Academia

VF Vault: Kettlebell Interview

From the VF Vault

“The kettlebell has a long and complex history that ultimately parallels the embodied practices of weightlifting itself. You have multiple origins, names, figures, and ways to lift the object itself,” she says. “War, global politics, globalization, the multicultural climate of North America. There are so many factors that have influenced the rise of not only physical culture, but weightlifting, all the way down to the kettlebell itself.”

 

Back in 2016, a really awesome Auzzy writer for barbend.com named Nick English reached out to me to help him with a piece on the history of the kettlebell. 

A phone call and few hours later, an ongoing research project that I had been working on since 2013 transformed into a really great interview. As Nick said within the article, "the problem with kettlebell history is that surprisingly few people care" - however I do and apparently numerous others do as well. This article gained huge traction and the feedback was great.

See for yourself, you may be surprised with how interesting the history of the kettlebell actually is.

 

Kettlebell History Goes Back Much Further Than Russia
https://barbend.com/kettlebell-history/

 

 

The 'Secondary' Side Effects of Steroids.

The Secondary Side Effects of Steroids: Sex, Gender and the ‘Unnatural’ Female Sporting Body

IN PROCESS

For over half a century controversy has swirled around the use of anabolic androgen steroids (AAS) by athletes and bodybuilders. They have received significant media and political attention though both the academic and clinical literature are sparse. Robert Goldman’s Death in the Locker Room (1984) helped to create and perpetuate hysteria and panic surrounding steroids, especially their use by women. Focusing on what he calls, “The New Unisex – Female Athletes Turning Male,” Goldman describes anabolic steroids as exclusively “masculine hormones,” and suggests that women who take them are ‘unnatural’, resulting in a ‘bastardization of the female form.’ Goldman is not alone in his concern for the female use of anabolic steroids. The little research that surrounds women and steroids tends to endorse powerful cultural norms about a ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ female sporting body. Often, discussions of female athlete steroid use echo long standing beliefs about the appropriate appearance, health and abilities of the female sporting body.

This project will examine why there has been so little attention to female steroid use and discuss the underlying assumptions on which biological determinism, sex, gender, and the ‘natural’ body have been built into the steroid discourse. As Nelly Oudshroon pointed out, ideas regarding the function of hormones, and the terminology surrounding these chemical messengers have embodied rigid cultural ideas about sex, gender, and the body. Although hormones, including synthetic hormones, do not possess an inherent sex or gender, the debate over anabolic-androgen steroids use in sports continues to distinguish anatomical and physiological differences in the ‘male’ and ‘female’ sporting body.

Despite recent scholarship on gender verification, sex testing and the female athletic body that challenge dominant ideas about ‘normal’ levels of ‘natural’ endogenous androgen levels in female athletes, little research has addressed exogenous androgens, women and AAS use in sport, or the gendering of synthetic sex hormones. Furthermore, although there is a growing body of critical literature on anabolic steroids, the gendering of synthetic sex hormones has not gained the same level of critical inquiry as other aspects of the topic, such as the reframing the philosophical debates of ‘fairness’, debating doping-control measures, or the unsubstantiated physiological and/or psychological ‘risks’ associated with male athlete use.

Drawing upon historical and contemporary medical and popular literature, this project will explore the interplay around the construction of biological sex, gender and hormones, with misrepresentations and myths about the use of steroids by female athletes. It aims to address the current ‘science’ of steroids as it relates to the sporting female body, and show how presumptions about what a ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ female should look like underscores much of the discourse around women’s use of AAS.

 

Want to learn more? Contact me for details. 

The Iron Bar

 

Winner of the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport Essay & Junior Scholar Award; Published in STADION – International Journal of the History of Sport; Master Thesis.


The Iron Bar: The Modern History of Prison Physical Culture and the Ban on Correctional Weightlifting.
 

From representations of prison physical culture in movies and televisions shows, mainstream workout regimes, exercise programs, even exercise names such as the “prisoner squat” – muscles and strength building exercises have become associated with the prisoner’s body in various, and often negative ways. Rarely mentioned are discussions about appropriate or health promoting sport and daily recreation programs for prisoners or inmate involvement in prison organized and self-guided bodyweight exercise programs or calisthenics routines. Popular culture tends to show prisoner’s bodybuilding with heavy barbells and dumbbells though in fact there has been a federal weightlifting ban on such activities in the United States since the early 1990’s.

Utilizing a Foucauldian perspective, the aim of this research study was to explore the modern history of prison physical culture to better understand how popular perceptions of the muscular inmate body - embedded within the disciplines of criminology and penology - influence opportunities for physical activity in correctional facilities. I focused on the recent correctional weightlifting ban enacted in the United States to gain insight into the potential influence of body typing theories, specifically somatotyping (suggesting a link between criminality and muscular physiques), on the construction of contemporary prison physical culture. Working from a critical socio-historical perspective, I worked to add to the limited knowledge of prison physical culture, research on types of physical activity available in correctional facilities and the corporeal experience of those confined to prison.

Overall very little information exists to illuminate general attitudes toward prison physical culture and measure opportunities for physical activity in correctional facilities. The following research questions will guide my study: (1) How have historical perceptions of the muscular criminal body influenced penal policy? (2) In particular, what have been the influences of body profiling and somatotyping on the role of weightlifting in prisons? Insights into these questions will allow me to better understand the reasoning behind the enactment of the 1994 weightlifting ban placed on prison physical culture within the United States. In particular, I will use one particular case study, San Quentin Correctional Facility to estimate the effects of this weightlifting ban on contemporary prison physical culture.

Although it is not known exactly when the practice of weightlifting was tolerated in American corrections, other forms of physical practice can be traced to the beginning of the modern penal movement of the 18th century. An example of a physical technique in this period of “penal enlightenment” was the “tread-wheel” developed by Sir William Cubitt in 1818 and was used to rehabilitate inmates through hard physical labor and solitary confinement (Shayt, 1989).

During the mid 1800’s American prisons underwent many shifts in correctional practice, including the introduction of recreational sports into some prisons (McKelvey, 1968). Described as fundamental in the new era of corrections, Elmira Reformatory in New York opened in 1876 as one of the first adult “reformatories” for offenders, and for years lead the American reformatory system in the application of modern theories of criminology (Smith, 1988), and use of innovative physical practices as “methods of reform” (Pisciotta, 1983).

While “prison athletics … presaged a new era in prison discipline” (McKelvey, 1968, p.229), organized sports programs did not become a feature in the adult penitentiary system until the early 20th century. During this time there have been significant changes in penal ideology in the United States, however far too little is known about the history, development and present day prison physical culture. As a result of high rates of incarceration and recidivism, beginning in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s a shift in correctional philosophy and ideas of improvement resulted in a new penal focus for American corrections. Higher value was placed on punishment, denouncement and incapacitation as opposed to the more traditional correctional goals of rehabilitation. Coupled with the enormous growth in the prison population at the time, and the public fervor for the “get tough on crime” rhetoric (Tepperman, 2011), many states began to limit inmate privileges and activities – in particular, prison weightlifting (Hanser, 2012).

To date, very few researchers have discussed prison weightlifting, or addressed those influences which lead to the weightlifting ban. It has been regarded by some scholars as a result of a societal “moral panic” and a product of harsh punitive penal reform (Pawelko & Anderson, 2011); while other research speculates that the ban can be attributed to the popular media’s construction and representation of weightlifting and prisons (Tepperman, 2011). Tepperman (2011) asserts that central to the ban was an “ethos of panic” regarding weightlifting’s ability to construct physically larger, more powerful and aggressive inmates (Wagner, McBride & Crouse, 1997). The impact of this language and the encompassing ideologies regarding the “super breed” of muscular criminals (Foster, 1995) can thus be seen to be integral to the prison weightlifting ban (Tepperman, 2011). 

It is important to note that ideas regarding the muscular inmate body are not simply a creation of the “No Frills movement” and the prison weightlifting ban – they can be found deep within the field of criminology, and in many respects, these perceptions echo ideas of body typing and biocriminality. Since the 18th century there has been inquiry into the relationship between body type and criminality, specifically addressing the idea that criminals typically embody a mesomorphic or muscular physique. Scholars note the importance of examining the historical origins of the various viewpoints within constitutional theory and body typing “to understand the origins, acceptance, and maintenance of criminological ideas” (Rafter, 2007, p. 805), however little research has investigated the influence of criminological ideas on penal policy, prison physical culture and inmates’ opportunities for physical activity.

Without a better understanding of prison physical culture and the identification of important influencing ideologies there remains an absence of context regarding the socio-historical and institutional conditions that govern particular forms of physical activity in correctional facilities. As a result the proposed research will add a socio-historical perspective of physical practices in prison to enhance our limited knowledge of prison physical culture and highlight those factors which have impacted opportunities for physical activity including the weightlifting ban within the United States.

 

Excerpt From: Felkar, V. (2016). “The Iron Bar. The Modern History of Prison Physical Culture and the Correctional Weightlifting Ban”. Stadion 40 (2014): 19-37.

 

 

 

See my Thesis:
https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0135657

 

Want to learn more? Contact me for details. 

 

Built Both Ways – The Paradox of Muscularity

How can a muscular body be both feared and revered within popular culture at the same time?

Project Overview:

The issue of the relationships among muscularity, body type and criminal behaviour has long intrigued scholars. Criminologists, psychologists, physical educators and the health profession more broadly have enquired into the relationship between body type and criminality, specifically addressing the links between criminal behaviour and a “mesomorphic” or muscular physique (Rafter, 2007; Vertinsky, 2007; Walby & Carrier, 2010; Wright & Miller, 1998). Although early biological theories of crime, such as body profiling, in particular William Sheldon’s somatotyping categories (Sheldon, 1954), have undergone extensive scientific scrutiny and subsequent critique, they continue to persist within contemporary culture. Why has criminology and body typology constructed the muscular body as deviant? What are the implications for linking criminal behaviour to muscularity? What other fields propagate somatotyping’s mesomorphic-delinquency correlation?  

From growing fears about the dangers of muscular prisoners to the enduring stigmatization encountered by female bodybuilders (Shilling & Bunsell, 2009), there remains an open “disdain for the culture of muscle” (Darkes, 2000). At the same time, there is a growing admiration for a muscular appearance and accompanied athletic excellence. This “muscular ideal” and the drive for muscularity in men is well-documented in Western culture (Thompson & Cafri, 2007). In addition to the traditional norms of masculinity that associate the male gender role with a muscular physique (Helgeson, 1994; Mussap, 2008), male and female athletes operate within a context that requires heightened levels of muscularity to achieve sporting excellence and for functional performance-based purposes, such as increased athletic performance and decreased risk of injury (Steinfeldt, Carter, Benton, & Steinfeldt, 2011). How did the dominant and largely negative narratives around the muscular body in contemporary culture develop and what ramifications do they have for those who pursue muscle? Why are there conflicting messages around the pursuit of muscularity in contemporary culture? How are these messages understood and addressed in competitive sport, the recreation and fitness industry, and physical culture?  

Through the perpetuation of somatotyping and the mesomorphic-delinquency correlation, criminology has continued to construct, promote and re-produce knowledge of what a “delinquent” body is. Rafter (2007) argues that in order to “understand the origins, acceptance and maintenance of criminological [theories]” (p. 825) an analytical framework that includes social histories is fundamental. As a result, the proposed research intends to add a historical perspective to enhance our limited knowledge of muscular profiling and highlight the development, impact and influences of criminology’s construction of the muscular body as deviant. The aim of this study is to explore the ways in which criminology and body typology have constructed and reinforced knowledge of the muscular body, and the impact of these beliefs in contemporary thought and practice.

Want to learn more? Contact me for details. 

 

References

Darkes, J. (2009). Muscular Profiling – Is Muscularity Evidence of a Crime? Retrieved from http://thinksteroids.com/articles/muscle-profiling-steroids/

Helgeson, V. S. (1994). Prototypes and dimensions of masculinity and femininity. Sex Roles, 31, 653– 682.

Mussap, A. J. (2008). Masculine gender role stress and the pursuit of muscularity. International Journal of Men’s Health, 7(1), 72-89.

Rafter, N. H. (2008). The criminal brain: Understanding biological theories of crime. New York: New York University Press

Rafter, N. H. (2007). Somatotyping, antimodernism, and the production of criminological knowledge. Criminology, 45(4), 805-833.

Sheldon, W. H. (1954). Atlas of men: A guide for somatotyping the adult male at all ages. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Shilling, C., & Bunsell, T. (2009). The female bodybuilder as a gender outlaw. Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise, 1(2), 141-59.

Steinfeldt, J. A., Carter, H., Benton, E., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2011). Muscularity beliefs of female college student-athletes. Sex Roles, 64, 543–554.

Thompson, K. J., Cafri, G. (Eds.). (2007). The muscular ideal: Psychosocial, social, and medical perspectives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Vertinsky, P. (1990). The eternally wounded women. Women, doctors, and exercise in the late nineteenth century. New York: Manchester University Press.

Vertinsky, P. (2007). Physique as destiny: William H. Sheldon, Barbara Honeyman Heath and the struggle for hegemony in the science of somatotyping. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History = Bulletin Canadien d'Histoire De La Médecine, 24(2), 291-316.

Walby, K., & Carrier, N. (2010). The rise of biocriminology: Capturing observable bodily economies of ‘criminal man’. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 10(3), 261-285.

Wright, R. A., & Miller, J. M. (1998). Taboo until today? The coverage of biological arguments in criminology textbooks, 1961 to 1970 and 1987 to 1996. Journal of Criminal Justice, 26(1), 1-19.