Female Bodybuilding and Patriarchal Civilization. The Intrusion of a Practice in Sport into Artistic Fields and Visual Culture

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This essay focuses on the practice of female bodybuilding (in the form we know it today) from the perspectives of domination and empowerment, social influence and power. The primary theoretical frame of reference is Bourdieu’s field-habitus-capital approach, though this essay also discusses some limitations of applications of this theory, since Bourdieu linked bodybuilding with the working class only and did not discuss it as a middle class and feminism connotated female practice as well. Using a critical queer approach, the practice of female bodybuilding is discussed in terms of its similarities and fundamental difference with male bodybuilding. The essay furthermore looks at the practice on a systemic level, analyzing its expansion from sport and entertainment into several cultural and visual fields, including eroticism and the arts, in a process of social differentiation; and its globalization beyond its origins in the United States and the United Kingdom, which was also facilitated by the internet—psycho power—and which redefined the practice’s visibility after the iconic turn in an overall economy of appearance and attention. Of special relevance, this essay analyzes some of the intra- and intergender struggles within the field in light of the male dominance on the institutional level, which is enforced by heteronomous orientations (demand as well as male gaze) that support heavily sexualized, essentialist expectations of “femininity” for performing bodybuilders. These expectations are similarly reinforced by the demands of marketing interests and are supported by the complicity of the negatively privileged, which is characteristic for the functioning of symbolic power in Bourdieu’s sense. The ambiguity involved in the affirmative reproduction of the dominant gender order, as well as the critical intentions and dissident interventions in the patriarchal order, are discussed using the theoretical frame provided by French constructivist structuralism and further approaches to social power.
Translated title of the contributionWeibliches Bodybuilding und patriarchale Zivilisation: Die Intrusion einer Praxis des Sports in künstlerische Felder und visuelle Kultur
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArts and Power : Policies in and by the Arts
EditorsLisa Gaupp, Alenka Barber-Kersovan, Volker Kirchberg
Number of pages39
Place of PublicationWiesbaden
PublisherSpringer VS
Publication date2022
Edition1
Pages155-193
Article number9
ISBN (Print)978-3-658-37428-0
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-658-37429-7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

    Research areas

  • Science of art
  • Sociology - Female bodybuilding, Body, Arts and Power, Field-theory, Third wave feminism