The art historian bodybuilder

Historians in the News

Many scholars debate how much they should become immersed in societies or cultures they study. Lianne McTavish went all in. A professor of the history of art, design and visual culture at the University of Alberta, she decided to study "figure girl" competitions (a form of bodybuilding). She did this by becoming a competitor herself. She tells the story in Feminist Figure Girl: Look Hot While You Fight the Patriarchy, just out from the State University of New York Press. She responded to e-mail questions about her book and her research.

Q: How is a figure girl the same and different from a bodybuilder?

A: Figure became an official category of physique competition in 2001. Figure girls -- there is no such thing as a figure boy -- train like bodybuilders by lifting weights in a methodical fashion for years on end. Then they gradually lose body fat in order to “lean out” and display those muscles on stage. Like bodybuilders, figure contestants are judged on the proportion, symmetry and definition of their muscles. Unlike bodybuilders, figure girls are not striving for hypertrophy, but focus on developing their lats, quads and glutes more than their arms and chests. Figure girls are very muscular but not as muscular as female bodybuilders. Another difference is that figure girls do not pose like bodybuilders on stage, hitting their “most muscular” posture or flexing their biceps. They simply perform four quarter mandatory turns for the judges. In general, then, the figure competitor is more limited than the bodybuilder and is expected to conform more rigidly to conventional definitions of femininity.  ...

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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