Muscular female bodies have long been the object of public scrutiny, cultural contempt and fascination. Focusing on bodysculpting and accounts of women who participate in the sport, this thesis adopts a feminist genealogical framework to explore how muscular female bodies have been historically and culturally constructed, regulated and negotiated. The thesis argues that the disavowal and dismissal of muscularity in women are the effects of the disassociation of muscular female bodies from the normalising practices of femininity. I argue that this disassociation makes it difficult to fully recognise the limits of femininity and the intrinsic embodied satisfaction of muscularity on female bodies. Critical to the problematic of muscular femininity is the question of how femininity informs what can be thought about and experienced by women with muscle. This thesis investigates the problem of muscularity in women in two ways. First, it draws on Victorian representations of strong women to undertake a detailed examination of femininity’s historical, political and theoretical contribution to ‘the production of knowledge’ about the modern female body. A feminist genealogy of the muscular woman enables an interrogation of the relationship between muscularity and femininity by exposing the ways in which the very thinking of what is possible for a female body is foreclosed by discourses that construct, regulate and denaturalise the muscular female body. Second, the thesis interrogates the impact of this domain of knowledge on female bodysculptors’ ideas about identity, femininity and their experiences of muscular bodies. To highlight the knowledge, experience and politics of women who build and sculpt muscle, this thesis uses ethnographic methods such as interviews and personal observations as well as autoethnographic reflections
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2014.