Friday, 13 September 2013

What's (Been) Going On: Christina Chinnock (and Why I'm Learning to Love the Daily Mail)

Christina Chinnock ticks just about every box for someone who wants to portray female muscle in a positive light. She's muscular, yet feminine - gorgeous, in fact. Check. She's intelligent and successful, as high an achiever in life as in her sport - a barrister no less. Check. She's a walking advert for the benefits of weight training for women - to look at her you wouldn't guess that she's 45 and a mother of four. Check.

And in July she won the Master's Figure class at the BNBF (British Natural Bodybuilding Federation) Welsh Championships in Newport.

It was the first bodybuilding contest I have ever taken part in so it was a huge personal achievement for me, she says. I'm still a practising barrister and I'm a busy mum of four, so that adds to the sense of victory. I'm flying the flag for the working mums and showing what we can achieve.

My source for this information about a bodybuilding contest and a female bodybuilder I would have otherwise been unaware of was the Mail Online, the website for the UK newspaper the Daily Mail.

The next day, Real Female Bodybuilding reported under the title Another Step Forward for Female Bodybuilding that Female bodybuilder Christina Chinnock is the subject of an immensely positive piece about women's muscle on the world's biggest news website the Daily Mail. [Is it really 'the world's biggest news website'? Even better!] Articles like the one about Christina are a massive boost for the sport. Any coverage of female bodybuilders in the mainstream press helps shift the public perception of muscular women from freak to aspirational figure. And today's piece about Christina is a fine example, although, it seems, not an entirely accurate one, she is technically a figure competitor of course.

The article is one of many about female bodybuilders that the online arm of the Mail has featured. In the last couple of years there has been Georgina McConnell (28th August, reported by FMS in Georgina and Me); the MAC advertising campaign with Jelena Abbou (7th January, see Muscle and Madmen); Lesley Blanchard (November 2012); and Rene Campbell twice (1st February and 12th April 2012). Add to that the numerous Jodie Marsh articles, and you could also throw in another handful of articles about bodybuilding contests, photo exhibitions and so on that are not about the women themselves per se but contain positive references to them.

The reasons why the Mail Online carries so many female bodybuilding stories may be varied. Often the angle is 'wow, she's a bodybuilding mum'. You can also guarantee that a female muscle story will generate a lot of readers to comment, either in the 'she looks like a man' vein, or to praise her dedication, so readers are engaged, which is good for the site. Maybe there is a female muscle head, or, even better, one or more women who lift on the editorial team! But regardless of the cause, the result is, as Real Female Bodybuilding points out, a more positive general public perception of women with muscle. It's all good.

Consequently, I find that my own perception of the Daily Mail is changing. Once upon a time the only reason I would have picked up a copy of the paper would have been to chuckle at its latest rant about how immigrants are ruining the fabric of society or how the EU is planning to take away our sausages. Now I find myself applauding its online content for the frequency with which it features female bodybuilders and its positive take on the sport. I'm learning to love the Daily Mail! How times have changed...


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