"A lot of people in the general public think female bodybuilding
is gross and freaky . . . that that's not what a woman is supposed
to look like." So says Michelle, a national bodybuilding judge. In
fact, athletic women, especially those in sports where strength,
muscle, and sweat feature prominently, are typically viewed by the
public as being outside the boundaries of appropriate femininity.
And perhaps no group of women athletes embodies this gender outlaw
status more than female bodybuilders, who by their bulk and sheer
strength challenge our very notions of what it means to be a woman.
Why would women choose to look like that? And what does it take to
get and stay so muscular?
Maria R. Lowe has interviewed more than one hundred people
connected with women's bodybuilding, from the bodybuilders
themselves, to trainers, family members, spouses, judges, and
sponsors. In Women of Steel, Lowe introduces us to a world where
size and strength must be balanced with a nod toward grace and
femininity. Lowe, who actually worked out with a couple of the
bodybuilders she interviewed, gets at the heart of what it is to be
a woman bodybuilder. We learn about "paying the price"--doing the
necessary exercise, and sometimes drugs--that allows women to rise
to the top of their profession. We follow their successes and
failures, and discover the benefits-- including increased
self-esteem and physical strength--as well as the sometimes
unhealthy effects of their training regimen, from dehydration to
baldness to rampant acne to high blood pressure. We travel with the
women from competition to competition and find that judges'
standards seem to vary alarmingly depending on momentary notions of
what constitutes "the overall package"--that elusive perfect body
that catches judges' eyes and wins competitions.
Above all, Women of Steel is a keenly observant diary of life in
women's bodybuilding, a must-read for people interested in sports,
competition, physical culture, and gender.
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