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Barbelles Professor Claire Warden lecture

Inaugural Lecture: Professor Claire Warden

About this event

Barbelles: a modernist history of women’s muscularity

The history of muscle seems, at first glance, a decidedly masculine affair. Even in our contemporary context, men’s muscles receive exponentially more airtime, finances, and exposure. #StrongNotSkinny might be a popular modern hashtag but women’s muscularity still brings certain connotations, even ignites a certain fear that femininity and beauty (whatever they may be) might become things of the past. But this is by no means a modern phenomenon. Debates about women’s muscularity have echoed through history. Unsurprisingly, they were particularly resonant in that period of enormous change in landscape, technology, art, politics and, indeed, sport: the early twentieth century.

This lecture will map a fascinating, underappreciated and varied history of women’s muscularity asking what it means for our understanding of modernism but also for current discourses.

In the early twentieth century, every gentleman or would-be gentleman of note was taking up weightlifting, callisthenics or boxing. Impressive strongmen published books and systems, created complicated training machines, advocated vegetarianism or set up their own private gymnasia...and made a good deal of money in the process. Muscularity became an industry.

But an underground history of women’s muscularity challenges this partial narrative and disturbs the assumption that it is only now, in our twenty-first century gyms, that we finally find women training. This lecture will introduce a number of women famed for their muscularity: strongwoman Vulcana, weightlifter Katie Sandwina, journalist Pudgy Stockton and more. The lecture asks what this narrative might do for broader conversations about modernism, sporting histories, and the body.

The event will take place both in-person and online (in-person bookings based on a first come first served basis). Those attending in person will have the opportunity to join us for refreshments before the lecture.

Contact and booking details

Jess East
Telephone number
01509 222252
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