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‘You’re a Real Man After All’: Fashioning the Male Physique in Twentieth-Century Boxing and Wrestling Magazines

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in (Re)Presenting Gender book series (PSRG)

Abstract

As part of their intriguing research on constructions of the ‘ideal male body’ in the US-American cultural imaginary, this article by Ana Stevenson and David Patrick examines three US-based boxing and wrestling magazines, popular during the 1950s and 1960s. Focusing specifically on advertisements in The Ring, Boxing and Wrestling, and Boxing Illustrated Wrestling News, Stevenson and Patrick show that the ‘perfect male physique’ the magazines fashioned served to interpellate male readers into connected ideals of economic success, physical strength, and sexual prowess. The ‘paranoid’ perspective adopted by Stevenson and Patrick exposes the magazines’ complicity with reasserting ‘hegemonic masculinity’ and reinforcing exclusive notions of the US national body as being based on the white male citizen’s body, which resonates with the era’s conservatism.

Keywords

  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Bodybuilding
  • Manliness
  • Masculinity
  • Male body

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Boxing and wrestling’s historical emergence from transatlantic sporting culture has been elaborated by Gorn (1986), Sammons (1990), Rickard (1999), and Boddy (2008).

  2. 2.

    The term ‘muscular Christianity’ first appeared in Saturday Review, specifically in T. C. Sandars’s book review of Charles Kingsley’s provincial novel Two Years Ago (1857) (Hall 1994, 7).

  3. 3.

    The most pernicious connections between white manhood and racial dominance were taken to their logical extension in Nazi Germany, where physical fitness became deeply enmeshed with fascism and National Socialism. Indeed, Adolf Hitler was deeply displeased when the African-American runner Jesse Owens prevailed at the 1936 Olympic Games (Blom 2015, 162–172, 355–372), as Owens’s multiple gold medal wins publicly undermined entrenched and widely propagated Nazi ideas concerning white superiority and fitness.

  4. 4.

    Interestingly, by relying on a pattern of ‘before’ and ‘after’, the typical bodybuilding testimonial of the 1950s can be read as precursor of contemporary representations in social media.

  5. 5.

    These representations followed logics of class. Indeed, economic success—they suggested—could preclude the allegedly inherent manly tendency to resort to violent behavior.

  6. 6.

    This magazine was later renamed Muscle Builder (1953–1980) and then Muscle & Fitness (1980–).

  7. 7.

    Kenneth R. Dutton suggests that assumptions about the relationship between muscularity and homosexuality may operate more at the level of cultural idea than reality, insofar as same-sex desire may be no more statistically prevalent amongst bodybuilders than in the community at large (2014, 221–222).

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Correspondence to Ana Stevenson .

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Stevenson, A., Patrick, D. (2022). ‘You’re a Real Man After All’: Fashioning the Male Physique in Twentieth-Century Boxing and Wrestling Magazines. In: Dexl, C., Gerlsbeck, S. (eds) The Male Body in Representation. Palgrave Studies in (Re)Presenting Gender. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88604-2_3

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