gender norms

Image from Barbies and Robots.

For many women, bodybuilding (i.e., sculpting one’s body through rigorous diet and training to develop muscle size) is an empowering activity. Heavy weightlifting increases muscular strength and size, and enhances one’s physical capacity. For women, bodybuilding can be empowering because a muscular female body defies our traditional understanding of a feminine body as a one that is small, weak, fragile, and limited. A female bodybuilder – someone who has, through years of strength training, gained a considerable amount of visible muscularity – challenges these stereotypes of femininity, forcing us to critically examine and reconsider our taken-for-granted knowledge of the female physique and its capabilities. Bodybuilding allows women to push against and break free from these societal boundaries, providing a space for empowerment.

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Vincenzo Nibali with “podium girls” after winning the 2014 Tour de France. Photo from Outside Online.

Recently, organizers of the professional cycling event the Tour Down Under made the decision to eliminate “podium girls” and replace them with male junior riders on the men’s tour, thereby breaking from the tradition of other major professional cycling events like the Tour De France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro D’Italia. Podium girls are a highly visible component of the awards ceremony at the conclusion of bike races. The women are often impeccably dressed in matching outfits while presenting winners with prizes, flowers and kisses on the cheek. The role of podium girls and, in some instances, podium boys provides a snapshot of the ways in which traditional gender norms are reinforced in sport.

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