The Evolution of Female Bodybuilding
When one thinks of female bodybuilding, the image that most often comes to mind is one of a hulking woman lifting hundreds of pounds in horrible 80s workout gear. 40 years ago when female bodybuilding first got started, that was a more or less accurate picture. In the late 90s, however, a new category for women in bodybuilding called “figure” bodybuilding began to surface. In this event, women were judged more on muscle tone and symmetry, athleticism, and stage presence, rather than just on muscle size. Despite the change, it remained on the fringe of athletics, but a Canada-based fitness savant by the name of Robert “Bob” Kennedy has since been forging a way for the sport into the mainstream.
A Canadian Touch
At the time figure was introduced, Kennedy and his Canadian company Robert Kennedy Publishing were already well known in the fitness circuit for Kennedy’s own successes and training methods, as well as his already numerous books and his magazine MuscleMag International. As this new category gained popularity, Robert decided to get involved in its growth with a magazine devoted to women’s fitness and in 1997, Oxygen Magazine was born. This female bodybuilding and fitness magazine touted functional but challenging workouts, ambitions but attainable goals, a firm stance on ‘clean’ eating, and also a section at the back about the latest figure competitions and bios about the competitors – all catered to busy North American women. Flipping through the pages of the magazine, these women were exposed to this information, and told that they too could be a figure athlete, have the body of a fitness model, and be happy, healthy and energetic regardless of age or current fitness level – and they had the success stories to prove it.
A Growing Interest in Female Bodybuilding
Many women still chose to ignore the back section and simply focused on the workouts or nutrition advice, but as time went on more and more of them began to look seriously into this new form of female bodybuilding. With the addition of ‘bikini’ – another new category – to the Miss Universe bodybuilding competition in 2002, there now yet another way for women to enter the world of fitness competitions without going to the extremes of typical bodybuilding or even figure.
By 2008, Oxygen was at a circulation of over 200 000, and had more variety in their cover models as more women were taking the next step in their gym-going and becoming a part of the “fitness elite”, and muscles on women started being more appealing rather than appalling. Now-a-days, current and former Olympians such as Hurdler Lolo Jones and Swimmer Dara Torres also grace the cover and shed insight into the dedication and discipline it takes to be an elite athlete, as well as share a secret or two on how they get their amazing shoulders or abs.
Oxygen Mag Goes Multimedia
Outside of the pages of the magazine, women are turning to the ‘Abs’, ‘Glutes’, and ‘Fat Loss’ special issues, the Oxygen website, the Twitter and Facebook accounts, and even looking to more “intense” magazines or trainers for new ideas and inspiration to get their dream body. With the addition of the less intimidating ‘bikini’ category, many women young and old are even daring to go all the way and aspire to step on the stage and become a fitness icon themselves – often taking 8-10 months of intense training and dieting to do so. Some continue to compete afterwards, either in ‘bikini’ or taking the next step up to ‘figure’, and some do it just the one time to prove to themselves that they have everything it takes to get there, learning in the process that they have so much more than just that.
Female Bodybuilding – Not Your Average Contest
Figure competitors are the first ones to admit that their competition preparation is at times extreme and in the final days ultimately not very healthy as the athletes play with sodium and water loading followed by total dehydration to achieve the desired muscle definition before stepping under the stage lights. On the other hand, the mindset of continuous self- improvement, year-round clean eating, self-confidence, and making one’s body, fitness, and health a priority are all lessons that many people could stand to learn. Oxygen Magazine focuses on those lessons and shows women everywhere that beauty is not just in the aesthetics, but also in the power, grace, confidence, and dedication that their cover models show issue after issue.
A Hopeful Future Despite a Heartfelt Loss
With the death of Kennedy – former figure competitor, publishing king-pin, and Oxygen Editor in Chief -last month, it will be interesting to see how the magazine moves forward in the next few years, as his influence has been a huge factor in the popularity and success of the magazine. Hopefully the staff (comprised in large part of Kennedy’s family) will be able to continue to produce issues and articles of the same quality and motivational nature as the ones Kennedy has been putting out for the past 15 years, and this fringe sport can continue to challenge the female beauty norms that have had a monopoly over society for the last couple of centuries with Canadian juggernaut Robert Kennedy Publishing and it’s Oxygen Magazine leading the way.