Two More Eye Witness Accounts

The first is from GlamPro (thanks hottie!):

“Everybody loves a freak show!”

 This is the phrase that my partner uttered as we climbed the steps of the Citadel theatre and saw the long line-up of fans waiting to see the pre-judging for the Northern Alberta Body Building Championship. I love my partner dearly, but despite a long history as a queer activist, she has a judgemental streak that sometimes isn’t pretty. I will admit that watching my dear friend FFG transform herself from an admittedly very fit gym rat to a muscled, tanned, bleached and otherwise buffed figure girl was at times a freaky process. Our meetings would involve tales of food restrictions, supplements, grooming regimens, and other self-ministrations that were sometimes shocking, often amusing, but always fascinating. Throughout, I remained amazed by the (new) extremes that FFG put herself through and was in total awe of what she had achieved. So it was with a mixture of pride and nerves that I climbed the steps of the Citadel, told my girlfriend to “shut the fuck up” and awaited FFG’s entrance on stage.

 But first we had to look at the Fitness competition – these girls were cute, certainly fitter than me (note to self: increase push-up reps), but not spectacular. Figure girls were next and suddenly the FFG fan club (all proudly wearing our t-shirts) were on the edge of our seats. First competitor: nice arms, skinny legs; second: weird coloured tan; third: who thought that coloured bikini was flattering.? Then it was FFG’s turn. On cue we screamed, we shouted, we called out her name… and then we marvelled: the outfit (so blingy!); the hair (so big and blond!); the muscles (so well defined). We also critiqued: why didn’t she turn around and show off her back like some of the other girls? Why didn’t she smile more? And then we waited as 20 more women walked across the stage and presented themselves to the judges.

For a group with absolutely no knowledge of the body building world, we instantly became experts: as the judges called back groups of competitors to further review and evaluate their attributes, we began our own process of assessment and comparison. Even with no conception of what the criteria might be, we felt completely comfortable dismissing athletes for underdeveloped muscle tone or poor posing form. We were happily writing off two of the competitors for being too fat when suddenly it happened: FFG swept her hair to the side better show her back and her top came undone. There was a collective intake of breath from the audience as the one thing that no one had imagined had happened. As the monotonous dance music continued to play, the stage performance froze in time as assistance was summoned from the wings to help reattach the offending strap. Amazingly, not one of the women on stage broke her pose – my attention was pretty fixed on FFG, but it was clear that whatever the other girls were thinking about (how this wardrobe malfunction might benefit their scores, or more likely, how thankful they were that it hadn’t been their tits offered up for general viewing), they refused to break from the sanctioned stance. Talk about discipline.

Everything from then on was somewhat anti-climactic: it was pretty clear that after the incident, FFG relaxed and her posing seemed to improve – or at least the fact that she was enjoying herself more made her look even better. We could tell that her feet were killing her as, somewhat hidden from view in the second row, she shifted her weight from side to side. But her smile continued, doubtless because nothing worse could happen to her now, but more likely because she was happily figuring out ways to weave the bikini top incident into the narrative of her forthcoming book.

So, one week later, what do I make of FFG’s performance? Her time on stage was really impressive, more so given that this was her first time and she was up against some seasoned veterans (with implants). But for me the real performance did not take place at the Citadel theatre: it was the year-long process of transformation that FFG has chronicled in this blog. And it is that process that has been the most fascinating to observe. FFG usually cites Foucault’s writing on discipline and discourse in this space and while I agree that there has been definite management and control of the self over the past year, it is also evident that pleasure has been a central factor in this experience. I’m not talking about pleasure denied – and for FFG, that would definitely have to be pleasure in food and drink – but about the sheer joy of seeing one’s body transformed; of revelling in the sensuality of new muscles; of reconnecting with one’s physicality even as it is morphed into something beyond recognition. While many aspects of figure girl competition (those heels! that hair! the make-up, false nails and shiny accessories!) can easily be derided as the excessive fetishizing of the trappings of femininity, from this observer’s viewpoint they are little more than small distractions from the real interest of the show: the bodies. And while these are not the “average” bodies of even the fittest of women, they are strong, sexy bodies and should be celebrated.

And now that she can join me in that glass of champagne (or more likely, glass of scotch): here’s to FFG and looking hot!

The second is from 2DO (and I love it!):

Admittedly the last place I expected to find myself at 10 am on a Saturday morning was at a bodybuilding championship. But I proudly donned my Feminist Figure Girl T-shirt in support and sat down to nervously await her appearance on stage. When she finally came out, I must admit I was both horrified and in awe. I had not seen my friend in a month and under all those layers of tanning gunk, extremely large blonde hair, make up, glittering bikini, and very pronounced muscles, she was almost unrecognizable to me.

 As I watched I was particularly struck by how the figure girl portions of the event were so different from the rest of the competition. In this over the top, muscular beauty pageant, each contestant teetered out on their overly high heels and posed in multiple directions to show off their bodies. During the first section of the figure girl competition that FFG was a part of the judge kept on saying, in a rather infuriating fashion, “Can you believe they are all over 35 years old?” This repeated statement made my art historian colleague, who sitting beside me, fume and want to beat him over the head with something heavy. The orchestrated posing included having each woman sweep their long hair from across their backs to show off that particular part of themselves. As DAD recounts in the previous post, Feminist Figure Girl’s bra dropped right off her chest after that particular pose and it certainly was noticed by the crowd who issued a large, collective gasp when it fell off. After reading FFG’s post about her potential plans to sabotage the event by pulling the stuffing out of her bra in an act of defiance, it seemed a lucky accident that such a disruption should occur. Given that she was facing away from me, I did not see the full frontal reveal but from what FFG had told me about the disappearance of her breasts in order to gain all that muscle, there was not much to see anyway. The moment quickly passed as the bra was scooped back up to cover herself up.

 Unlike the other bodybuilders who were obviously there to just show off their muscles, the figure girls were definitely positioned as more sexualized, not just by the shoes but through their make up, the bedazzled bikinis, their breast implants, and the poses they struck with an emphasis on sticking out their backsides. I wondered if some of the less muscular figure girls had been featured in beer advertisements or worked as car show models. FFG’s muscles were much more defined and larger than the vast majority of her fellow competitors and her refusal to take on the more cheesecake poses was one way, I think, that she enacted a space for resistance with the competition. In contrast to the non- figure girl female bodybuilders who wore no crazily high heels, sparkles, big hair, or make up, the audience sexualized the figure girls too by what they yelled out in support. Mostly men yelled out quite bizarre words of encouragement: “Yeah baby! Make it tight! Yeah baby! Keep it hard! Oh yeah, that’s pretty!” These loud male voices were joined by female ones who pronounced that certain contestants were sexy, pretty and/or hot. There were also many reminders shouted out to the contestants that they should be smiling more. The music chosen during the strutting of the figure girls was also different from the other female and male body builders since the lyrics further served to sexualize the contestants.  For example, the over 45 year old figure girls posed to a song by Akon titled “I wanna fuck you” whose chorus consists of the repetition of the song’s title over and over. This song led to guffawing and laughter among the crowd and it seemed as if the women on stage could not hear the lyrics but they did react to the crowd’s snickering. They all began to nervously check their bikinis to make sure nothing had gone awry. The song was taken off very quickly after that. In the face of these shouted comments, the outfits, and the music, I found that I needed to remind myself about the gruelling months of hard work that FFG and, I would imagine, the other figure girl competitors had undergone to get to this point. The prolonged restrictions of food and water was evident as the competitors got easily confused when they were told by the judge to switch positions with other competitors and they were shaking ever so slightly in their ridiculous high heels. It was both fascinating and difficult to watch. As a queer woman, I personally found this display of almost naked female bodies to be anything but sexy.

 As an artist who has participated in collaborative performance art projects and as an art historian who teaches contemporary art, I can’t help but think about how FFG’s project relates to performance art. The idea of enacting, or the failure to enact, some form of resistance within a bodybuilding competition reminds me how Toxic Titties joined a performance piece by Vanessa Beecroft in an attempt to disrupt it. They found that their initial ideas about forms of resistance within Beecroft’s performance piece were far more difficult to enact than they had initially imagined. The article about their experience is well worth the read:

Suffice it to say I think the Toxic Titties would have applauded the wardrobe malfunction that occurred during FFG’s performance, even if it was unintentional.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Two More Eye Witness Accounts

  1. FFG & Crew – It’s interesting to hear the story told from your various points of view. Yep – I agree – most bodybuilding shows can be likened to “Freak Shows.” I could not even recognize myself on the day of the competition beneath all the layers of bling-bling!

  2. Directed from Stumptuous. The link to the Toxic Titties disruption article doesn’t work for me – no Outlook Express. Any other links to it somewhere?

    Congrats on the competition and simultaneous professorial duties. Wow!

  3. When I competed, we used something called “stick-um” to keep the bra parts of our suits in place. Football players apparently use it to help them catch the ball. What a weird world.

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