in Harry Crews’s Body
Andrew J. Price
The sport of bodybuilding has always been fueled by fantasies of radical agency and self-creation. In the gym, the body is only so much material “stuff to be fashioned by the imagination and will of the bodybuilder. As bodybuilding photographer Bill Dobbins puts it, bodybuilders “use muscles the way sculptors use clay, creating a muscle structure that is shapely, balanced, and well-proportioned” (10). Ideologically, the sport acknowledges no limits to the creative efforts of the body sculptor. The bodybuilder can take his body as far as his dedication and discipline will take him. Elaborating on the importance of freedom and self-determination noted by Dobbins, bodybuilder and literary critic Leslie Heywood observes that “the idea that hard work and the right supplements and/or drugs will allow you to make yourself into whatever shape you want is everywhere in bodybuilding rhetoric and advertisements” (96). In the world of bodybuilding, the bodybuilder is heroic because through pain and sacrifice he takes his body further than ordinary men, constructs a self of Olympian proportions, and transcends the corporeal limits that confine the rest of us. Bodybuilding revolves entirely around this heroic individual (there are no teams in this sport), making it a site in which deep-seated values of the individual, autonomy and masculinity converge.
Given these ideological commitments, one might ask: What happens when women become bodybuilders? Can women bodybuilders avail themselves of the same ideals of freedom and self-determination that motivate their male counterparts? Are female bodybuilders authorized to “make yourself into whatever shape you want?” What happens when women bodybuilders develop the heavily muscled and “ripped” physiques that have historically been seen only on men? How far, in fact, can women go in bodybuilding? These are questions with implications beyond the relatively small subculture of women’s bodybuilding. Indeed, the scholarly works of Laurie Schulze, Anne Balsamo, Marcia Ian, and Maria R. Lowe have argued that the question of “how far”