Feminist Figure Girl is a study in paradoxes: she is at once an ardent feminist and planning to strut around on stage in a bikini, hoping the judges like the shape of her ass; she lifts weights at the gym and then bakes obsessively, drawing from a cupboard entirely devoted to flour, some of it smuggled home from France; she eats 150 grams of lean chicken before going to a wine and coffee tasting, where she guzzles the Old Barossa Muscat like there was no tomorrow. Is it really possible to do all of these things at once, without going mad? Maybe not, but I wonder about the sustainability of the bodybuilder-foodie combination in particular. 

After my white trash childhood―sorry to those in cultural studies who want to retain this term for impoverished Americans, especially Appalachians, but I grew up eating spam, salad that consisted of iceberg lettuce dipped into a jar of miracle whip, plus a number of my close relatives are in jail―I have become a food snob. If you need proof, I just googled ‘greens with little nutritional value’ in order to remember the name of iceberg lettuce. I rest my case. Going to graduate school had everything to do with my snooty transformation. Imagine my surprise when my Welsh roommate who specialized in psychoanalytic theory brought home a bulb of fresh garlic and showed me how to peel it. The rest is history, leading up to last night when I attended the tasting hosted by my sommelier friend and his ‘I only use direct-sourced coffee beans’ colleague. When the latter persona asked ‘how many people go to Tim Horton’s?’ I could only snort in derision. Obviously I was already drinking the Kenyan coffee that he claimed was the best in the world. I also like listening to Opera and even have Les Pecheurs des Perles on my ipod. I am indeed a pompous ass.    

I think my interest in bodybuilding is a deliberate corrective to this newly acquired bodily habitus. According to Bourdieu (more pompous assiness; I just can’t help it), the visible display of might and musculature is linked with working class sports, such as football, whereas those from the more refined classes prefer such activities as golf, or sports which emphasize precision and grace, not mass. My partner’s working class background and golf obsession belie any simplistic understanding of this description, but there is something to it. I think my discomfort with my class transformation―from ungainly and ungroomed working class girl into self-confident if still strangely awkward professional―is part of the reason that I like spending time at the gym, grunting away on the bench press. I prefer my friend’s snake hiss exhalations to my grunts, but I just can’t pull that off. I want to see my labour, to make it visible, to feel it. I want to get down with my peeps. I tire of sitting around in meetings, listening to self-important windbags exclaim: ‘I think we need to stress dialogue and adequate consultation in this matter.’ I just want to punch them out, and now I can. Someday I will.

Figure competitions might also be considered a working class activity. I will likely dye my hair blond (or at least blondish) and will certainly tan, wear spiked high heels, and a velvety black low-cut dress with a high slit up the side (during what I call ‘the slutty dress’ portion of the competition). I might even splash out on some bright red lipstick. Yes, my performance of Feminist Figure Girl is clearly as much about class as it is about gender. I will become a white trash mama once again, though I will be hard and lean, not skinny fat. Discussing that difference will have to wait for a subsequent post.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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