Feminism, Sexuality and Bodybuilding
A Tale of Two Women
Whether you are a Democrat or not, yesterday marked an historical moment for the United States: for the first time in 240 years, a woman became the nominee of a major political party to run for president. Hillary Clinton finally cracked that highest, hardest glass ceiling.
Juxtapose this with the other news story that dominated social media – the Stanford rape case, where a male student and athlete, Brock Turner, got only 6 months jail time and probation, less than the minimum sentence, for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, because the judge felt a harsher sentence would have had a “severe impact” on him.
Also causing outrage was a letter from the rapist’s father asking for leniency and describing the rape as “20 minutes of action.” See his letter here: Father of Brock Turner
The victim read her own letter to her attacker (which went viral) letting him know how his actions severely impacted her and her family forever. Read her powerful letter here: Victim’s Letter to Attacker.
We, as a society, have come so far as to view a woman competent and capable enough to hold the most powerful job in the world, but simultaneously trivialize victims of sex crimes. I have so much respect for her for standing up to her attacker and sharing her letter with the world.
Feminism, Sexuality and Bodybuilding
The definition of feminism according to Oxford Dictionary is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
As a feminist and a bikini competitor, I often get asked if I think the bikini division objectifies women.
My answer is that if you’ve ever seen a bodybuilding competition you would see that both genders are objectified because the athletes are judged by their body parts. The posing suits for bikini competitors are very small but the men’s posing suits are equally small, so by my calculation the wardrobe requirements are fairly equitable. In fact, I like to joke that the men’s suits are so small you can tell what religion they are.
I think the real show of sexism is in the prize money, not the posing suits. The winner of the Mr. Olympia earns $250,000. The winner of the Ms. Olympia makes $60,000. Hmm. But nobody really talks about that.
No, the biggest backlash is over the bikini posing itself which, depending on the federation, ranges from sassy and classy to borderline demeaning. Or, at least it used to be. The NPC federation recently changed the most controversial pose for women, which was the back pose. It used to be that a woman spread her legs wide and bent over to show off her glutes and hamstrings and if there was a wardrobe malfunction you could show off a lot more. Personally, that specific pose was embarrassing to me and therefore switched federations last year to one where the back pose was crossed leg; you still saw everything flexed but it wasn’t lewd.
The new NPC back pose has legs hip distance apart and you can arch your back but not bend over. I welcomed this change and have gone back to including NPC shows in my competition schedule. In that respect feminism is having a positive influence on the sport because enough women (and men) voiced this legitimate criticism and the federation to action to fix it.
But still I often feel the need to defend why I’m a bikini competitor. It’s important to note here that there is a choice for women as to which division they want to compete in. The bikini division posing is sexy, but the figure, physique, fitness and open bodybuilding divisions are not. For example, the figure division poses just involve flexing in quarter turn intervals. I tried that division once but I didn’t really like it. Know why? Because I kinda like being sexy.
There is a lot of debate about whether you can be overtly sexual and a feminist. Singers like Beyoncé are bashed for it and social media posts lament over feeling guilty for wearing high heels. A lot of this is dismissed as pop culture feminism angst, but I think it speaks to a certain truth, which is to say there is a double standard.
A man being sexy on the beach might wear a Speedo, take off his shirt and flex his muscles to look bigger. Most of the attention he receives seems positive; at worst he might receive a mocking eye roll. A woman being sexy on the same beach might wear a small bikini and arch her back to thrust her breasts up and her booty out. How many more negative whispers (or call outs) do you think she would hear? Slut! Put a towel on! She’s asking for it…
Why is sexual prowess glorified in men and demonized in women? To me, being comfortable in your own body, to feel safe with being sexy, is one of the strongest and most powerful things to experience as a woman.
Bodybuilding means a lot of things to me and part of it, as mentioned in my book “She’s Losing It!” was reclaiming my own sexuality. The letter from the victim in the Stanford rape case struck a chord with me because like her, like 1 in 6 women who go to college, I too was sexually assaulted.
You want to talk about severe impact, try keeping one of the most humiliating, frightening and demoralizing events of your life secret for 20 years. To me, standing on stage in my bikini was an act of power, of defiance: He can no longer make me ashamed of my body, make me feel like I have to cover it up. He no longer has a hold on my sexuality; it’s mine and I own it.
A lot of people view the bikini competitors as somehow less-than the other categories of female bodybuilding because there is that suggestive posing involved. On the contrary, I feel stronger because I own all of me, even the parts that make other people uncomfortable.
There’s also the stigma that bikini competitors are weaker or more “girlie” in a negative way. I reject that thinking too because I can do all the traditional feminist-approved beast mode things like Spartan Runs, weight lifting and marathons.
Heck, I even did military training evolutions on John Cena’s American Grit! But I’m also at peace with the beauty aspect of bodybuilding. I like getting glammed up, doing a sassy T-walk and showing off my curves.
And Ms. Olympia needs a raise.
I guess you could call me a post-modern feminist.
What are your thoughts on this?
Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two….and Original Cast Member of AMERICAN GRIT, starring John Cena, Thursdays at 9 PM EST/8 PM CST on FOX!!!
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