Thread: Who Killed Female Bodybuilding?
03-06-2003, 12:20 PM #1
Who Killed Female Bodybuilding?
Who Killed Women's Bodybuilding?
Source: Article Source
FLEX Magazine – March 2003
The most positive force in the global bodybuilding community just may be its women. Too bad they aren't treated that way.
Consider this exchange between magazine editors in the offices of Weider Publications.
Editor 1: "Who killed women's bodybuilding?"
Editor 2: "Women bodybuilders"
While this snide conversational snippet is noticeable for its condescending, dismissive attitude towards its subject, what's fascinating about this put-down of women's bodybuilding is the year it took place: 1993. The editors quoted anonymously above no longer work for Weider and are actually out of the sport altogether. Women's bodybuilding, on the other hand, is still very much with us. Despite dwindling opportunities for IFBB professional women bodybuilders onstage and in print, the numbers of female competitors on the NPC level remain consistently strong. This year, 66 women bodybuilders competed in the USA Championships, 18 more than the number of USA fitness competitors. Not that the doomsayers of the sport haven't had reason to call in Dr. Kevorkian to finish it off.
In 1999, the Ms. Olympia, the sport's premiere contest, was suddenly cancelled, then hastily resurrected two weeks later in New Jersey. The crisis hastened the retirement of four-time Ms. Olympia Kim Chizevsky, perhaps the greatest female bodybuilder of all time. Chizevsky, as fans of the sport know, now competes in fitness contests. This near-death experience prompted the IFBB to implement drastic changes to all professional women's bodybuilding shows. Beginning in 2000, all contests would be required to feature weight classes, and the Ms. Olympia was to be bundled in with the Olympia Weekend to avoid it from withering on the vine alone. More tellingly, new guidelines for athlete presentation were introduced, including attention to makeup, hair and other aesthetic considerations considered to be traditionally feminine.
Two years later, not much has changed. Predictions of the extinction of women's bodybuilding are still more common than Elvis sightings. Why? It's not that women aren't good at bodybuilding. In fact, the subtext of much of the criticism of women bodybuilders is that they're too good at it - too hard, too big, too vascular. The implied recommendation to increase the popularity of women's bodybuilding is to persuade the women to stop being excellent bodybuilders and start being mediocre bodybuilders. They aren't complying. Not all of them. That many of these women continue to achieve physique excellence is beyond dispute. For instance, this year, at the USA Championships, Editor-in-Chief Peter McGough, a hard-to-impress physique analyst with decades of experience, marveled at the muscle quality of longtime NPC competitor Annie Rivieccio, who finished fourth in the heavyweights. "You don't see that quality on many of the men," he remarked.
Women have distinguished themselves from their male counterparts in other ways. You don't see women bodybuilders filled with Synthol, doubled-over onstage from exhaustion and dehydration, rushed to hospitals after contests, and walking around with their limbs in casts and slings because their egos got in the way of their training. You don't regularly hear about women bodybuilders being involved in embarrassing altercations, getting arrested, or throwing temper tantrums after every contest - though few would blame them if they did. Many female bodybuilders are highly educated, multi-degreed professionals, who spend long hours fighting with weights in the gym and fighting long-established societal prejudices outside it. They're solid citizens and exceptional athletes, who persevere despite meager prize winnings and constantly evolving judging standards that seem to change on the whims of officials. And then there's the nasty personal insults they endure from the general public and, sadly, even from those in their own bodybuilding subculture. Why do they do this again?
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
Since the first Ms. Olympia contest in 1980 - then known as "Miss" Olympia - the odyssey of women's bodybuilding has been one of fits and starts, progress and regress. Over the last two decades, the sport has acted as both cultural phenomenon and barometer, mirroring the evolving attitudes toward gender roles, while at the same time fighting against the cultural tide it was riding. Take the title of "Miss": its extinction is a symbol of the strides made by feminism and women's athletics. Women all over the country preferred "Ms." clear and simple. It's a minor change, to be sure, but it's still progress when an oppressed group is able to successfully define the terms of its own identity. But while women's bodybuilding followed the feminist script, especially when bodybuilders began refusing to wear high heels onstage in the late '70s, the sport never became a cause celebre for feminists. The culprit for this ambivalence may be the perceived objectification of bodybuilding athletes, or perhaps the perplexities of the masculizing/feminizing struggle that overcame the sport in the mid- to late-80s. As the women became much larger, the pressure increased to counter this newfound muscle size with artificial means of accentuating the competitors' feminine qualities (e.g., breast implants). This complicated the movement. After all, wasn't bodybuilding all about women taking control of their bodies, empowering each woman to choose her own body image instead of the one dictated by society's strict standards? The paradoxes were piling up.
THE DARWIN FACTOR
Female bodybuilders have borne the brunt of the inherent gender struggle that affects the acceptance of women as athletes. While still trailing their male counterparts in popularity and rewards, female athletes in general are taken more seriously than ever before, but female bodybuilders seem to be going in the other direction, finding it difficult to assimilate even into the bodybuilding subculture from which they were born. The reasons for this have been blamed on everything from inadequate media attention to mismanagement of the sport, but maybe it's something more primal. On one level, women's bodybuilding appears to violate Darwinian imperatives of our hard-wired sex roles, while also allowing for the evolution of the human animal to transcend culturally defined preordained destinies. Women's bodybuilding is a progressive cultural movement that defies long-held conventions and traditions.
While many people accept the existence of women bodybuilders - i.e., society at large is used to seeing them - the sport still has its sworn enemies. Depending on your point of view, women's bodybuilding is either a step forward in human potential or an insult to nature. All bodybuilders can elicit strong visceral reactions in the general public, but none more so than the female bodybuilder. While the general acceptance level for muscle on women has changed dramatically in entertainment and sports over the years, a hyper-developed muscular woman can still conjure awe, intimidation, resentment, fear, envy, as well as complicated and powerful sexual responses, especially in men. This confrontation with unwanted feelings can induce irrational hatred, sometimes even within the bodybuilding world itself (see "Women Between the Covers").
Appreciating a muscular physique on a man or a woman makes you a person who appreciates a muscular physique on a man or a woman and nothing else. All other assumptions are irrelevant in the context of the sport of bodybuilding. The phrase "get over it" comes to mind.YES, BUT IS SHE CUTE? For whatever reason - those Darwinian imperatives again? - no female athlete can escape being sexualized or to have her personal appearance become the dominant factor in her perceived worthiness. When the WNBA began their first season, popular sports radio jock Jim Rome regularly insulted the physical appearance of some of the league's professional female basketball players, calling one star in particular a "horse." It was a cheap shot, one out of step with treating women as athletes, much less as equals, and Rome later said he regretted making the comments.
Some of us do have the ability to grow up, thank goodness. Of course, female bodybuilders endure the same harsh scrutiny for their looks, regardless of their physique achievements. Just check out some bodybuilding bulletin boards and see how nasty the appraisals can get. Yet, inversely, at the same time a different audience eroticizes women bodybuilders solely for their physiques - as a urgeoning underground muscle fetish industry proves. But does this industry exist because women bodybuilders are being pushed beyond the fringes of their own subculture into this underground? Their options and opportunities in the bodybuilding mainstream seem to expire by the day. It is an odd world, this underground, much of it centered on the Internet. There, men treat muscular women like mythic goddesses, putting them in a virtual glass diorama where they can be ogled and worshipped indefinitely. It is the polar opposite of the rejection women bodybuilders often experience from the general public and the very subculture they chose to join. It's understandable that a woman would gravitate to this world where acceptance and other rewards are found. In the end, though, they are caught in yet another paradox: they have become bodybuilders to attain autonomy and self-empowerment, but then find themselves in another situation where they are disempowered, throttled by the conflicting messages of intense desire and rejection.
Yet there they are. Still onstage, still in the gym. After over two decades of different measures of praise, derision, respect, disrespect and neglect. Through the continuing tumult and instability of the sport, they return to the weights to prepare for the next show. Why do these women become bodybuilders, anyway? What keeps them going? NEVER SAY DIE Lynchburg, Virginia, may not seem the ideal U.S. city to gauge the health of a progressive cultural movement, but the small Southern city is now the permanent home of the Jan Tana Pro Classic. This contest, which exists solely due to the beneficence of its founder and promoter Jan Tana, is an annual bodybuilding show that now also features a professional fitness contest and the Masters Olympia. This year, the group of contests was held on August 17. It was the 15th anniversary of Jan Tana bodybuilding show, which, according to the IFBB, has yet to turn a profit.
Tana is a successful makeup and tanning mogul, a tireless businesswoman and an innovator in her industry. She's also extremely passionate about the sport of bodybuilding. Known for her dramatic, glitzy stage productions, Tana dropped the theatrics this year, instead ceding the time to competitors that she would normally reserve for other entertainment. She allowed each show's entrant, not just the top 15 as is customary, to perform his or her entire posing routine. Between the three contests, that came to 61 routines. A total of 23 women bodybuilders competed in three weight classes. As usual, the women, like the men, came in all shapes and sizes. The level of attention to "feminine" accoutrements spanned the extremes: Some of the women were particularly fastidious about following the perceived rule changes of 2000, others seemed to ignore them entirely. Every women posed enthusiastically, though some more artfully than others. Here was a contest that didn't make money, populated with women bodybuilders who have endured a series of jolts to their sport that would have discouraged lesser spirits. Obviously, they aren't there for the money, the fame, the verdant fields of Lynchburg, lovely as they are. So what's left?
The love of the sport itself. The same passion for bodybuilding that drove Dave Draper to spend hours in a reeking dungeon in the '60s. The same love of the pump that Arnold Schwarzenegger craved throughout his career. The same intense desire for testing personal limits that powered Dorian Yates' brutal, solitary workouts. The same hunger for self-improvement and empowerment that lifting weights and growing muscle have provided for millions of men. The same determination for self-mastery that Joe Weider has preached for over six decades. Many top male athletes are in the sport solely for the financial rewards: the endorsement contracts, the generous prize winnings and personal appearance fees - opportunities not available to women bodybuilders. Yet, despite this lack of material benefits, the women work as hard as the men, achieving a physique standard comparable to their male counterparts. What motivates these women is the pure joy of the sport.
They've discovered the life-changing properties of bodybuilding and there's no turning back. If women's bodybuilding could die, it would have by now. Some thought it would fade of its own accord. It didn't. Some thought fitness contests would kill it. They didn't. Some think figure contests will finish off women's bodybuilding. They won't. Women's bodybuilding is here to stay for the same reason men's bodybuilding is here to stay: because of the basic, pure passion all bodybuilders have for their sport. Women have caught the bodybuilding bug, and they love it. They've more than earned the respect of the bodybuilding world. It's time they got it.
WOMEN BETWEEN THE COVERS
Many women bodybuilders complain of the lack of coverage in industry magazines, but sometimes no coverage is better than what's actually published. One article that appeared recently in another bodybuilding magazine enraged many women in the sport, while providing a textbook illustration of the misunderstandings and fears female bodybuilders inspire in the underdeveloped male psyche. The piece, an interview with NPC amateur Colette Nelson, was peppered with the type of vulgar insults and profanity consistent with an arrested adolescent mindset. The author's vile attacks toward women bodybuilders in general, and his constant assurances to readers that he was normally repulsed by woman bodybuilders but was sexually turned on by Colette Nelson despite the fact she was a woman bodybuilder, was an obvious example of a man not in control of his sexual identity. Which is okay in and of itself. Many people have profound and complex feelings toward their sexual desires and find it difficult to untie the knots of their passions. But like the latent homosexual who publicly utters homophobic slurs at openly gay men, the danger is when these sexual insecurities lead to rage and contempt toward that which exposes the suppressed urges.
Really, shouldn't at least those in the bodybuilding community be immune to these adolescent insecurities, these locker room taunts towards women with muscles? If women bodybuilders send a person into such a severe crisis of sexual confusion, perhaps that person should refrain from addressing the subject at all, at least until seeking the appropriate counseling. You won't find these cries for help in FLEX. While we have been accused of underreporting female bodybuilding, we treat these athletes with more seriousness than our competitors. As a commercial enterprise, we must respond to the demands of our market, mostly young males, who tell us in research and letters that they are exclusively interested in information from male bodybuilders whom they idenity with and admire. While our page-count devoted to women's bodybuilding may not satisfy the female athletes in the sport, we will continue to report on the major women's contests and competitors and do so with sober intent and respect. (sidebar two)
WHAT WOMEN WANT
Canadian pro Lisa Bavington is an emerging voice in the female bodybuilding community, who is seeking to intensify the debate over the foibles and fortunes of her sport. The 29-year-old Toronto resident penned a hard-hitting editorial last fall that appeared on several Web sites and in print, taking a particular corner of the bodybuilding media to task for degrading representations of women in her sport. The positive response from other female bodybuilders was overwhelming, she says."To me it's about sport, about training, about being a competitive athlete. Women want to participate in a sport as athletes and just want to be respected for what they do," says Bavington. "I don't think that's too much to ask for."
While she's quick to point out that she doesn't speak for all female bodybuilders, Bavington wants to help the women in her sport unify and develop a game plan to increase their opportunities. She has set up a networking system on her Web site (www.lisabavington.net), which she hopes will lead to a more supportive atmosphere for female bodybuilders. "The network on my site is an attempt to get us all on the same page, acting as a resource for other women who are looking to develop and support their own future," says Bavington, who runs a mentoring and counseling department at a college in suburban Toronto. "Ultimately, I think we need to form a women's committee within the federation and create a common vision for the sport."
The issues are many. Female bodybuilders feel boxed in by an industry that doesn't know what to do with them. Now with fewer shows on the IFBB schedule, women bodybuilders already must compete against the lure of fitness shows and soon will contend with the clickity-clip of more high heels in the upcoming figure circuit. "Women are being set up against one another," she contends. "Each competition may have different a audience and different opportunities, but we all deserve the same amount of respect. There is an audience for female bodybuilding. It may not be as big as the men, but there are more female bodybuilders and women training with weights than there ever has been in history. We need to take advantage of that." Bavington feels the women should work within the IFBB to strengthen their position and exert some control over their representation.
Again, it comes back to being judged as athletes and not on traditional standards of attractiveness. "You're going to get great looking girls and you're going to get not so great looking girls, but you can't put a limit on women's physical development," she says. The key to the future of the sport is to tap into the empowerment that's always been a promise of women's bodybuilding. "We get into this sport to develop our physiques and reach our potential as athletes," asserts Bavington, an unapologetic feminist. "Nobody's going to tell me what I'm going to do with my body. It's about having the freedom to choose which physique I want and the opportunity to be able to do it. The problem is that female bodybuilders are letting these negative things happen to our sport. It all starts with a vision and until we determine one, we're going nowhere fast." To contact Lisa Bavington, visit www.lisabavington.net
03-10-2003, 05:12 AM #2
That was a great article
07-17-2003, 01:59 PM #3
I think that the one thing that killed female bodybuilding is female fitness competitions. I used to love watching female bodybuilding contests. But with the creation of female competitions in the early 90's, WOOOO!!! I gradually lost interest in female bodybuilding. Afterall, the fitness competitors look more feminine.
And now with all of the politics that go on in bodybuilding competitions, I've noticed alot of former female bodybuilders turning to fitness competition.
07-19-2003, 12:47 PM #4
As the females got bigger and bigger, they were not marketable, no money = less contest= less money. Was easy to sell fitness and now figure, which franky the figure is a bit of a joke/insult to fitness and bbing. SUre it brings ppl to shows and sure women are in good shape, not they don't have to be in great shape. I wouldn't mind figure, but feel the they should award bit harder builds... too much like a biniki contest you could go to any club and watch.
07-19-2003, 01:44 PM #5
I don't want to sound like an ass, but I think it's mainly because it's hard to market ugly. And so many female bodybuilders are ugly as hell, dunno if it's a higher percentage than the rest of the population. Just my silly opinion.
07-22-2003, 11:25 AM #6New Member
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- May 2003
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Every women that looks anything remotley like Kim Bass. That is one big man, I mean women.
10-11-2003, 02:33 PM #7
id go with the negative comments that everyone seems to make about women bodybuliders.........
12-03-2003, 03:02 PM #8AR-Hall of Famer / Retired
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- Aug 2001
- Wherever necessary
a woman's strength is in her beauty
a man's beauty is in his strength
12-06-2003, 01:37 AM #9
a woman's strength is in her beauty
a man's beauty is in his strength"
I like that, thats good stuff
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