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Bodybuilding  
 
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In pursuit of further commercial opportunity, Weider founded the Mr. Olympia contest in 1965 and shortly thereafter enlisted a young Austrian champion named Arnold Schwarzenegger to write about and promote the sport.

In the name of the well-built body, the entwining of spectacle, building of massive bodies, competing for money, and marketing of health supplements had become a self-perpetuating enterprise. This entanglement was confirmed in 1977 with the release of the film Pumping Iron, starring Schwarzenegger, then five-time winner of the Mr. Olympia contest.

Sponsor Message.

The buff and beveined Austrian's appearance in this film made bodybuilding a household name. The franchising of Gold's gyms--like McDonald's, everywhere--brought his butch masculinity into the reach of even the most sedate urbanite.

Less happily, however, Schwarzenegger also committed himself to erasing the taint of homosexual eroticism that critics often find disturbing in bodybuilding. From the perspective of the twenty-first century, it can be argued that the stalwart heterosexuality of the bodybuilding industry (and Schwarzenegger's energy as well, as witness his famous comment, quoted by Charles Gaines, that "A good pump is better than coming") during these formative years was in part a response to the challenge mounted against customary gender norms by the feminist and gay rights movements.

The industry and its spokesmen were certainly anxious about the perception that bodybuilding, especially as distinct from weight-lifting, attracted gay men and that the audiences at bodybuilding events were often disproportionately gay. (Even as another portion of the industry was specifically targeting gay men as consumers of physique culture.)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, culturally accepted standards of appropriate sex and gender, however, were also being destabilized by a number of factors. Capitalizing upon the relaxing of obscenity laws and media standards, muscle industries and clothiers alike exploited the male body for its erotic appeal.

The languourous bodies displayed in relaxed poses in advertising spreads for clothiers such as Calvin Klein may resemble the warrior bodies of classical Greek statuary, but unlike them they were designedly "built"--usually not by hefting rocks, but by hours spent at the gym.

The gendering implicit in the distinctions between weight-lifting and bodybuilding makes itself evident at this point. "Real men" weight-lifters repudiate the notion that gym-bodies and bodybuilders--here, read gay--have any association whatsoever with the sport of hoisting weights to build strength.

The anxiety about the homoeroticism of bodybuilding is clear in the industry's often artificial attempts to assert an aggressive heterosexuality. For example, contemporary weight-lifting and health magazines such as Weider's Muscle and Fitness or Men's Fitness routinely police the stray homoerotic moments of their layouts by carefully framing male-male images heterosexually--that is, with a curvaceous woman posed between the two men.

Bob Paris and the Anxieties of Gender and Class

When Bob Paris won the title Mr. Universe in 1983 he brought these anxieties of gender and class to the surface. Paris is surely not the only successful gay bodybuilder, although to date he is the only top winner of IFFB-sanctioned contests publicly to declare his sexuality.

Nor is his experience unique. His troubled road to visibility is paralleled by other gay male and lesbian athletes in other sports--for example, David Kopay in football, Greg Louganis in diving, and Martina Navratilova in tennis. "Organized" sports, in its earliest forms, was designedly about teaching underclass boys how to be proper (heterosexual) men, and its ideological function in that regard is still apparent.

For all the nervousness about the gay presence in bodybuilding on the part of the bodybuilding establishment, gay men and lesbians constitute an important segment of bodybuilding fans. One sign of the appeal of bodybuilding to many gay and lesbian athletes and fans is its popularity at the Gay Games.

Legally forbidden to use the word "Olympic" in their designation, in 1982 lesbian and gay athletes gathered in San Francisco for what would be the first Gay Games. At that first gathering the Physique Contest was one of the most popular events, and it remains so to this day.

In Gay Games V (1998), for example, bodybuilding was one of the few sports that actually sold tickets, and it was the only contest sold out before the games. In 2002 more than 200 men and women participated in the Gay Games VI Physique Competition. A notable phenomenon is the increasing participation of lesbians in the Games' bodybuilding competitions.

Although women's competitions had achieved sufficient following to merit national contests by the 1970s, women achieved success only to have their achievement exploited, perhaps justified, erotically. The first "Ms. Olympia" contest was not hosted until 1980. (The film Pumping Iron II: The Women followed, belatedly, in 1984).

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