Life as art, and seeing the promise of big bodies



In this article, I illustrate how bodybuilding, a popular U.S. cultural practice concerned with aesthetics and self-development, productively engages with social and cultural struggles facing late-modern subjects, including how humans might connect with the world, each other, and ourselves. Ethnographic details are based on discourse analysis of bodybuilding media, interviews with amateur and professional bodybuilders, and participant-observation in bodybuilding contests and gym training throughout the United States. My arguments and shifting narrative presentations draw on work on critique and postcritique in and beyond academic anthropology and suggest how seeing bodybuilding in a potentially positive light requires perceptual–ethical habits not currently fostered in the discipline.