This chapter explores developments in organized bodybuilding culture in what I term the middle period, from the 1940s to the 1970s. This is a period marked, first, by the emergence for the first time of national and international structures and governing bodies for bodybuilding competition: these were either purpose-built organizations - i.e., created precisely in order to govern competition bodybuilding such as the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) in the US, and the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) in the UK - or already existing sports bodies that undertook the governance of bodybuilding contests, such as the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in the USA; and second, by escalating competition and the development of different factions and interest within organized bodybuilding culture.
Although comparative references are made in the European context, the focus shifts onto the USA as it becomes during the course of these decades the focal point of bodybuilding culture with an increasingly global influence.
Debates about the 'proper' meaning of bodybuilding, typically inscribed in the various systems of aesthetic criteria and rules of competition, often involved in indirect or direct ways claims over institutional power in an expanding field of social and economic activity. In an attempt to illustrate the antagonisms characteristic of this time and the progressive consolidation of a shift in the dominant model of organized bodybuilding culture, I focus on two prominent contests and the organizations that promoted them: The Mr. America, sanctioned by the AAU, and the Mr. Olympia, sanctioned by the IFBB.
As I will demonstrate, these pivotal events functioned as flagships for the respective governing bodies, reflecting and (re-) producing the antagonistic models of physical culture and bodybuilding put forth by each. In researching them, I have greatly relied on the publications that were closely associated with them or represented similar viewpoints (Strength & Health and Iron Man magazines for the former, Muscle Builder magazine for the latter), and which I have used as sources of both factual information and dominant discourses that I attempt to analyze.
The Mr. America Contest: In Search of Ideal Manhood
The Mr. America has been one of the most widely recognizable and longstanding bodybuilding contests worldwide. [Evidence of the contest's prestige were the attempts of competing organizations to appropriate some of it by producing their own Mr. America contests. Unless otherwise specified, the Mr. America I discuss is the original one, sanctioned by and closely tied in all respects to the AAU.]
Like the popular Miss America in search of the perfect specimen of womanhood, the Mr. America contest's objective was to showcase an 'ideal representation of American manhood' in every respect: physically, morally, and mentally. As phrased in the following editorial of Iron Man magazine, a leading publication of its time, "WE ARE ALL AGREED THAT WE MUST EITHER HAVE A MR. AMERICA WHO WILL BE AN IDEAL AMERICAN IN EVERY WAY or change the name to something like 'Best Built Man' or some other less inclusive title" (Iron Man, September 1954: 42, emphasis in original). The overt emphasis placed on the grand ideological framework of the nation's youth, health, strength and moral uprightness is situated in a post-World War II climate where physical preparedness becomes a central concern and index of patriotism.
The criteria for evaluating the 'good' body seem, in certain ways, in line with the early holistic model explored in Chapter Two. [Building 'Perfect' Bodies: The Restorative Model of the Early Period 1880s - 1930s]. In his discussion of the second, 1940, Mr. America contest held at Madison Square Garden, John Fair (Come On! You should know this author by now.) points out that "more emphasis was placed on muscular development, as signified in points and in the separate recognition of a most muscular man, but symmetry, posing and general appearance were nearly as important as in Macfadden's early Physical Culture shows". Muscular development, an aesthetic attribute, was still considered a derivative of more fundamental qualities, such as strength and health. Given the framing of the contest as in search of the ideal representative of American manhood, a series of new criteria were added. Thus, the decision was made by the governing body in 1955 to "gradually adopt such criteria as character, education, career aspirations, and athletic ability in a 'rather informal way' through an interview process." Significantly, athletic ability was introduced in 1956 as a formal criterion for the overall title. In the seminal article "Judging a Physique Contest," Bob Hoffman, head of the AAU committee for weightlifting and bodybuilding, stipulated:
In selecting Mr. America, or any other Mr. Titlist, there should be an endeavor to select the best all-around man, a man who will be a credit to the title he bears, not just the most muscular, as too often has been done in some quarters. In selecting the title winner, whether Mr. America, Mr. Pennsylvania, Mr. New York City, or whatever the title being contested is called, the following system of scoring is employed:
5 points for General Appearance, Skin, Hair, Posture, etc.
5 points for Athletic Ability.
In the detailed explication of each of the criteria of this judging system the link was consistently made to the overall ideal bodybuilding champions were expected to meet, that is a development of the whole person. With respect to athletic ability, the following case is made:
The fairest, simplest and surest way to measure a man's athletic ability is to ascertain his ability with the three lifts, practiced world over. The two-hands press, the two-hands snatch, the two-hands clean and jerk [all standardized movements in weightlifting competition]. A man who is a good performer with the three Olympic lifts will have developed physical ability which will permit him to perform well in a wide variety of athletic contests. He will have built super-strength, superior health, a well-balanced physique, and the expectancy of a long, happy, successful and useful life.
- Featured above amongst his 'all-American' family is John Grimek, multiple winner of the Mr. America contest, Olympic weightlifting champion with the USA team, and editor of Muscular Development magazine. He epitomized the model of physical culture and masculinity celebrated by the AAU dominant order, combining athletic ability and character with a body aesthetic often described as "rugged."
It is particularly the criterion of 'general appearance' that the model of (competition) bodybuilding embraced by the dominant players of the time was laid out in its different dimensions. Here, the heterosexually coded surfaces of the body were but an aspect in the constitution of ideal manhood. The champion bodybuilder was defined by his position in social context, his visibility and distinction rendered meaningful on the basis of culturally privileged discourses such as role-modeling for the youth. Breaking down the evaluation process regarding general appearance, the head of the AAU weightlifting and bodybuilding committee [Bob Hoffman] continues :
Judging in this class must include in addition to general appearance, skin and hair, also teeth, posture, carriage as the platform is approached and left, posing and many other features almost too numerous to mention. The winner must be a good looking man, handsome in a manly sort of way. Features such as big ears, buck teeth, small chin, lined face, skin irregularities, shortage of hair or bald spots, varicose veins, stretch marks, flat feet, are retarding factors in judging in this department. There are many intangibles which must be included in the selection of the man most worthy to bear the title Mr. America
or any lesser title which is being contested. Morality must be given consideration, for we must select a wholesome type of man. Education is important, for Mr. America must be able to speak sell as he will frequently appear on radio and television shows, and will speak before groups of people, at schools, Boys' clubs, YMCAs, Service and Sports groups. He must be patient, for he will have to answer innumerable questions, particularly from the young enthusiasts. He must sign autographs endlessly without becoming impatient. He must be a live, alert, friendly man, must possess a combination of human qualities, which will make us proud to call him Mr. America.
Another central feature of the model of elite bodybuilding supported by dominant players in this period is the ethos of amateur sport competition. In its capacity as the largest amateur sport organization in the US, operating since 1888, the AAU insisted on the amateur character of competition, considering bodybuilders who made any money from their bodies as professionals. The seriousness with which the amateur ethos was upheld is evident in the various sanctions that were in place for those bodybuilders who participated in events that were deemed to be non-amateur. In some respects, this amateur, non-profit profile at an institutional level seems concurrent with the dominant meaning the embodied practice and organized display of bodybuilding were vested: a high-minded enterprise geared towards serving society and providing role-models of wholesomeness. John Fair his two books, has shown how in this emphasis on the amateur character of bodybuilding competition, the AAU was a significant part of an international alliance. NABBA, the governing body for bodybuilding competition in the UK, was a key partner in this respect well into the 1970s.
Sport of Beauty Pageant:
The Precarious Place of Bodybuilding Inside the Dominant Order
Even though growing in popularity, bodybuilding as an embodied practice and formalized spectacle occupied a precarious place inside the dominant culture of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. This is apparent in how bodybuilding was discursively produced in the specialized media as well as how it was handled in the institutional arrangements of the time. Despite being the most extensive and powerful sports federation in the whole of the US the AAU had for decades no separate governing bodies for bodybuilding and weightlifting. Only a single Weightlifting and Bodybuilding Committee existed.
Writing of the 1940s and 1950s, John Fair argues that "bodybuilding could not be pursued as a sport for its own sake since there was virtually no frame of reference for it within the AAU structure that governed competitive weightlifting." As late as 1964, suggestions for the creation of separate governance for bodybuilding were not even dealt with seriously. Reflective of this hierarchy of importance was the fact that for the most part bodybuilding contests were typically held as adjunct shows to the more culturally legitimate and recognized weightlifting competitions.
One of the main reasons for this seems to be the reluctance on the part of AAU officialdom to fully embrace bodybuilding as an activity equally legitimate as weightlifting. Although the latter was fully supported and celebrated, representing the US in international sport competition such as the Olympic Games, the former was seen by key figures in the organization as rather dubious and effete when pursued for its own sake. Disparaging comments from authoritative figures of the status quo were often voiced in public fora, effectively delineating 'proper' and 'improper' approaches to the embodied practice and communities forming around them:
is usually a young man who has nothing better to do with his time than to spend four or five hours a day in a smelly gym doing bench presses and curls and squats and lat pulley exercises. He usually wears his hair long and frequently gilds the lily by having it waved. He is supremely concerned with big lats, big pex, big traps, bit delts, and flapping triceps.
He lives for his big moment, when he can strut and posture under the glare of a spotlight before an audience of several hundred followers of his peculiar cult. Athletic fitness and muscular coordination and superb health are completely meaningless to him."
Strength & Health, Feb 1955, "Behind the Scenes: Boobybuilding" by Harry Paschal
Note: So there ya go. A fine muscle author can also be somewhat closed-minded and quite a butthead. Can't we all! This hasn't really changed much, outside of the veneer-thin coverings and situations slightly shifted (please repeat that phrase five times quickly) to protect the tiresomely redundant in life, has it. Oly lifters looking down on bodybuilders, powerlifters looking down on Oly lifters, men about to jump to their deaths from penthouse balconies looking down on themselves. It's a helluva thing, this life, ain't it? Fortunately, aside from the lies we tell ourselves and others, we don't have clue fucking one what it's all about or any idea of the repetitive horrors behind it all or by gosh we'd all be fighting for diving space on that penthouse balcony. The building's actually owned by offspring of Scrooge McDuck, by the way, who jointly control the financial proceeds garnered from tolls gathered by trolls as those about to suicide go through the penthouse
gates en route to the gates of liberation leading to the other
worlds. "Liberation" of course being defined here as "different" and not necessarily any better or worse. At least that's what Saint Harry Paschal told me in a fever dream the other night. See what I mean? Diet is so
important. Beers followed by ice cream'll do it to ya every damn time. Next thing you know I'll be bloody banging my head against a wall long enough to cause brain damage severe enough to put stock in prayer. Please shoot me if I do. Thanks for reading, and thanks for that bullet if it's ever needed. Only those with good aim need apply. "My aim is true," as they say. And yes, I know this world is killing you.
From the standpoint of a traditional 'upright' masculinity that informed a hegemonic heteronormative paradigm in post-war USA (that'd be yer DubYa DubYa Two), a preoccupation with one's 'look' and an assumed corresponding neglect of the fundamentals of health and athletic ability was framed as 'unmanly,' not only 'improper' but 'wasteful' too. The problematic status of bodybuilding in this period often manifested itself in public debates over the proper definition of competition bodybuilding: is it a legitimate sport or merely a male beauty pageant?
The following extensive editorial from Iron Man
magazine entitled "Is the Mr. America Contest an Athletic Event?" highlights some core assumptions in dominant bodybuilding culture of the time. The cultivation of one's body as an aesthetic object gets contrasted unfavorably to a more legitimate approach prioritizing strength and ability. Interestingly, what results from this discourse is a dominant standpoint that does not recognize the logic of self-referentiality as legitimately applicable to bodybuilding. Rather, pursuing muscular development for its own sake is understood as a peculiar form of gender dysfunction spoken in the stigmatizing terms of 'vanity' and 'narcissism':
Here, Peary Rader writes in the August/September 1964 issue of Iron Man
. . .
I do not disprove of physique contests. I do think, however, that there are too many of them for the good of the game or for the good of the participants. I fee that a few such contests each year would be sufficient. Area contests, Jr. and Sr. Mr America contests should be sufficient. Any more than this tends to place too much emphasis on narcissism or, as the dictionary says, "self-love; excessive interest in one's appearance, comfort, importance." Vanity becomes the driving force in the lives of some of these fellows. What real value has a 19- or 20-inch arm or the most beautiful physique in the world? Seemingly a man with a 20-inch arm should be extremely strong but we see featherweights and lightweights who have 14- or 15-inch arms that are stronger.
Note: Peary never did quite get the deal, did he? Possibly owing to his prudish, only slightly less repressive than Calvinist upbringing. You still find people like this in the world today . . . and some much worse in terms of self-imposed 'purity' for the sake of feeling they have
meaning and have not
contributed to the 'fall' of mankind in any way. "Right
Crazy" I believe is the psychological term for these types. Just an example, but there's a fella I know, and I do like this guy (oddly enough) who has never tasted alcohol, had sex with only one partner (his wife in a pre-arranged wedding), never worn jeans, never even held
a cigarette and has only used drugs as prescribed by his physician. Hey, the guy can be funny at times, and that's my main prerequisite for a friend. That, and not kicking me in the balls every time there might be gain to be made from it. I'll admit to having the odd fantasy of slipping him a mickey spiked with taste-covered overproof, a half dozen hits of M, Acid and Viagra, of course adding some outrageously potent amphetamines just to keep him mobile when I drop him off in the middle of a grossly placid tepid flaccid residential area. But that'd be cruel, and come under the heading of 'kicking in the balls' for my own gain. Pretty good friend of mine, oddly enough. Nonetheless, this quirky little 'life' thing. Just say O to it. Just say S across the board. I really don't know, but quite possibly mankind's biggest failing may be asking Y. Far from nonetheless and while we're speaking of Blue Velvet fictitious fantasy locations, there's a new David Lynch bio/autobiography out this last week that features an innovative format. The chapters are in chronological order, and alternate between the biographer using her very detailed and well researched info to write one . . . followed by a chapter of Lynch commenting on that chapter. You might say he's conversing with his own biography. It's titled Room to Dream and it is outstanding!
There should be some other incentive for winning a physique title than just the title. There should be some other objective than this. It has never been proven that a man with 20-inch arms is any healthier than a man with a 15-inch arm. Many physique men, when asked why they wish to win the Mr. America title, will reply that it is the ambition of their lives; the most wonderful thing that can happen in their lives. Truly, it is an accomplishment, but to what end? Some of them say they want to be an inspiration to youth to improve themselves physically. Improve themselves physically for what? To win a few physique contest? A Mr. America contest?
, August-September 1964.
So, there he was in '64. Little did he know what was coming! The concept of 'worth' when it comes to endeavor has always fascinated me personally. From high above in a land of self-created dreams where ethics and 'worth' have been determined by . . . yes, by whom exactly? What gives a man the right to determine the worth of my actions? The fictitious writings of some populist religious belief or that lie we call the pursuit of the 'common good' usually hold sway over these determinations. Good Grief, how much longer will this nonsense go on. If I should choose to develop the absolutely weakest, skinniest, least 'functional' physique I can, and if there should be a contest where like-minded men decide to compete to see who is the weakest, scrawniest and least able to do much more than crawl out onto a stage and wheeze a few times before going into cardiac arrest . . . well then, simply keep your nose out of it and carry on doing what you believe for some absurd and hazy unproven reason to be the 'right' way to train or compete with others. Really! Butt out if you don't like it. That, of course, will never happen. The Do-Rights just gotta stick their snouts in even the tiniest endeavor, all the while praising the glory of a free society and the illustrious diamond of self-determination/individuality. For god's sake, these leaden beasts are quite the lot, then, aren't they. You're not still reading at this point, are you? If you believe you can make some form of lasting sense out of even one thing in life you really don't belong here. I mean, the tool we all use to make sense is itself, in its very design and nature, flawed. But don't let that stop you from forging forward into the blank and pointless abyss you perceive as human knowledge. Bro.
Where the hell was we . . .
In configuring competing masculinities, body ideals, practices, and qualities get vested with particular meanings. Thus, notions
[my italics] or uprightness, wholesomeness, and propriety are encoded in the aesthetic and fitness of the 'rugged' body: manly, healthy, sturdy, able, the produce of a strength-oriented training system founded on Olympic weightlifting. From the standpoint of the dominant model, the 'Adonis' ideal, associated with those who pursue bodybuilding for its own sake
, is derided as 'puffy-looking' and 'inflated,' a reflection of an 'unhealthy' love of oneself. In a similar vein, the training methods used to build it get dismissed as 'sissy' in their emphasis on cultivating one's looks through the use of lighter weights and muscle isolation techniques rather than developing maximum strength and athletic ability.
Okay, finally . . . let's see how this bit of BB-ing history gets treated here . . .
'Lesser' Masculinity as a Continuum: The Monstrosity of Homosexuality
The undue preoccupation with one's looks discussed above appears in this period as a wider continuum of a 'lesser' masculinity; the 'degenerate' far end of this continuum was homosexuality, a central anxiety in post-war US culture. Inside the world of physical culture, this uneasiness seems to have lain in the fear that an emphasis on appearance would not only avert practitioners from the fundamentals of strength, health, and wholesomeness [ya gotta love that word and all that it implies with the bluntness of of a sledgehammer], but could also leave the door open for a transgressive [def: involving a violation of accepted or imposed boundaries, especially those of social acceptability] reading of the male built body.
'Blue' or 'beefcake' magazines become the pivotal reference points in this respect. In more or less direct - if coded - ways, these publications not only circulated representations of the male built body but also functioned as a device for promoting services and networks of a sexual nature. In light of contemporary laws against indecent literature, Hooven (Valentine F.) argues in his '95 book Beefcake
that "for much of the fifties, those little physique magazines were not just an aspect of gay culture, they virtually were
From the standpoint of the dominant players in the field of advocating 'clean,' 'proper' heterosexual masculinity, such publications and their representations of the male built body directly undermined the effort to establish in the public consciousness the social value of physical culture. There's that 'worth' and 'value' routine again. By equating homosexuality with perversion and criminality, a type of monstrosity one needs to spectacularly distance oneself from, editors and alleged readers of the official voices 'representing' the field recognized the authority of state-related organizations, such as decency societies, the police and the postal office, in their combined attempt to thwart the 'danger.'
This must be starting to sound familiar to you. Pick any one of the multitude of 'evils' these clowns are against and you'll find, with a little digging and insight, that the same tactics are used across the board. "We can't allow this abhorrent freedom of choice in a free society!" Okay then.
The discourse on 'illegitimate' publications was overtly framed with a culturally central vocabulary of public morality, the nation's youth, as well as 'innocent' and/or 'exploited' practitioners. A great deal of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate representations, networks, and practices was produced in terms of the purported motivations that brought them forth. The former were described as socially useful, providing the nation's younger generations with respectable role models and structures for clean living and self-development through sport. The latter, in contrast, were designated as lacking any sense of morality and service to society, only guided by the motivation of economic profit of the individuals orchestrating them. In the section "Letters From Readers" of its November 1961 issue, and under the title "Innocent Victim," Strength & Health
published the following complaint allegedly sent to its editor regarding the circulation of 'beefcake' magazines:
Revulsion and anger have motivated me to write this letter. I was down at the local paper store today buying the latest copy of my favorite magazine, Strength & Health
(who woulda guessed!), when I came across, er . . . ran across a copy of Joe Weider's latest queer sheet, Demi-Gods
. What a sickening magazine!
Oh oh. It's Larry Scott in a leopard skin bathing suit
brandishing the ever-deadly homosexual hoola hoop!
It is possible for the male form to possess a rugged beauty that transcends the ages; take, for instance, The Laocoon, or more recently, Eugen Sandow. Both possess a beauty that can hardly be said to be homosexually inspired (Oh, really?). But Demi-Gods does not deal in masculine beauty, it markets perversion. Harumpah!
Decidedly effeminate 'men' (if that's what they can be called) are pictured in poses which were formerly the right of womanhood only. [I wonder how far back in time this this 'formerly' referred to is? If only more of the cave paintings of yore had survived intact I'm sure we'd find . . .]. 'Cute' little beddy-bye invitations caption the filth. And whose picture do I find opposite of these mascara-ed beauties? Ron Lacy's [former Mr. America champion], that's whose. My opinion of Mr. Lacy dropped but fast, faster than my fucking pants I tells ya!
Okay, enough of this bullshit already. The York crew goes on in their response to 'explain' away the whole thing, chalking it all up to the huge number of photos taken by an enormous army of photographers at the ever-innocent, driven-snow-pure AAU contests. Of course this angle of condemning the competition, i.e. Weider publications, would prove to work for a while at York. They tossed monkey dung at each other for all to see, and with many topics other than the homosexual appeal issue of their respective issues. You name it, they used it in an attempt to discredit the other side. Of course yet once again, both were in so many essential ways the same animal at heart. I couldn't give a good god damn about any of it . . . I just like the training articles to be honest with ya.
And here we end our excerpt and all excerpts from this book.
Christ, what a bore academia can be.
Right up there with Science Based Training.
Damn! Why!!! Tell me now, oh great God Who Never Was . . .
Why Is This Shit Everywhere and in Everyone!
One last thing before I sign off on all this:
There is no truth to the rumor that John Holmes used that hoola hoop as a cock ring.