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Imperfect Perfection and Wheelchair Bodybuilding: Challenging Ableism or Reproducing Normalcy?

This article explores the impact of the binary configuration of disabled bodies as opposite and unequal to able bodies, and whether or not contemporary bodybuilding provides a space where this dualism can be overcome. Drawing on life history interviews with Dan, a professional wheelchair bodybuilder, we consider how his hyper-muscular upper body may position him as a supercrip and thereby reinforce bodily and gender norms. Simultaneously, Dan’s powerful, disabled body and a competitive context that applies standard judgement criteria across all bodies potentially subverts this normative configuration. We reflect on the contradictions engendered by Dan’s corporeality by drawing on notions of the bodybuilder as bodyguard involved in a process of enfreakment that disrupts and transcends contemporary bodily ideals. Here, variable self-reflexive bodybuilding projects can accommodate contingent conceptualisations of perfection, including disability, with implications for disabled bodies and identities more broadly.