Women with muscles are a recent phenomenon, so recent that, while generating a good deal of interest, both positive and negative, their importance to the cultural landscape has yet to be acknowledged. This newness, along with the ways in which muscular women challenge traditional ideas that associate women with physical weakness and incompetence, femininity with diminution and childishness, and the female body with softness, has led to a widely held belief, both inside body building circles and without, that the cultural implications of female body building are limited to a small subculture. Leslie Heywood looks at the sport and image of female body building as a metaphor for how women fare in our current political and cultural climate. Drawing on contemporary feminist and cultural theory as well as her own involvement in the sport, she argues that the movement in women's body building from small, delicate bodies to large powerful ones and back again is directly connected to progress and backlash within the abortion debate, the ongoing struggle for race and gender equality, and the struggle to define "feminism" in the context of the nineties. She discusses female body building as activism, as an often effective response to abuse, race and masculinity in body building, and the contradictory ways that photographers treat female body builders. "Bodymakers" also reveals how female body builders find themselves both trapped and empowered by their sport.
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