The virtual and physical spaces of powerlifting for women: attempted escapes from neoliberal affects

Dr Adele Pavlidis1, Ms Erin Nichols1

1Griffith University, Parklands, Australia


In recent times there has been a definite shift in the ways sport spaces are being (re)configured. From a site of slim, lean, feminine bodies, to a space of heavy weights and competitive strength training. These new gym spaces, I argue, are not spaces of hope, or Lorna Jane adages of optimism. The women in these gyms are not the bouncy figures of neoliberal success. Their pathways into competitive powerlifting follow different logics: for some they begin with a desire for slimness, and end with a desire for muscle, expansion. What their body looks like becomes secondary to what their bodies can do.

Once they enter these spaces they are aware of the ways that spatiality enables different types of subjectivity. They can grunt and groan under the strain of the heavy weights. They can use their phones to take video and load it to their Instagram sites to show form, emplacement, and progress over time.

No, these gyms are not spaces of hope. But they are a refuge.  The spatiality of powerlifting – virtual and physical – create affective atmospheres of possibility. What a body can do, turning away from neoliberal imperatives of happiness and positivity, are within reach.


Adele Pavlidis was awarded her PhD (Griffith University) in 2013 and is currently an ARC DECRA Fellow, based on the Gold Coast at the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research. She is author of two books and several articles that traverse the field of feminist leisure, sport, health, geography and sociology. She is particularly interested in pursuing theory and concepts that might work to disrupt binary thinking in relation to physical cultures. In 2017 she had the honour of delivering the Fay Gale Memorial Lecture at the IAG conference.

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