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Sculpting the Woman

Muscularity, Power and the Problem with Femininity


Jamilla Rosdahl

What is femininity?

Why does the idea of femininity not seem to «fit» with muscular women?

Why are muscular women the object of such controversy and skepticism?

Why do some women build muscle despite these strong cultural reactions?

Muscular women have long been the focus of public scrutiny, cultural contempt and fascination. Sculpting the Woman interrogates the protected status of femininity as it has been rendered irrelevant to the history, theory and politics of the muscular woman. This highly original and provocative work draws on important social thinkers including Michel Foucault and Judith Butler as well as recent theoretical developments on gender, identity and the body in poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, various feminisms and social and moral philosophy. This book offers a personal insight into one of the most threatening of cultural identities: the «muscular female». Through its analysis of femininity’s complex relationship with muscularity, it explores the larger question: «What is a woman?»

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I would like to thank the Department of Social Sciences at the University of the Sunshine Coast where this study began as a doctoral dissertation. This work was also supported by the University of the Sunshine Coast Faculty HDR output grant and The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Annual Conference postgraduate scholarship. Parts of Chapter 6 appear in Rosdahl (2014), ‘The myth of femininity in the sport of body sculpting’, an article published in the journal Social Alternatives, volume 33, issue 2. Parts of Chapter 7 appear in Rosdahl (2010), ‘Sculpting my feminist identity and body: An Autoethnographic exploration of body sculpting and poststructuralist feminist fieldwork’, an article published in the proceedings of the TASA annual conference.

This work would also not have been possible without the support, advice and friendship from many people. I am indebted to the women who took part in this research, all of whom were extremely generous with their time and encouragement.

I would like to thank Associate Professor Julie Matthews for her complete commitment and support during my years as a student. Julie, I consider you my ‘academic mother’ and a very dear friend. As a scholar and teacher you continue to challenge, encourage and inspire my work and writing.

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