Notions of masculinity circumscribe the world of bodybuilding. Female bodybuilding is delineated in/by the male gaze and male constructions of feminine athletic aestheticism. More specifically, it is female figure and bikini athletes that become demarcated with a prescribed constellation of ‘beauty.’ Furthermore, actual female bodybuilding, although located in a substantially more subaltern position, is equally, if not more fetishized, due precisely to its relative otherness.
“Bodybuilding Motivation” is a popular title, or partial title, for bodybuilding compilation videos, created mostly by fans and uploaded to sites like YouTube. Primarily these videos are comprised of clips of professional male bodybuilders training, amassed for a male, typically bodybuilder audience. Bodybuilding videos emphasize hard and brutal training, an intense dedication and diligence to improvement, and strong mental focus and determination. They present the freaky musculature and strength and hardcore work ethic of top male bodybuilders.
When I see compilation videos of women, however, they are quite different in content and intent. Who does the video above aim to ‘motivate,’ and what about it is ‘motivating?’They motivate objective, structural violence against the female body.
These “female bodybuilding” videos do not admire female bodybuilding (I will use this term for economical purposes, although inaccurately, to also include figure, bikini, and fitness athletes). This negation of female bodybuilding in the process of objectification is typical. I see it in bodybuilding magazines, in commercials and advertisements, and on Facebook pages, such as Beautiful Fitness Girls. In the objectification of these female athletes their bodies become shed of positive signification and are (re)defined in the male gaze. Their hard work and dedication are not on display. Emphasis is not placed on the aesthetic quality of their physiques by bodybuilding standards – on proportion, symmetry, and definition.
Their bodies are sexualized and fetishized in a pornographic manner. Many of the exercises performed involve squatting or lunging, lying facedown. The cameras focus on the glutes. If faces are shown their countenance is often contorted into expressions of sexual flirtation or seduction. This is not an autonomous presentation of physique. These athletes perform to a particular audience with specific expectations. Female athletes, in the pursuit of recognition or progression, are, to some degree, forced to perform within a system of subjugation, in which success depends upon compliance in their own objectification.
The male gaze subjugates the female body and violently constructs female bodybuilding (figure, bikini, fitness) within a structure of sexual objectification. If the world of bodybuilding wants to be taken more seriously, male bodybuilding needs to reject the complete objectification and fetishization of female bodybuilding and the female body. It is precisely this objectification that establishes these images as pornographic, and thus violent – violent against the female body, violent against our sport.