Women discuss the relationship between bodybuilding and perceptions of femininity

Bullock flexing his arms. According to her, bodybuilding has changed perceptions around femininity. (Photo courtesy of Keely Bullock.)

BYU women speak out on how bodybuilding has improved their well-being and changed society’s perception of femininity.

Keely Bullock, bodybuilder and fitness influencer, said she believes the rise in the number of female weightlifters has challenged traditional views of femininity. She said she received comments on her Instagram and Tiktok wondering what a woman should look like and criticizing her for stepping beyond cultural norms.

“I’m not going to lie – these comments hurt, but I continue to post because I want to inspire women to strengthen their bodies physically and be more comfortable challenging our society’s ideas of femininity,” said Bullock.

Lindsey Cook, a personal trainer specializing in teen leadership and nutrition, said the approval and disapproval of those around young women leads them to develop a specific understanding of femininity: that female bodies are meant to be be thin and delicate.

Research by Amy Scott, a doctoral student in bioarchaeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, shared the historical context of female bodybuilding.

“In addition to the specific muscles associated with the male and female genitalia, the muscles the anatomy does not differ between the sexes,” Scott said in his research. “The pervasive role of culture in associating this dimorphism with social hierarchy demonstrates the link between femininity and imposed powerlessness.

Scott’s research explained that a social hierarchy emerged between men and women, in which biology – especially muscle mass – became a tool to justify the gender inequality that still prevails in contemporary society. .

In his research, Scott cited several examples of why bodybuilding for women has had such a powerful impact on society, especially given what women of past generations have gone through to reinforce the expectation that small and weak women are the pinnacle of femininity. Extreme diets, corsets and other forms of body restraints are some examples of trends that have done serious damage to women’s bodies in order to keep them small.

According to Cook, as research on equality and health gains prominence, the women’s ability to grow stronger without fear of societal disapproval has increased.

“Each time a woman ventures into bodybuilding and bodybuilding and shows increased wellness, her example sets the stage for more and more, dampening the voices of disapproval from previous generations,” Cook said. .

Cook said that while bodybuilding is a form of rebellion against the idealized version of femininity in American culture for some women, many do it for their own well-being and don’t care at all about how it affects their entourage.

“Whenever a public issue gains notoriety, such as increasing depression and anxiety among women as a whole, strength training finds a way into research in a positive and supportive way, thereby changing society’s ideas of what a healthy female body looks like and how femininity can be celebrated within a more solid framework,” Cook said.

Bullock believes weightlifting has helped her overcome her body image issues. She said she’s comfortable, happy and proud of how she looks After than ever.

“I continue to make bodybuilding a key aspect of my identity because it’s become an outlet for relaxation and positivity,” Bullock said. “Being a full-time student with a part-time job and social life, the gym is just what I need at the end of the day to de-stress.”

Cook said that during her time as a personal trainer, she saw positive correlations between strength training and improvement in depressive symptoms, blood sugar, type 2 diabetes, total cholesterol, hypertension. , self-confidence and more. She claims that there is hardly a common disease for which strength training does not apply as an aid.

“Survivors of sexual assault may develop compulsive behaviors in response to the assault“said Scott’s research.”Strength training for these women gives a sense of control over their bodies, so they no longer feel vulnerable as women, but empowered by their physical strength.

McKenzie Hefner, a student weightlifter from BYU, said weightlifting has helped her mentally and physically and she’s lost more than 30 pounds since starting her weightlifting journey.

“Although my strength played a part in my decision to start weightlifting, the most important factor in the end was that I didn’t feel healthy.“, said Hughes.”I felt like I wasn’t where I wanted to be for myself and I knew I could be better. Weightlifting offered a workout where there was no failure – only a base from which we can grow.

Hughes said she believes most weightlifters aren’t there to build society’s ideal body, but to be stronger and healthier. She said the most important thing she learned from weightlifting is that her ideal body will be different from what it might be in other women’s minds and that her genetics and constitution play a big role. into what her “ideal” body might be. .

“Bodybuilding is a way to push the boundaries of femininity and femininity…the majority of female competitors are highly educated and hold better jobs than most men in sportsaid Scott in his study.

Scott’s research indicated that from this perspective, body control is the final frontier for these highly successful women to conquer..

“I have control over what I do for and over my body, and I think getting and feeling stronger is one of the best ways to feel in control of your life,” Bullock said.

Bullock said she sees herself as a woman doing something she loves. She said inspiring others is a positive side effect, but not her priority.

“While bodybuilding may be considered a subculture within society, it has a very real impact on gender norms that are valued in the western world.“Scott said.”For some, bodybuilding is seen as an act of defiance to rigid standards of what is considered beautiful.

Bullock said that since she started bodybuilding, she feels more feminine than ever.

“There are always misconceptions about female bodybuilders that we want to look or feel like men,” Bullock said. “The reason I do weightlifting is because it makes me happy and I want other women to know that it doesn’t take away from your femininity or mean you’re ‘manly’ – it’s just something you can enjoy, use to de-stress, or just give yourself a chance to blast some loud music in your ears and let some of the built-up anger out.

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