I am Lianne McTavish (email@example.com), a 52-year-old female professor, who in 2010 decided to combine my identities (scholar/gym rat) to create Feminist Figure Girl, a bodybuilding honey badger. I started this blog when I was training and dieting for my first figure competition, held in June of 2011. I have now written a book inspired by this process, published by SUNY Press in 2015. This blog is filled with feminist reflections on food, working out, sexuality, and bodies, and is now collaborative, featuring ‘Ask a Trainer’ with advice from professional personal trainer Deanna Harder (firstname.lastname@example.org). We invite your feedback.
Your blog is addictive! I have become a regular…
I heard about this show and thought of you
You probably know it already but just in case.
Looking forward to the next installment.
Dear Lianne, Just found your blog today and I have enjoyed it! 18 years ago I had a similar transformation and experience. I was a teacher who injured her back. My chiropractor, a bodybuilder, got to into the gym to strengthen my back. The side effect was 100 weight loss and getting “addicted” to weight lifting and body building. There is something intrinsically “sweet” in feeling one’s own power and strength. My competitive physique was short lived. The low body and excessive exercise reigned havoc on my system resulting in a complete hysterectomy. I look back on those days and personal achievements fondly…knowing I will never again devote 3 hours a day in the gym; it is not who I am now. Kudos to your hard work and life lessons learned!
I came across your article in the National Post and I am awe. i have struggled with an eating disorder for the last 10 plus years and then I read your article and person who can workout and become a bodybuilder without what disorder thinking? How would you say this is third wave feminism when you are still changing your body to be judged? As a women and a person who struggles with body image should we not be ones to accept and embrace all that we are as women?
i don’t know i stuggle with that issue, especially in our society where we have a billion dollar industy and cosemtics, etc.
Hi Maya, I am sorry to hear about your eating disorder and I hope that you are getting some help to overcome it. Although I do not have an eating disorder (see the post called Disordered Eating) I am very sympathetic to those who do, and know that bodybuilding may encourage an unhealthy relationship with food. That said, I do not believe that there is any kind of natural relationship with food; it is always culturally and historically specific. I have never declared myself a third-wave feminist, though others have done so. Please see my post called ‘Oh Shit, Am I a Third Wave Femnist?’ for a clear discussion of my feminist views. I did not change my body in order to be judged. My time on the stage was of little interest to me really. I was performing embodied research and found the process of preparing for the competition enlightening. I have written about the beauty myth and cosmetic surgery in various posts as well. Happy reading if such topics interest you! FFG
I heard you interview on “Q” this morning and was inspired by your work ethic and determination. Just looked at your photo blog and you look fantastic. I’m a 65 year old male and have recently started resistance training. I’ve been at it for about 6 months and now realize the dedication and pain that can be involved.
Keep up the good work both in the gym and at the university!!
One great thing about bodybuilding is that it can be done at any age. I hope to continue until 65 and beyond.
This is a dream blog — funny, brilliant, academic, delightfully vulgar, and a wonderful peek into the weirdness of physique competition. Thanks for being brave enough to give this a go. I’ve featured you on my site: http://www.stumptuous.com/
Thanks Mistress K!
I just, literally, right now, found your site through Mistress K’s feature, and I am bookmarking to come back and read all. I have struggled with and analyzed to death all the feminist ramifications of body building, and it is GREAT to find a smart woman who has done the same. I can’t wait to come back and read more.
Hello. Heard your interview on Q July 4th and had to check-out the Nat’l Post article and your blog. Firstly, kudos to you for getting out there and researching through participation. What a refreshing change from the usual academic research that relies on observation and inconclusive studies.
I am also 43, and over the last year I have indulged a new-found interest in my body. I’ve always been healthy and moderately active, but after turning 42 I decided to make a few changes. I experimented with a mainly vegan, whole foods diet. I joined a gym with the intention of shaking things up a little, and venture beyond my routine of the daily 30 minute walk. I’m no gym rat, but remain committed to 1.5 hours every other day. I’ve lost some weight. I am well toned and I don’t think I’ve ever looked or felt better. I enjoy the natural high that fitness provides, and marvel, with great respect, at how the human body operates and what it can do.
In listening to you, and today reading the Nat’l Post article and its Comments, and parts of your blog, something hit me for the very first time, like a ton ‘o bricks: I don’t think I’ve received one compliment from family/friends on my physical transformation, or one “good for you” for my commitment to a healthy diet. I can think of one or two comments (from men) that may be construed as positive, but overall I have received a combination of criticism and concern. I am NOT too skinny, as some have suggested (I’m within my healthy BMI range). I am NOT orthorexic, as one person suggested (I’m a wholesome foodie! I genuinely enjoy “real” food, can afford organic apples, and I never crave Doritos). I am a very private person. I don’t openly discuss my work-out regimen or my thoughts on nutrition, unless anybody asks. I’m still sporting my own dowdy ass-kicking look, which is to say my clothes are not close-fitting and I usually wear long sleeves. Point is, all my efforts are about being healthy and feeling good. I don’t want or need compliments on how I look (I’ll happily take them, but I don’t NEED them).
I hope you’re reading this, and if so I mustn’t ramble and I’ll get to the question I’d like to propose (and maybe you’ve already thought of this; I didn’t get through your whole blog): It seems to me that the negative comments may have more to do with issues of lifestyle habits, and perhaps not so much with issues of feminism and gender roles. You’ve got me reflecting on all the shocking comments I’ve received over the last year, from both men and women. If I had gained 20 pounds, no doubt my friends, family, and co-workers would be politely silent on the matter. In losing 20 pounds, it’s open season. I find this rather curious. People I barely know have not been shy about asking me if I’m okay, criticizing my food choices, and my personal favourite, “you look disgusting”.
I have definitely been getting the feeling that there’s something socially isolating about healthy lifestyle habits. Eating only nutritious food and getting regular exercise might make others feel bad about their less-than-perfect habits. I can honestly say I never judge my friends who choose the double cheeseburger and biggie fries. And yet the sight of my eating a salad takes away from their enjoyment of the cheeseburger and fries. My body says “I exercise”. Most people don’t. Let’s face it: at our age, most people are too bogged down with life, or too set in their routines to make time for exercise, and many are unfortunately eating their way into the “two thirds of the population are overweight” statistic (or is it higher now?). You are not THAT big, and you DON’T look like a man. But you are fit, healthy, in touch with your body, and I think this is at the heart of what makes some people uncomfortable, more so than the gender bending or the ludicrousness of the body building competition.
Mandy (in Ontario)
Thanks for your thoughtful reply Mandy, and congratulations on your healthy lifestyle. I hope you have at least some friends with similar goals and values. You might like my post called ‘Disordered Eating’ when I suggest that obesity is more socially acceptable than the pursuit of fitness. I don’t really analyze it, however. The nasty comments about me were based on my appearance, and not on my descriptions of working out and eating clean, as those haters had clearly not read my blog (or much of anything else as far as I can tell). I agree that looking fit and eating healthy can make others feel resentful. Anyone else care to chime in on this topic?
I have spent the last two weeks reading every single one of your posts after being referred here from a link on another blog. Wow. It is so refreshing to find someone in this industry who can write so well and make me spontaneously laugh out loud at my computer screen! I hav added you to my blogroll. Thanks for your great work and I look forward to following your journey.
Thanks Tara, I am flattered. This week I have been taking my course to become certified as a personal trainer and making baby steps into the world of women’s shelters. I am completely inspired and have five blog posts currently in draft form. I love writing. One thing that is a little hard for me to get used to: people who read this blog now know me quite well and I either know them very little or not at all. This is all very new to me.
As someone who gets paid to write for a living, call me catty, but I rarely compliment other people’s work. Especially not that of fitness bloggers who typically just post pictures of that particular day’s variation of oatmeal! I love writing as well, and I too have so many ideas that I have to remind myself to spread my posts apart… I’ve only just started blogging and am trying to figure out what direction to take my blog in. I’ve been overwhelmed by the responses I have received on my blog so far and I agree that it can be weird to know that random people all over the world have access to my thoughts! I think what you’re doing with the women’s shelters is awesome and can’t wait to hear all about it 🙂
Hi Lianne, I’m a former student of yours from New Brunswick. A co-worker linked to your blog and I thought Lianne McTavish, jeez, that sounds like a former prof of mine. Sure enough… You led the seminar (Re-Thinking) Topics in the History of Art and Culture, if I recall the actual full title correctly – it was about 15 years ago, after all. It’s funny, I mostly took that seminar because it looked the most interesting of the ones available that term, and I needed one more. But of all the seminars I took, that one’s probably stuck with me the most despite being far out of my normal areas of interest. So, thank you, and I’m reading your blog with considerable interest.
Hi Mike, Of course I remember you and am not at all suprised that you are (apparently) now in grad school. Thanks for reading my blog. Now get back to work!
Love your column in The Chronicle of Higher Education! You look great!
When I updated my online faculty profile at the beginning of this year, I added a bit about my lifting accomplishments. (http://www.transnationalstudies.buffalo.edu/faculty/wu.shtml) Up until now, I had thought it hokey when faculty included info about their personal lives, but I thought, “**** it! I’ve earned this. It’s mine.”
Wow. All I can say is: respect. Power lifters are the bomb. Your cv is pretty good too. 🙂
Thanks! Keep on being the fabulous self you are! Your presence gives me hope for people in this profession. I hope we run into each other one of these days (I go to MLA sometimes).
I too am a professor at a college who did a bodybuilding competition in July 2011 at the age of 53 for the first time. I haven’t had a chance to peruse your whole site but could you perhaps point me to the place where you discuss how ‘Figures’ is bodybuilding? I entered the Bodybuilding category. Very few women were there, 6 in fact. There was no prize money nor did they bother to even give us weight categories, so at 114lbs, I was up against middle weights and heavy weights. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for me. Thankfully, that was not my goal, like you from what I understand I did it for the experience and to do a little participant/observation as I am a anthropologist by training. Following the women’s bodybuilding competition there was Figures; less defined women in high heels, money and all of the appropriate categories. When asked why I did not want to enter there where I would have had a chance to at least place, by a male competitor, I told I would enter that when he put on a pair of stillettos and paraded all of his hard work that way.
Please point out the feminism in Figures, I don’t seem to grasp it. I remember some shoe company having an American women’s Basketball don heels for a commercial to demonstrate how comfortable they can be, but I don’t believe they actually played their sport in them.
Thanks for your comment and I would encourage you to read the earliest posts, in which I explain my project and discuss the various ways in which my project is or is not feminist, engages with issues of feminism, and supports a sense of female community among other things. At no point do I argue that wearing high heels is a feminist act. I also discuss the practice of figure itself in earlier blog posts: read those entries dating before June 2011. Enjoy!
Because I admire what a total bad ass you are, and enjoy your blog so much I am nominating you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. I should have it up on my blog later today.
Thank you so much. I am very flattered. FFG
Just dropping by to let you know I am also nominating you for the Very Inspiring Blogger and Sunshine Awards!!! Hope you’re having a great day!!! 😉
Thanks. I am indeed Little Miss Sunshine. Fingers crossed.
Hi, my name’s Matt. I took a handful of your classes back in your UNBF days, and they numbered among the most enjoyable classes I took there, so I Googled your name to see whether you were doing any interesting work these days… I’m not sure what my expectations were, but I’m sure they’ve been exceeded. The capacity for self-change and self-surprise is a pretty incredible and inspirational thing. Congrats. Look forward to reading more of you.
I am floored to find a blog similar to mine. I am very excited to follow you. Best, Matt.
I saw your blog today and I think what you are doing is great. I am currently working on a book with a similar focus. I am currently collecting thoughts and experiences from real women to feature through the sections of the book.
The book is going to be a collaboration of stories, pictures and information regarding young women and their bodies. My passion and goal is to create more awareness around body issues in hopes that the book will act as a guide for many young girls, who seek answers, direction and mentorship in the midst of their pending adulthood.
I am looking for stories and expertise regarding the following topics; Body Image, Media, Social Media, Self Esteem, Mental Health issues such as depression/eating disorders, Cyber Bullying/Bullying and Sexual Harassment.
It would be an enormous help if you could provide a quote or a story and I would be speak with you and any others that would be interested in helping me work towards this goal. I would also appreciate an opportunity to be mentioned on your blog and I would be willing to do the same on mine which I just got up.
I can be reached via email at email@example.com or via my website http://www.loveaverage.com
Dear Prof. Mc. Tavish,
Good day. I am Airnel T. Abarra, MSc. a graduate of MSc. Human Movement Science in University of the Philippines Diliman College of Human Kinetics and an aspiring researcher in sociology of sport from the Philippines. I am planning to do a PhD study about women’s bodybuilding which will commence hopefully this September 2014. Upon reading your articles, I am so amazed how you do sharp analysis of the sport based on your experience, interaction, and of course based on sound theories in feminism and sport. In line with this, I hope we can get connected as I continue to enhance the content of my research project en route to a possible PhD admission soon. You can learn more about my project on the Facebook group at at https://www.facebook.com/groups/158190771054436/
Thank you very much and good luck to you upcoming book launch. I am looking forward hearing from you.
Airnel T. Abarra
Dear Lianne, I have enjoyed your blog. You look great and fantastic in your blog photos. I have always been healthy and moderately activity. My inspiration get much powerful when I finish your post.