Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Death of the Amazon: An Illustrated History of the Changing Ideal in Modern Women’s Bodybuilding

Dr Jan Todd.

From it’s beginnings in the pro-feminist 1970s through the end of the 1980s, women’s bodybuilding seemed to grow exponentially in popularity. Most of the main-stream muscle magazines regularly featured women bodybuilders in a positive light, fashion models began taking pride in a newfound muscular definition, and even sorority girls were joining gyms in order to get arms like actress Linda Hamilton of “Terminator” fame. However, in the early 1990s, women’s bodybuilding began to decline in popularity. Why? Because the longer women trained, the more muscle mass they added to their bodies. And, the more muscular they became, the more they began to transgress established gender boundaries for male and female appearance. Furthermore, as the use of ergogenic substances increased among the top women bodybuilders, magazine publishers demoted women bodybuilders from the covers and feature pages of their magazines replacing them, primarily, with voluptuous women “fitness” models and soft-porn lingerie and swimsuit features. The problem for women’s bodybuilding in the 1990s wasn’t muscle, it was “too much muscle.” Using images from the Todd-McLean Physical Culture Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, this paper explores the transformation of the image of the hypermuscular women and documents how the muscle magazine industry has marginalized true women’s bodybuilding. It also explores the future of women’s bodybuilding through interviews with current top-level female competitors.


Dr Jan Todd  (United States)
Associate Professor
Dept. of Kinesiology & Health Education
The University of Texas at Austin

Todd specializes in the history of exercise and body ideology. Author of Physical Culture and the Body Beautiful and more than 100 articles in scholarly and popular journals. Editor: Iron Game History the Journal of Physical Culture. Former competitive lifter once considered to be the “Strongest Woman in the World.

  • Bodybuilding
  • Women
  • Photography
  • Anabolic Steroids
  • Eroticsim

(30 min. Paper Presentation, English)