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Whose body is it anyway? 'Race', Gender and Representation in Bodybuilding

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posted on 2023-10-16, 13:06 authored by Peter Gavigan

This study focuses on the representations and discourses surrounding individual bodybuilders, white and non-white, male and female, within two popular bodybuilding magazines, Flex and UK Beef, both with a focus on UK bodybuilding and bodybuilders, which have often been overlooked or taken second place in research on bodybuilding, to a North American focus. Whilst previous research has focused on the binary aspects and influences of the concepts of masculinity and femininity within bodybuilding and their relationship with Judith Butler’s focus on gender performativity, there has been no focus on how these intersect and interact with the socially and politically constructed idea of ‘race’ and attendant racism. Equally, little research has explored the intersectional effects on non-white bodybuilders, particularly female bodybuilders, of ‘race’ and gender and their representation and treatment within the (sub)culture and its publications. Furthermore, there is the concern and question whether male and female bodybuilders are able to challenge and transform their subject positions and ‘voices’ within these publications, and if so, how?

Using thematic analyses of both the magazines’ texts in the form of their articles and shorter pieces, mainly focused on individual bodybuilders and of their accompanying photos, specific themes and findings relevant to the research questions have been employed to answer those questions. Prominent nationalistic and gendered discourses and themes appeared within both magazines and a hierarchy of representation and presentation was evidenced with regards to the research groupings. Instead of the hypervisibility, which Ratna and Samie (2018) claim regarding Black women within sporting literature, non-white female bodybuilders are virtually excluded and made ‘invisible’ within the research data. Equally, the prominence and visibility of non-white male bodybuilders within the data dispute Mowatt et al’s (2013) claim that “[i]nvisibility is a fundamental aspect of being Black in a White-dominated society” (645).



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