Campaign to save women’s bodybuilding

An interesting issue around the IFBB’s potential decision to eliminate women’s bodybuilding.

I haven’t followed bodybuilding much for years, but it’s always been an intriguing gym subculture. A petition launched on behalf of women’s bodybuilding and its fans reads, in part:

The IFBB talks about plans to eliminate its female bodybuilding division. We are shocked by this attitude, and demand its immediate reversal. We need the IFBB to firmly stand by and support this important sport well into the 21st century.

Not just a sport, female bodybuilding is also a form of self-expression and key to an active lifestyle for thousands of women of all ages worldwide. Just like their male counterparts, these athetes have been exploring the very limits of the human physique, turning their bodies into spectacular works of art.

Reaching way beyond a small yet dedicated fan base, female bodybuilding has helped drive the ideal of a strong, fit, healthy physique. Women bodybuilders also successfully challenge gender stereotypes, fight sexist discrimination, and help create a sense of empowerment for women.

I’d be curious to know more about the politics behind this decision.

At the institutional level (meaning in terms of the organizations and structures that control pro bodybuilding and the industry — for it IS an industry), women’s bodybuilding has always had a large ick factor.

Between sexism, money-grubbing, exploitation, and just plain skeeziness, many of the folks involved in the industry are not exactly great for women’s health. I’ve been at bodybuilding shows so creepily and explicitly sexist (as in, announcers describing at 130 decibels how, exactly, they would like to hit that muscular ass) that it made me want to scrub my brain with Lysol just for knowing such events existed.

If it’s a sport, then whey are so many of its athletes posing in lingerie in grimy hotel rooms? (Really guys? Could you find a nice background occasionally? It’s like all the bodybuilding cheesecake is shot at some airport Best Western, which makes me imagine that the implied photographer is an insurance salesman on his way through a Tri-States sales tour. Enjoy the minibar!)

If it’s about health, then why are most elite bodybuilders walking pharmacies and a few drops of liquid away from death when they step on stage? Actually, I love that some folks are brave enough to tap the chemical frontier — thanks to these fearless folks, we know a lot more about sex hormones, growth hormone, etc. and a lot more menopausal women are getting that testosterone replacement they need — but c’mon, competitive pro bodybuilding hasn’t been about health since a bunch of fresh-faced young men were cavorting on the beach after WWII.

At the person level, however, bodybuilding has inspired thousands — perhaps millions — of women to change their bodies and push the limits of human development.

For me, it was the 1980s women; things have changed of course, but nevertheless many of us find ourselves along the continuum. Most women never go the full Monty with drugs and years of pushing the boundaries. Most of us just like to throw a little iron around and hit a front double biceps in the bathroom mirror.

Thus, at the person level, and in the experience of most women who train reasonably seriously for physique enhancement — yes, it IS about all these wonderful things: health, empowerment, strength.

I’m not going to create an us-them division either, as many fitness writers do. Again, it’s a spectrum. We all find ourselves somewhere on it. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. Although there are some unique features to this situation, what happens to female bodybuilders is a microcosm of what happens to women in other spheres. Women’s push for bodybuilding equality in the latter 20th century made it possible, in part, for us to hit the “man room” at the gym now.

I see female bodybuilding as another body mod culture, like tattooing or piercing. Most of us have a tattoo or two, while a few intrepid folks take it to the next level and draw lizard scales on their face.

Much respect to those who live the extremes, ’cause it’s hard fucking work and in my opinion, a lot more interesting than becoming a bland carbon copy of something the Gap shat out. Rock on, my muscular sisters.

So, it’s a conundrum. Icky business, inspiring daily practice. And most importantly, real women’s lives.

Whatever happens, though, I’d like to see female bodybuilders control their own destinies and not be subject to the whims of a bunch of profitmongers and pimps in the form of industry trainers, promoters, etc. who chew people up and spit them out (much like pro wrestling, actually). Because of the power structure of the business, most bodybuilders — like most pro wrestlers — are circus acts or cash cows for their promoters. When one body is worn out, another one takes its place.

Does female bodybuilding need its Nina Hartley? Sisters — start doing it for yourselves!