From ‘Classical’ To ‘Freaky:’ An Exploration of the Development of Dominant, Organised, Male Bodybuilding Culture

Liokaftos, Dimitrios. 2012. From ‘Classical’ To ‘Freaky:’ An Exploration of the Development of Dominant, Organised, Male Bodybuilding Culture. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Through a combination of historical and empirical research, the present thesis explores the development of dominant, organized bodybuilding culture across three periods: early (1880s-1930s), middle (1940s-1970s), and late (1980s-present). This periodization reflects the different paradigms in bodybuilding that the research identifies and examines at the level of body aesthetic, model of embodied practice, aesthetic of representation, formal spectacle, and prevalent meanings regarding the 'nature' of bodybuilding. Employing organized bodybuilding displays as the axis for the discussion, the project traces the gradual shift from an early bodybuilding model, represented in the ideal of the 'classical,' 'perfect' body, to a late-modern model celebrating the 'freaky,' 'monstrous' body. This development is shown to have entailed changes in notions of the 'good' body, moving from a 'restorative' model of 'all-around' development, health, and moderation whose horizon was a return to an unsurpassable standard of 'normality,' to a technologically-enhanced, performance- driven one where 'perfection' assumes the form of an open-ended project towards the 'impossible.' Central in this process is a shift in male identities, as the appearance of the body turns not only into a legitimate priority for bodybuilding practitioners but also into an instance of sport performance in bodybuilding competition. Equally central, and related to the above, is a shift from a model of amateur competition and non-instrumental practice to one of professional competition and extreme measures in search of the winning edge. Explored in its different facets, the currently dominant paradigm, whose origins are traced back to a late-1960s USA context, is shown to have prevailed through aligning itself with a larger ideology of self-actualization and performance as well as a corporate modus operandi. Despite exhibiting increasingly insular tendencies at a national level in the last 20 years, it is shown to reproduce itself and even expand through its global reach

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Bodybuilding, steroids, monstrous, freak, perfection

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February 2012

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Date Deposited:

26 Apr 2013 11:20

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 15:50


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