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Lessons from the gym

Our Monday gym instructor just came third in the Victorian natural bodybuilding comp, qualifying for the nationals in which she will compete this weekend. It’s been fascinating watching her go from being a lean, fit looking woman down to 8% body fat and I’ve been intrigued by both the science and the discipline involved. Our class chats with her a bit about it and after bombarding her with questions this week, she offered to show us her stuff.

The point of body sculpting is basically to take as much fat off your body so that the full definition of the full muscle underneath is revealed.  There are a number of compulsory poses that demonstrate each muscle group and then each competitor also has a routine set to music that highlights their strengths. It strikes me as more like art than athletics. Our instructor didn’t have much energy to do the class with us because she hasn’t eaten any carbs in the last three weeks and, for the last 13 weeks, she’s basically just eaten 7 meals a day of chicken and lettuce. So it’s really all about how your body looks, not what you can do.

But the thing that really struck me was how sexualised the whole sport is. When the women do their poses, they have to wear high-heeled platform stilettos. On one hand, you can argue that it makes their calves look awesome. On the other, she could barely walk in them and when we asked her where she got her shoes from, she named a well known adult warehouse. Similarly, the women pose in bikinis. Again, you could argue that that’s so they can show off heaps of muscle, but conversely, they’re decorated with bling and tassles that suggest they have something more than a functional purpose. The competitor’s individual routines normally have at least some elements of suggestive dance moves. And then there’s the tanning, the oiling, the makeup, etc.

Of course, my instructor’s chosen this sport. She voluntarily participates in it and obviously she’s very dedicated and very good at it. But doesn’t it say something about our society that even women’s body building is partly about looking ‘sexy’? There’s something in it that insists on the appeal of the female form for men. There’s something of an objectification there.

It’s not that there is something necessarily bad about admiring the female form. I take it that the differences between men and women’s bodies are part of where the wonder and appreciation of them comes from. But that’s not all there is to the picture. The Bible presents a picture of female sexuality that is profoundly counter-cultural. This week in Old Testament we looked at Song of Songs where both the man and the woman are sexually interested in one another. Both are sexually assertive and this is exciting and fulfilling for both. Appreciation is not the same as objectification. I suspect that our society confuses the two because we have not yet caught up to what the Bible has to say about female sexuality. And it’s time we offered women the kind of sexual liberation that the Bible does.

Categories: Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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