We may say that a particularly talented soccer player is an “artist” with his ball handling or that an especially gifted ballerina’s performance is “athletic” but both statements are at odds with an almost instinctual idea that we all seem to have: that the physical world and the artistic world are distinct and separate. But the truth is that art and sport exist on a continuum on which – at the intersection of art and exercise – lie two sports whose competitors are so different they might as well be from Mars and Venus.
Massive muscles, proportion & symmetry or suppleness, harmony & grace of movement…bodybuilding or rhythmic gymnastics. Both were initially pioneered in Europe the late 1800’s and neither saw their first truly international competitions until the early 1960’s. In bodybuilding, competitions last 3 rounds whereas rhythmic gymnastics has 4 rounds and both are scored by a panel of ~9 judges whose methods are notoriously subjective. In bodybuilding, contestants are expected to hold static poses with very little movement. In rhythmic gymnastics, they must be ever fluid and moving.
These sports – outwardly radically different – are, in fact, mirrored images of each other but the aesthetic ideal exhibited in each is as different as…well, as different as boys and girls.
Bodybuilding and rhythmic gymnastics are, in fact, hyperbolic exaggerations of gender-specific principles of beauty. Handsome men are big and strong, unyielding and immovable and attractive women are graceful and flexible, refined and delicate. But in both bodybuilding and rhythmic gymnastics, these stereotypes are profoundly amplified for the sake of the fans; mostly males in bodybuilding and mostly females for rhythmic gymnastics. That is to say, the almost grotesquely large bodybuilder is what men think women prefer while the lithe, almost willowy rhythmic gymnast is what women think men like. The physical and artistic worlds do, in fact, collide and it should come as no surprise that where art meets exercise we find boys and girls, men and women simply trying to be beautiful for one another.
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