Muscles that Matter: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Emotions and Experiences of Female Bodybuilders in Italy

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Fabio Calzolari


In Italy, female bodybuilders challenge attractiveness stereotypes because timidity and slenderness, not outward behaviour and a muscular frame, are women's most valued characteristics. Surprisingly, the stories of this population have been, at best, subliminal within the Italian discourse of sport. This manuscript redresses such oversight by exploring the narratives of 30 female bodybuilders via online qualitative interviews conducted between January 2019 and 2022. The participants ranged in age from 19 to 35 years, were Italian, trained daily and lived in Naples, Bologna, Milan, and Rome. Interpretative phenomenological analysis influenced the research project. Specifically, it permitted the author to evaluate how individuals make sense and derive meaning from their personal and social worlds. Outcomes demonstrate how women can subvert the idea that gender and body are static, removing the default presumption of femininity and masculinity to biological femaleness and maleness. For the respondents, bodybuilding was a means of empowerment. The more they trained, the more confidence they gained. Social media and reality TV shows helped them thrive as athletes but also caused unrealistic expectations of how they should be. Notably, results underline that some people get image and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs) to enhance their agency further. They also detailed how COVID-19 negatively affected the interviewees, causing them to pause, adapt or renounce their quest for a muscular ideal. Future scholarships can document the consumption of anabolic–androgenic steroids (AAS), a category of IPEDs, among amateur and elite female bodybuilders in Italy and how this group cope with masculinisation. If done correctly, these probes can facilitate the creation of harm prevention and reduction guidelines.

Article Details

How to Cite
Calzolari, F. (2023). Muscles that Matter: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Emotions and Experiences of Female Bodybuilders in Italy. Connexion: Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 12(1), Article ID: 260869. Retrieved from
Research article
Author Biography

Fabio Calzolari, Mae Fah Luang University - School of Social Innovation

Lecturer in Human Rights Studies and Western Civilisation at (School of Social Innovation) Mae Fah Luang University


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