In a link sent in by Anjan G., Victoria’s Secret model Adriana Lima explains what she does in the months prior to walking the catwalk (source).   Here’s a summary:

  • For months before the show, she works out every day with a personal trainer; for the three weeks before, she works out twice a day.
  • A nutritionist gives her protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to help her body cope with the work out schedule.
  • She drinks a gallon of water a day.
  • For the final nine days before the show, she consumes only protein shakes.
  • Two days before the show, she begins drinking water at a normal rate; for the final 12 hours, she drinks no water at all.  She loses up to eight pounds during this time.

The result.

Lima’s training and nutrition regimen reveal that the look that is believed by some to be the epitome of feminine accomplishment — the look required to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel — is accompanied by significant physical strain.  Lima looks as she is supposed to on the runway, but she is also dehydrated and hungry.

The story reminded me of this photograph, taken by Zed Nelson.  It shows Ronnie Coleman, immediately after walking off the stage at the Mr. Olympia competition, breathing through an oxygen mask.  He would take first place.  Explaining the photograph, Nelson writes:

Oxygen administered to exhausted contestants during final round of judging. The strain of intense dieting, dehydration and muscle-flexing, places high levels of strain on the heart and lungs, rendering many contestants dizzy, light-headed and weak.

Bodybuilders often have extreme and rigid exercise and diet plans in the months preceding a contest.  In those months, a male bodybuilder’s goal is to make himself appear as strong as possible. He must balance his body’s functional needs with his aesthetic goals, and sometimes the latter wins over the former.

Male bodybuilders and female models, then, represent aesthetic extremes of masculinity and femininity, but their bodies aren’t the natural extension of male and female physicalities. Instead, achieving the look require significant sacrifice of one’s body.  In other words, they look fit and strong, but looks can be deceiving.

See also:  criticism of female body builders and the right to consume women’s beauty.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.