Loughborough University
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Becoming a strongwoman: an auto/ethnographic study of the pursuit of strength and power, and the negotiation of gender aesthetics in the UK strongwoman community

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posted on 2020-07-30, 09:05 authored by Hannah Newman
This thesis explores the subculture of strongwoman - a strength sport that along with its male counterpart, strongman, are together also known as strength athletics – examining the practices, attitudes, values, and lived experiences of those who train and compete in it. Taking a combined autoethnographic and ethnographic approach, my immersion in the sport and its community formed the basis of this study. Autoethnographic reflections, reflexive journaling, and ethnographic fieldnotes were accompanied by semi-structured interviews with 23 other strongwomen. The extant literature on women’s strength- and muscularity-based sport is largely focused on female bodybuilding, a sport in which competitors are judged solely on aesthetics. Strongwoman is judged solely on physical capacity and so it is posited that it may have greater empowering potential than bodybuilding. This in-depth research into the subculture of strongwoman explores the values of its small, close-knit community, as well as the dynamic between gender, sport, and embodiment for those who compete in it. The notion of strongwoman being more empowering than bodybuilding is deemed to be too simplistic, with the empowering effect of strongwoman fluctuating through the levels of participation from novice through to elite level. This research demonstrates how strongwomen negotiate gendered aesthetics through their experience of strongwoman – largely through training and eating practices, as well as in their considerations of performance-enhancing drugs. Considerations for the future of the sport are considered in a time of a wider shift towards acceptance of female strength, power, and muscularity.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


Loughborough University

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© Hannah J.H. Newman

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Line Nyhagen ; Thomas Thurnell-Read

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  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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