Research Work Inspired by FFG: Guest Post by Airnel T. Abarra (MSc)

Picture of the author.

Picture of the author at his graduation.

After taking my master’s degree at the University of the Philippines (College of Human Kinetics), I returned to the public school system where I am currently teaching. As I try to push for some reforms in the athletic training of track and field athletes, superiors do not endorse my views. According to the biblical concept, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Because of this situation, I have decided to pursue PhD studies soon, focusing on the topic of bodybuilding. I was in high school when I first saw the Ms. Olympia competition on TV, becoming fascinated with women bodybuilders. Although my profession is teaching, I have always had a desire to know more about these athletes. That’s why I am currently working on a PhD proposal about them which is related to the lessening support of women bodybuilders in favour of such other categories as physique. When I presented this proposal at the Transnational Working Group for the Study of Gender and Sport, at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden (See: one participant told me about the FFG blog. I started reading the posts from the earliest ones to the most recent. It is an honour that FFG contacted me to write something about my research plan. FFG has inspired me to do the research project that I will explain here.

That author at his graduation.

The author taking an oath as an athletics coach and official.

The plan: As I said earlier, in recent years women’s bodybuilding has been subjected to different changes in categories. In the past, there were only two weight categories, namely lightweight and heavyweight. By the 1990s, Ms. Olympia competitors trained hard to attain an incredible degree of muscularity. But before the end of 2000, the IFBB [International Federation of Bodybuilding] was emphasizing the concept of “femininity” when judging women’s bodybuilding. As the years went by, women’s bodybuilding was divided to diverse categories, including fitness, figure, and, most recently, physique. The introduction of physique caused the “movement” of former bodybuilders to physique because of the recent cancellation of the 2014 Ms. International at the Arnold Classic. There are fewer competitions for women bodybuilders, in part because discussions on social media have stirred discrimination against them. My study will try to assess the current situation of women bodybuilders and physique athletes, addressing their reasons for “staying” in or “moving” to one category or the other, as well as what challenges they are experiencing with the current system.

In order to undertake this study, I will be using nearly the same method as FFG: training and possibly competing like women bodybuilders. My approach is different given the fact I am not really working out to be a competitive athlete. Since I am male, this research would no doubt offer another view on what it means to work with a range of women athletes. Yet from my point of view, this kind of method will provide better insight about the concept of “bodily experience” and what is going on inside a competitive woman bodybuilder. While training, I will document every experience—just as FFG did—while trying understand more deeply the values and system of women’s bodybuilding and physique culture. Documentation will include interviews and observations from contest preparation to the actual competition. As much as possible, I will try to cover not only athletes from US and Canada but also from European Union, South America and Asia. On one hand, by traveling extensively to the different locations of selected women bodybuilders and physique athletes, I will see the bigger picture. On the other hand, my study will analyze the current status of women bodybuilders in the various bodybuilding organizations/federations. What are these organizations doing to promote the sport for women? Are they discriminating against women bodybuilders? In the end, my hope is that the study will provide information about what should be done in order to provide better chances for women athletes to succeed in their chosen category of bodybuilding. At the same time, the study will discuss what is defined as “femininity” in the eyes of different athletes and provide room for discussion and analysis using theories of gender, economics, sport, and culture.

The author during a visit to Gdansk.

The author during a visit to Gdansk.

As of this moment, the study is still a work in progress. All the same, there is already a Facebook group where the initial discussion about the issue is taking place. (See the link below). This online group is also a meeting place for possible participants in the study and I am currently contacting them regularly to establish rapport so that when the actual study starts, it should not be difficult to talk and interact with the athletes. I have received a conditional offer from the University of Sheffield in the UK, accepting me as an incoming PhD student starting in September 2014. So far the main concern in the study is funding. Given the fact that I will train and possibly compete while doing the study, there is a need to have all the necessary support. The second challenge is the required travel, since I will be meeting athletes in different locations to “join” them in going to their competitions. That’s why I am still applying for scholarships and funding sources within the university. I would be happy if someone could assist me in finding possible funding partners. Forget about the Philippines, however, for the government here sucks when it comes to research funding.

Overall, FFG  has provided me with another perspective I can use in reformulating my methodology. At first, I thought that doing interviews and observations would be enough. But after reading her blog entries and talking about the concept of “bodily experience,” I have decided to use the same process she went through in order to get deeper into this research project. On a personal note, I will be the first Filipino who will be doing this kind of study and I am looking forward to being the pioneer researcher of the sociology of sport in my country.

Comments and suggestions are most welcome. Contact me through my email address at and join the Facebook group page for the research project at:

Thank you very much!



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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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