‘Strong is the New Sexy’: Revisiting the Female Bodybuilder and the Ambiguity of Empowerment – Dr Tanya Bunsell, St. Mary’s University

Date: Thursday 21 March

Time: 5:00-6:00pm

Location: HC.0.06, Heart of Campus, Collegiate Campus, Sheffield Hallam University

Book tickets (free admission)


A decade ago, I embarked upon a fascinating research journey, which explored the deviant subculture of female bodybuilders within the UK. The ethnography investigated whether female bodybuilding could be an empowering transgression from hegemonic norms of femininity.  Since the research took place, the social context has significantly evolved. An unprecedented number of women are now working out, and working on their bodies. The fitness movement has flourished, hand in hand with the commercialisation and commodification of female strength and power. Social media outlets declare ‘Strong is the New Beautiful’, alongside hashtags such as ‘SheSquats’ and ‘Fitspiration’. Defined abdominals, for example, showcased by celebrities and female athletes alike, are allegedly a symbol of female emancipation – representing control, power, strength, health and attractiveness.  In this talk, I revisit my work on the female bodybuilder, in order to question this new western body ideal which claims to empower women.

Dr Tanya Bunsell, has worked as a Senior Lecturer in Sport Sociology for the past seven years at St Mary’s University, Twickenham. Her research frequently focuses on ‘deviant’ bodies; whether this be through gender transgression, sporting subcultures or disability. She is author of ‘Strong and Hard Women: An ethnography of female bodybuilders’ (shortlisted for the BSA/ Thinking Allowed Ethnography Award 2014).