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A 1981 story in Muscle and Fitness indicates that beneath the gazing eye on muscularity other anxieties circulate. For instance, the opening paragraph gushes over the contestants' "regular" femininity. The bodybuilding establishment's nervousness over the "masculine" appearance of female bodybuilders is a continuing issue.

But if femininity is a performance, largely meant for patriarchal and public display, masculinity likewise is no less a scene staged in public--otherwise it loses its point. In this respect, bodybuilding might be said, still, to be sorting out the narcissism inherent in the gendering, not of femininity, but of masculinity.

Bodybuilding in general asks the question that its actual contests all more-or-less explicitly ask: who is the real man? The gay or lesbian body-builder, then, becomes entangled in the larger cultural panic surrounding the issue of gender.

The history of bodybuilding reflects this panic; to the presumptively heterosexual weight-lifter, "real" women are the threat to the masculine, but in addition, so is the symbolic (i.e., homosexual) woman within. Consequently, in the effeminized discourse most commonly used to stigmatize homosexuality, bodybuilding's status remains that of gender failure--ironically, despite, and perhaps because of, the show of muscularity.

Thus, if muscles, to the Greeks, were a sort of armor, today they signal a kind of gender campery. One critic, clearly straight, whines, "Muscles are the latest props of the dandy." By failing American gender in such a spectacularly butch venue, then, gay bodybuilders such as Paris (and his lover of the time, bodybuilder Rod Jackson), can be said to have demonstrated what women and body-builders have known all along: Gender is something to be performed, in public, for show.

Edward J. Ingebretsen

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Chapman, David L. Sandow the Magnificent. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

Dutton, Kenneth R. The Perfectible Body: The Western Ideal of Male Physical Development. New York: Continuum, 1995.

Fussell, Sam. "Bodybuilder Americanus." The Male Body: Features, Destinies, Exposures. Laurence Goldstein, ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. 43-60.

Gaines, Charles. Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding. London: Sphere Books, 1977.

Klein, Alan. Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Paris, Bob. Gorilla Suit: My Adventures in Body-building. Los Angeles: Griffin Trade Paperback, 1998.

Ritts, Herb. Duo: Herb Ritts Photographs Bob Paris and Rod Jackson. Los Angeles: Twin Palms Publishers, 1991.

Schwarzenegger, Arnold, with Bill Dobbins.. Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. London: Pelham Books, 1985.


    Citation Information
    Author: Ingebretsen, Edward J.  
    Entry Title: Bodybuilding  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 13, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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