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Title: Bodybuilding and the emergence of a post classicism
Author: Locks, Adam
ISNI:       0000 0001 1154 4175
Awarding Body: University of Winchester
Current Institution: University of Winchester
Date of Award: 2003
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This thesis is concerned with the history of professional bodybuilding in America and pays particular attention to the development within its subculture of definitions of the perfect body. This history has involved a shift from a bodybuilding aesthetic which adhered to what was imagined to be a classical archetype, to what, in recent years, has become a more extreme, excessive, ideal. Previous analyses of bodybuilding have primarily offered anthropological and ethnographic methodologies, the result of which has been largely to document the practice of bodybuilding via the opinions of the men (and women) in the field. More often than not, the resultant analyses explored bodybuilding for the exaggerated demonstration of gender relations in the larger culture that it was considered to provide. What has been given much less attention, and which this thesis will remedy, is a detailed focus on the aesthetic of the muscular body itself, and appropriately therefore, this work will examine the representation of the `built body' as a text within this particular subculture. As such, the thesis takes as its subject matter not just the texts of American bodybuilding, for instance as supplied by the extensive magazine literature, but also the text of the body itself, as manifest in the disciplines that manufacture the desired shape, its representation in regulatory criteria, poses, and other performative practices of competition. As such my concern is to chart and question the dramatic changes in the body shape displayed in professional bodybuilding via a narrative of its history, an analysis of its artifacts and practices, existing critical analyses of bodybuilding, insights from art history, and from alternative approaches to the body in Cultural Studies. This thesis opens with the first appearance of bodybuilding in America, which I define not in terms of the possession of a muscular body, but in terms of the possession of the discourse which aestheticised it. In the late nineteenth century this took the form of adherence to an imagined ideal of the classical Greek body as was evidenced in sculpture and painting. Revealingly, the trajectory of bodybuilding ever since has been towards the enlargement and exaggeration of the muscular form, until in very recent years it has achieved a condition which only 25 years ago would have been considered excessive. Indeed the contemporary form presents such an exaggerated definition of the body that many veterans in the bodybuilding community regard it as freakish. However, I argue that to see the contemporary built body as too radical a departure would be mistaken; in fact, this body remains rooted in the classical style - but a style which has been applied very selectively, creating what I consider to be a new ideal, a hyper muscular, but essentially fragmented body, in which the sculpting of individual body parts and the display of body poses have come to supplant the whole body. For this reason, my thesis also examines female bodybuilding, and considers it as a vital defining boundary for this new male aesthetic. Likewise, challenging the concept of the contemporary bodybuilder as a freak is central; as other recent discourses on the body and its modification have made clear, freak can have positive connotations, not least within a society in which identity tends increasingly towards the subcultural.
Supervisor: Blake, Andrew ; Davies, Jude Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available