful by men’s standards. While these women are being criticized for their looks, they are also being criticized for their masculinity. Bodybuilding and lifting weights are activities that have been generally reserved for men, and female body builders break gendered norms by participating in weight lifting and “masculine culture”. Men are made uncomfortable by strong women because they are displaying characteristics that others consider to be gendered.
Female body builders are human parallels to super heroines because they both attempt to re-appropriate masculine characteristics and change the relationship that women have to strength, power, independence and violence. While we question female body builders and their motives, it is much less often that we question the motives of male body builders. As men, they are entitled to assume any career choice, body type, and personality, while women are expected to conform to norms that are set by men. Women are not “supposed” to be body builders, they are “supposed” to do pilates. Women are expected to try to look beautiful by a masculine standard, and those who fall outside of that paradigm are seen as strange or undesirable.
The fact that female body builders receive criticism indicates that we are more interested in a standard of beauty than encouraging individualism and passion. Men are able to pursue any occupation related to violence, strength and courage, yet women are limited by a masculine standard that depreciates women who are interested in “masculine” pursuits. Women have every right to be strong, to be violent, to be “ugly” and to pursue a career that interests them. Body building shouldn’t be reserved for men, not should saving crime be reserved for super heroes. Women deserve the spotlight, and women deserve the opportunity to own their body any way they feel comfortable.