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Female bodybuilding: dilemmas of identity

Taylor, Colette (2010) Female bodybuilding: dilemmas of identity. Manchester Metropolitan University. (Unpublished)


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Through the methodology of discourse analysis, this research used television documentaries from 1985 to 2008 to discuss issues of identity, power and health in relation to the subculture of female bodybuilding. Heralded as ‘women’s most non-traditional sport, competitive bodybuilding is saturated with contradiction’ (Bolin, 1992), where female bodybuilders face contradictory dilemmas within areas such as body image and identity. Concepts from critical discourse analysis and feminism were used to inform the research, specifically Lazar’s (2005) framework of feminist critical discourse analysis, and the research was informed by Young’s (1990) notion of female embodiment and Billig et al. (1988) notion of ideological dilemmas. The findings show that within the binary themes of muscularity vs. femininity, bodybuilding as identity vs. identity crisis, strength vs. weakness, and health vs. illness, female bodybuilders face contradictory dilemmas through cultural and gendered structures within society. It was concluded that the female bodybuilder’s body is a product and an intensification of the cultural meanings that are imprinted onto women in Western society, and in attempting to negotiate a sense of self through their body, they have lost sense of who they are as a person. Through their attempt to encapsulate all aspects of cultural practices, the female bodybuilder has become distorted, disempowered and ultimately disowned.

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