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Female bodybuilding : exploring muscularity, femininity and bodily empowerment

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Title: Female bodybuilding : exploring muscularity, femininity and bodily empowerment
Author: Lang, Margot C.
Degree Master of Arts - MA
Program Human Kinetics
Copyright Date: 1998
Abstract: This study aimed to build upon the literature on women's athleticism by using bodybuilding as a vehicle for exploring associations between women's muscularity, notions of gender and bodily empowerment. Feminist cultural analyses of women's bodybuilding have claimed that muscularity is constrained by gendered meanings surrounding the sport and the female body (cf. Bordo, 1993; Coakley, 1994; Schulze, 1990). The purpose was to explore how personal interpretations of muscularity by competitive female bodybuilders contributed to their definitions of gender and empowerment through the body. Three competitive female bodybuilders were recruited. Ethnographic techniques were employed, including observations of subjects' training sessions, ongoing fieldnotes, and individual in-depth interviews to uncover the women's interpretations of their muscularity, gender and bodily empowerment. Data analysis involved organization of the data into themes using the computer program NUD.IST. The women re-defined certain values and expectations of femininity based on norms of discipline and restriction (cf. Bartky, 1993; Kissling, 1991; Willis, 1990). As such, it was revealed that muscularity contained possibilities for transforming common cultural images of the female body and meanings surrounding women's athleticism (cf. Birrell & Theberge, 1994; Hesse-Biber, 1996; Markula, 1993). From this, the women gained a sense of bodily empowerment which they defined as self actualization through confidence building, a positive body image, discipline, independence, inner strength and self awareness. This reinforced the idea that shifted understandings of gender through muscularity exist as one route to women's bodily empowerment as they function to replace dominant meanings which limit women (cf. Horden, 1993; Obel, 1996; Theberge, 1987). The women's sense of empowerment related to their visions of gender and their bodies in that these challenged traditional symbols of male dominance, involved independence and physical 'space-taking', and provided role models of female capability extending beyond the personal (cf. Hall, 1990; Hargreaves, 1994; Nelson, 1994). This analysis contributes to the existing literature by questioning the contention that bodybuilding does not constitute a form of empowerment because it is limited by the dominant ideologies of female body image, behaviour and sport surrounding it (cf. Bryson, 1990; Mansfield & McGinn, 1993; Miller & Penz, 1991).
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/7767
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]

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