Aristotle & female fitness models - Anna Pearce

Foreword:

Late in 2016, I was approached by a competition prep coach who convinced me to step on stage as a Fitness Model in 2017. While I have the utmost respect for those that work their butts off to get on stage, my experience left me feeling somewhat empty. In saying that, I respect that everyone’s journey is different, and their reasons to push themselves to the extreme can vary vastly.

As a compassionate soul; I read, research and philosophise to make sense of things that challenge me. With special thanks to my tutor, Fran Rhodes, this essay is a response to conflicts in my mind that I included in my 2019 undergrad submissions to Curtin University. Apologies for the readability- academic writing has a different set of rules to blogs.

Additionally, while I can’t see a future where stepping on stage would appeal to me, if you’re considering a female fitness model competition; first, find your “why”. Then, spend at least 6 months with a coach that focuses on body-positivity. Finally, do your research before seeking a fitness model comp prep coach and choose one that you trust 100% – your life will be in their hands.


Aristotle and the beautiful woman

Choose an artwork, image, phenomenon or object and argue the case for the “beauty” of it supported by the application of the theoretical principles of Aristotle (384–322BCE).

-Essay Question.
Figure 1: Digital advertising poster for an upcoming WBFF Australia competition featuring professional competitor Anna McManamey-Cashion
Dallas Olsen, Don’t forget to book your stage shots package for the show people. 2018. Dallas Olsen Photography. Reproduced from Instagram. (Olsen 2018)

Australian society is highly concerned with health and fitness. While there are differing views on what constitutes a healthy physique; there is a growing movement of women striving to achieve a lean and muscular aesthetic while maintaining feminine proportions. With the recent addition of categories such as Bikini, Wellness and Fitness Model, the elite level of this aesthetic is epitomised in bodybuilding competitions. Two such contests are the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion (WBFF) (figure 1) and the International Federation of Bodybuilders and Fitness (IFBB). The WBFF and IFBB describe their judging criteria as; symmetry, skin, muscular definition, athletic physique and overall feminine beauty (WBFF 2019, IFBB 2019a).

The Aristotelian principles of beauty propose that humans can be beautiful through exhibiting symmetry, proportion, demonstration of the arete and the balancing of opposites. Competing as a Fitness Model at an elite level requires years of hard work to build a balanced physique with emphasis on female curvature and leanness. Therefore, accentuating femininity through a presentation that balances muscularity achieves overall beauty as defined by Aristotle.

From comparisons with ancient Greek sculpture, the iconic Wonder Woman of the 1940s through to modern thoughts of the artist Marc Quinn, Aristotle’s principles of beauty apply to the beauty of the female Fitness Model.


“In a world without Gods and Goddesses, celebrity has replaced divinity.” (Quinn 2007) Female athleticism was almost unrecognised in ancient Greece (Reid 2012); however, the principles of male athleticism apply to modern female Fitness Model competitors. The pentathlete physique dominated Greek athletic sculpture as the ideal form, possessing Aristotle’s prized balance and harmony (Reid 2012, 283). The Pythagoreans made consideration of limb proportion (late sixth century BCE), later practised by the sculptor Polykleitos (mid-fifth century BCE). Aristotle’s contemporary Lysippos (390-300BCE) (Kleiner 2004, 124, 139) then adapted the definitions of perfect proportion and produced the idealised bronze statue Apoxyomenos (Scraper) (figure 5: Roman copy of the lost original). Figure 3 shows an idealised form predating Pythagoras.

Although the theoretical idealisation of form present in Greek statutory, a compelling comparison can be made with the shape of the female Fitness Model (figure 2, 4 and 6). Note the stance with one leg slightly in front of the other, tension expressed through the arms and elbows, an exaggerated widening of the deltoids and lateral muscles, lean waist, flaring of the thigh muscles, accentuated posterior chain (muscles protrude from either side of the spine) and round glutes with separation from the lower back and thighs. Furthermore, on comparison of the limb lengths, the Fitness Models are consistently short in the lower leg, which is balanced by the high heels.

With correction from the high heels, all three Fitness Models possess the attributes of harmonious proportions consistent with Aristotle’s principles of beauty.


Arete is the ability to do something at the highest level of excellence. It was valued in Classical Greece to describe both academic and athletic discipline. Aristotle said that the expression of beauty is present in the things that we make and the goal of his Nicomachean Ethics the demonstrated ability to do things with arete (Wood 2011, 392). Poulakos and Crick (2012) discuss Aristotle’s belief that there is beauty to be found in the things that we do not like to do. Ancient Greeks participated in masculine beauty contests with a consolation prize based on evidence of hard work through muscular development. “It is in this way that the image of the athletic body paradoxically exalts the non-physical aspects of the human being. Athletic beauty symbolizes the triumph of our divine, spiritual nature over our animalistic, physical nature.” (Reid 2012, 287)

Female Fitness Models undertake rigorous, extended training and nutritional regimens before stepping on stage. Not only does this show tremendous discipline, but it also shows their level of mastery of knowledge within their chosen area of excellence. To get to the level of muscular definition and leanness female Fitness Models demonstrate arete.

Therefore, the process of mastery in fitness coupled with the deliberate effort to do uncomfortable exercise and dieting is consistent with Aristotle’s principles of beauty.

Heraclitus (c.535-c.475BC) theorised that the resulting balance of two opposing qualities in “…a state of continuous tension” was beautiful (Eco 2010, 72) which was supported by Aristotle in his writings (Poulakos and Crick 2012). The inventor of Wonder Woman (1941) (figure 7), William Moulton Marston, said; “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power… The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” (Pollitt, 2014) Describing ideal female beauty as a balance between femininity and masculinity. Strength, muscularity and leanness are masculine qualities. Prominent breasts and hips, a lean waist and a positive pelvic tilt are feminine (Grammer et al. 2003, 390).

Training and nutrition programs for Fitness Models emphasise creating a lean waist, rounded hips and glutes and a positive pelvic tilt. Grammer et. Al (2003, 388) explains that most cosmetic surgery is to correct and accentuate attractive proportions. Since muscle cannot replace fatty breast tissue, competition bikinis are dramatically shaped and padded to create the illusion of breasts. However, many Fitness Models, including Anna McManamey-Cashion (figures 1 and 8) and Jacqui Watts (figure 6) resort to cosmetic augmentation. In addition to the physique, competition judges grade feminine attractiveness of walking style, posing, costume, and facial features accentuated with hair and makeup (WBFF 2019, IFBB 2019a).

Consequently, the overall presentation of female competitors shows a constant tension between the masculine and feminine, confirming that the balance between opposing forces creates beauty, as defined by Aristotle and Heraclitus.


During fashion-model Kate Moss’ heyday, many expressed repulsions at her extreme level of leanness. Artist Marc Quin has created numerous works featuring Moss Since 2000. He uses her form to investigate the ways we try to live up to virtual perfection, much like the idolising of ancient gods and goddesses (Quinn 2007). The Road to Enlightenment (Quinn 2006) (figure 9) presents Moss seated in a meditative Buddhist pose, with muscular and skeletal definition and visible veins, yet the surface is smooth and shiny reminiscent of ancient statutory (figures 3 and 5). We can identify many of the same attributes with York’s photograph Your Determination Means Nothing Until It’s Tested (2019) (figure 10).

Consider the overall muscular definition of the model, Hattie Boydle, particularly in the visible striations in the shoulders, along with skeletal definition in the forearms and vascularity in the legs and arms. However, her skin, much like the previous examples is smooth like a bronze statue. Extreme leanness is an ancient concern and appears in the sculptures of Lysippus. As Poulakos and Crick (2012) discuss, Aristotle believes that the grotesque can be beautiful, such as that of extreme leanness. Combine leanness with Heraclitus’ theory of opposing elements and Aristotle’s beauty of balance and proportion between bone (hard) and muscle (soft).

Hence, Fitness Models achieve beauty through the ideal balance between bone and flesh through extreme leanness in conjunction with muscle mass.


“The aesthetic appeal of athletic muscularity derives not only from its mathematically measurable balance and harmony but also from its association with the noble voluntary effort to achieve a state of arete capable of preserving the community’s liberty.” (Reid 2012, 286) Australian Female Fitness Models are demonstrative of Aristotelian principles of beauty.

Fitness Models consistently showcase the proportions of idealised form as expressed in ancient and classical Greek sculpture. Therefore, Fitness Models epitomise beautiful balance through the constant tension between the masculine and the feminine as demonstrated by lean muscularity and feminine stage presence.

Thus, the voluntary involvement in education, discipline, strenuous exercise and dieting to obtain their physique demonstrates the integral component of inner beauty, arete. Further, the tension between the balance of flesh and bone strengthens the proof of Aristotelian beauty.


References:

Boydle, Hattie. 2019. “About Me.” Hattie Boydle. https://hattieboydle.com.au/about-2/.

DHC/ART. 2007. “Marc Quinn (DHC/ART) – Exhibition Overview.” Marc Quinn. http://marcquinn.com/exhibitions/solo-exhibitions/marc-quinn-dhc-art.

Eco, Umberto. 2010. On Beauty. London: Secker and Warburg.

Grammer, Karl, Bernhard Fink, Anders Møller and Randy Thornhill. 2003. “Darwinian Aesthetics: Sexual Selection and the Biology of Beauty,” Biological Reviews 78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

IFBB. 2019a. “Bikini Rules.” IFBB Australia. http://ifbbaustralia.com.au/rules/bikini-rules.

IFBB. 2019b. “Quarter turn face the back.” IFBB Australia. http://ifbbaustralia.com.au/rules/bikini-rules.

IFBB. 2019c. “Wellness Rules.” IFBB Australia. http://ifbbaustralia.com.au/rules/women-s-wellness.

Kleiner, Fred S. 2009. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History. Thirteenth Edition. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth.

Lathrop, Samuel. 2018. “There is no one on this planet who is better at being you, more than YOU. ” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/hattieboydle/.

 Lysippos. C. 330BCE. “Apoxyomenos (Scraper), Roman copy after a bronze statue from c. 330 BCE.” Vatican Museums. http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/museo-pio-clementino/vestibolo-quadrato-e-gabinetto-dell-apoxyomenos/apoxyomenos.html.

Olsen, Dallas. 2018a. “Don’t forget to book your stage shots package for the show people.” Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dallasolsenstudios/.

Olsen, Dallas. 2018b. “tips for building bigger glutes.” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/anna_mcmanamey/.

Olsen, Dallas. 2018c. “Big day of shoots yesterday for @wbff_aust featuring @jacqui_watts_xo.” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/dallasolsenstudios/.

Peters, H.G.1941. “Wonder Woman.” Digital reproduction. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/books/30wonder.html.

Pollitt, Katha. 2014. “Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots.” The Atlantic November (11). https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/wonder-womans-kinky-feminist-roots/380788/.

Poulakos, John, & Nathan Crick. 2012. “There is Beauty Here, Too: Aristotle’s Rhetoric for Science.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 45 (3): 295-311. 10.5325/philrhet.45.3.0295.

Quinn, Marc. 2006. “The Road to Enlightenment.” Marc Quinn private collection. http://marcquinn.com/artworks/single/the-road-to-enlightenment1.

Reid, Heather. 2012. “Athletic Beauty in Classical Greece: A Philosophical View.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 39(2): 281-297. DOI: 10.1080/00948705.2012.725900.

Quinn, Marc. 2007. “Sphinx – Exhibition Overview.” Marc Quinn. http://marcquinn.com/exhibitions/solo-exhibitions/sphinx1.

TheMet. ca. 590-580BC. “Marble statue of a kouros (youth).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/253370.

WBFF. 2019. “Diva Fitness Model.” Paul Dillett’s WBFF. http://www.wbffshows.com.au/diva-fitness-model/.

Wood, James L. 2011. “Contemplating the Beautiful: The Practical Importance of Theoretical Excellence in Aristotle’s Ethics.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 49 (4): 391–412. https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/902881490/fulltextPDF/413C00A7F7A640DDPQ/1?accountid=10382.

York, Kai. 2019. “Your determination means nothing until it is tested.” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/hattieboydle/.

Bibliography:

Belozerskaya, Marina & Kenneth Lapatin. 2004. Ancient Greece: Art, Architecture, and History. London: The British Museum Trust.

Boydle, Hattie. 2019. “About Me.” Hattie Boydle. https://hattieboydle.com.au/about-2/.

Cybulska, Eva. 2012. “Nietzsche’s Übermensch: A Hero of Our Time?” Philosophy Now Magazine, 93. https://philosophynow.org/issues/93/Nietzsches_Ubermensch_A_Hero_of_Our_Time.

DHC/ART. 2007. “Marc Quinn (DHC/ART) – Exhibition Overview.” Marc Quinn. http://marcquinn.com/exhibitions/solo-exhibitions/marc-quinn-dhc-art.

Eco, Umberto. 2010. On Beauty. London: Secker and Warburg.

Grammer, Karl, Bernhard Fink, Anders Møller and Randy Thornhill. 2003. “Darwinian Aesthetics: Sexual Selection and the Biology of Beauty,” Biological Reviews 78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

IFBB. 2019. “Bikini Rules.” IFBB Australia. http://ifbbaustralia.com.au/rules/bikini-rules.

IFBB. 2018. “Quarter turn face the back.” IFBB Australia. http://ifbbaustralia.com.au/rules/bikini-rules.

Harris, Beth & Steve Zucker. 2015. Lysippos, Apoxyomenos (Scraper). Streaming video, 4:16. https://da.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/greek-art/late-classical/v/lysippos-apoxyomenos-scraper-c-330-b-c-e-roman-copy.

Janaway, Christopher. 2001. “Plato.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes. London: Routledge.

Kleiner, Fred S. 2009. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History. Thirteenth Edition. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth.

Lafleur, Laurence. 1942. “Biological Evidence in Aesthetics.” The Philosophical Review, 51 (6): 587-595.

Lathrop, Samuel. 2018. “There is no one on this planet who is better at being you, more than YOU. ” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/hattieboydle/.

 Lysippos. C. 330BCE. “Apoxyomenos (Scraper), Roman copy after a bronze statue from c. 330 BCE.” Vatican Museums. http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/museo-pio-clementino/vestibolo-quadrato-e-gabinetto-dell-apoxyomenos/apoxyomenos.html.

Olsen, Dallas. 2018a. “Don’t forget to book your stage shots package for the show people.” Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dallasolsenstudios/.

Olsen, Dallas. 2018b. “tips for building bigger glutes.” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/anna_mcmanamey/.

Olsen, Dallas. 2018c. “Big day of shoots yesterday for @wbff_aust featuring @jacqui_watts_xo.” Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/dallasolsenstudios/.

Peters, H.G.1941. “Wonder Woman.” Digital reproduction. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/books/30wonder.html.

Pollitt, Katha. 2014. “Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots.” The Atlantic November (11). https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/wonder-womans-kinky-feminist-roots/380788/.

Poulakos, John, & Nathan Crick. 2012. “There is Beauty Here, Too: Aristotle’s Rhetoric for Science.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 45 (3): 295-311. 10.5325/philrhet.45.3.0295.

Quinn, Marc. 2007. “Sphinx – Exhibition Overview.” Marc Quinn. http://marcquinn.com/exhibitions/solo-exhibitions/sphinx1.

Quinn, Marc. 2006. “The Road to Enlightenment.” Marc Quinn private collection. http://marcquinn.com/artworks/single/the-road-to-enlightenment1.

Reid, Heather. 2012. “Athletic Beauty in Classical Greece: A Philosophical View.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 39(2): 281-297. DOI: 10.1080/00948705.2012.725900.

Solomon, Robert C. & Higgins, Kathleen M. 1997. A passion for wisdom. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tarnas, Richard. 1991. The passion of the western mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view. London:Pimlico.

TheMet. ca. 590-580BC. “Marble statue of a kouros (youth).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/253370.

WBFF. 2019. “Diva Fitness Model.” Paul Dillett’s WBFF. http://www.wbffshows.com.au/diva-fitness-model/.

Wood, James L. 2011. “Contemplating the Beautiful: The Practical Importance of Theoretical Excellence in Aristotle’s Ethics.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 49 (4): 391–412. https://search-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/docview/902881490/fulltextPDF/413C00A7F7A640DDPQ/1?accountid=10382.

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by Anna Pearce

Surrounded by her treasured indoor plants and beloved little dog, Anna shares her insights into copywriting, SEO, productivity, and maximising health and life as a remote worker. Between blogs and landing page copy, you'll find her motivating and spreading positivity through health and fitness coaching.

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