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Muscled out of the family - The case of bodybuilders

Guillaume Vallet

Research Framework: Bodybuilding is an extreme sport in the sense that is founded on the idea of a permanent transformation of the body. In certain cases, the sport becomes an individual’s entire identity, heavily impacting upon the family life of dedicated practitioners. Their commitment to the sport can force them to reconcile the management of various family resources with the means they require to reach their goals.

Objectives: This article aims to determine whether dedication to bodybuilding influences family commitments and if so, to what degree. This relationship should be seen from the perspective of the family as a social institution and by studying the question of risk taking associated with social practices such as bodybuilding.

Methodology: We investigated this relationship between the “management” of the family and the degree of involvement with bodybuilding by using a study conducted with nearly thirty heterosexual bodybuilders from three gyms. We based our qualitative methodology on 120 direct observations and 30 semi-structured interviews.

Results: We proposed four models (” Self-centred”; “Indifferent”; “Negotiators” and “Controlled”). These four models served as a backdrop for a definition of masculine gender identity as being strongly influenced by the family status and its relationship with the body which is our focus.

Conclusions: These four models show that a hierarchy exists between the level of commitment to family life and engaging in the practise of bodybuilding. When the former is subordinate to the latter, bodybuilding is a “total” sport for the individual practising it, with their identity being uniquely constructed around the logic of bodybuilding. At this stage, the bodybuilder is susceptible to engaging in potentially destructive processes.

Contribution: Our major contribution is found in the relationship between the four models and masculine gender identity in accordance with the degree of involvement in bodybuilding: When bodybuilders pass a certain threshold in terms of commitment, eschewing the sociological concept of a “career”, bodybuilding becomes the principle activity and the family becomes secondary. For these reasons, the family is likely to be ‘muscled out’.