Taking on a question considered by many but asked by few, Adam Ragusea recently completed a new project for Slate.com: Has gay panic ruined bodybuilding?

Now, it should first be clear that to ruin something as large as bodybuilding is quite the task. What is at the essence of bodybuilding that is ruin-able? The masculine figures? The understanding that the thoughts that competitor is aesthetic is an entirely different thought than that guy is sexy?

This is where the difficult distinction of bodybuilding arises. What is the difference between having a good physique and being a physically attractive person? From where does a judge derive the ability to distinguish between personal bias regarding attractiveness and objective value of physique? After all, isn't this the cause of much of the outrage involving fake breasts in female bodybuilding and the bent-over gluteal posing in women's bikini? We often like to believe that sexuality plays no roll in these competitions (or the results within), but is this more hope than reality?

Ragusea took on these questions in his article:

“The question is, ‘Whose body would I want to have?’ ” Schwarzenegger said, proposing what he believes should be the ultimate judging criterion but definitely isn’t. “I think that Cedric had such a beautiful body, he was so well-proportioned, that I think he should have placed higher than he did.”

Beautiful? Did he say beautiful?

It’s rare to hear anyone in the insecurely hyper-hetero world of contemporary bodybuilding describe a man’s body as beautiful, though that is ultimately what this “sport” is about. Competitors aren’t judged on their strength (that’s the domain of powerlifting, Olympic lifting, strongman competitions, etc.) but on the appearance of their muscular physiques. It’s a manly beauty pageant that calls itself a sport so the other boys won’t laugh at it.


Bodybuilding in Arnold’s day was undeniably intertwined with gay culture, and early muscle men like Reeves were gay icons. Now, no one but the most ardent muscle fetishist would want to have sex with the cartoon characters who place at Mr. Olympia or the Arnold Classic. They’ve gone from flesh-and-bone Davids to circus freaks, and it’s a lot safer for an unenlightened meathead to idolize another man for his genetic and gym/drug/diet-fueled freakishness than his beauty.

Straight bodybuilding fans (and I remain one, don’t ask me why) have to do intense mental gymnastics to convince themselves they’re not watching male exotic dancing when they sit through a bodybuilder’s posing routine. That’s a hard thing to do when competitors are expected to turn their backs to the crowd, hike up the bottom of their “posing trunks” to expose their glutes, and show off the striations that occur there when one reaches near-fatal levels of leanness.


“If you reward the right guys, then everyone will start training to have a beautiful body again,” Schwarzenegger said, again feeling no need to append his comments with the “no homo” qualifier that is so often used on bodybuilding message boards.

What the muscle mag/pill/powder-buying masses will have to ask themselves is: Will you be comfortable that, bro?

Although many fans hope for a change, it does not seem likely that the IFBB will give in. The trend over the years has consistently been bigger, bigger, bigger. Is it possible to reverse?

You can read the entire article on slate.com.