Saturday, March 3, 2012

Female Body Builders- Unfairly Treated?

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.


  1. I absolutely agree with Alex E. that women should have the right to maintain their appearance as they wish without harsh judgement and without being deemed undesirable. However, there are many cases in which some women call out men for being overly feminine due to their personal pursuits. For instance, male ballet dancers and english horseback riders. It is challenging to make the direct comparison between female bodybuilders and the Wonder Woman comic book character because of men being deemed girly for their choice in activity. In the comic book case, there aren't any male superheroes drawn with more feminine, less manly body types.

  2. I agree with Alex, the writer of this post, as well as Alexandra, who commented the almost exact idea that I thought of when I read this post. I feel that "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," is a biased conclusion. Both sexes contribute to setting up these norms. As Alexandra said, woman criticize men for being too "feminine" at times. It is like both genders yearn for characteristics that can be called their own, to separate man and woman. Maybe men and women make up these categories as an attempt to make sense of things and label. Otherwise, everyone and everything would run together and there wouldn't be anything unique. Doesn't everyone want to be seen as their own person, yet be treated like everyone else, at the same time? Contradictory ideas but I do see both perspectives. I guess we just need to determine the line between fair and biased.

  3. I agree that if women want to pursue body building as a profession, they have every right to pursue what they desire. After all, they have the freedom of expression. I thought that you brought up an interesting point that superheroines are intentionally made to look more feminized. They have less power and strength than superheroes. This reminds me of the concept of the male gaze, which involves the way male audiences perceive women, or the male perspective. In the majority of the comics that we’ve encountered, most of the writers and illustrators are males. As a result, the portrayal of women and superheroines is the idealized version of how women should look like in the male perspective.

    Although I believe that any women should be able to express themselves in how ever way they want, the societal norms differs and women are conditioned to conform to the norm. Ask yourself: How many girls do you know who want to pursue a profession of body building? In fact, in many occupations that involve physical strength such as the firefighting and construction management are almost exclusively reserved for males.

  4. I think that women should have the right to be anything that they want. It has to a lot with gender roles that society has set up for years. And as far as I know, roles don't change overnight. Female bodybuilders suffer from the stigma that society (not just males) has placed on them. They are supposed to look very thin, not bulked up and manly. Just like a female that is not suppose to play football, for example. The male gaze does play a part it this. Through the male gaze, women are seen as objects of male desire. Objects that don't look like they are less appealing. I feel men shouldn't be appalled by them, but they are because the stigma placed on them to reject female bodybuilders.


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