"Such a back as only Sandow had."
Frederick Mueller, better known to the world as the Prussian bodybuilder Eugene Sandow, was launched on the public at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He was the world's first true bodybuilder and he had a thick set muscular body with an outstanding back and abdominal muscles. Bodybuilding came into existence as a result of the perceived effeminization of men brought on by the effects of the industrial revolution - boxing, gymnastics and weightlifting were undertaken to combat slothfulness, lack of exercise and unmanliness. This led to the formation of what Elliott Gorn in his book 'The Manly Art' (Robson Books, 1986), has called 'The Cult of Muscularity', where the 'ideal' of the perfect masculine body can be linked to a concern for the position and power of men in an industrialised world. Sandow promoted himself not as the strongest man in the world but as the man with the most perfect physique, the first time this had ever happened in the history of the male body. He projected an ideal of physical perfection. He used photography of his muscular torso to promote himself and his products, products such as books, dumbbells and a brand of cocoa. He often performed and was photographed in the nude by leading photographers in Europe and America and was not bashful about exposing his naked body to the admiring gaze of both men and women. His torso appeared on numerous cartes de visite, inspiring other young men to take up bodybuilding and gradually the muscular male body became an object of adulation for middle-class men and boys. The popularity of the image of his 'perfect' body encouraged other men to purchase such images and also allowed them to desire to have a body like Sandow's themselves. It also allowed homosexual men to eroticise the body of the male through their desiring gaze. But the 'normal' standards of heterosexual masculinity had to be defended. A desiring male gaze (men looking at the bodies of other men) could not be allowed to be homosexual; homosexuals were portrayed by the popular press and society as effete and feminine in order to deny the fact that a 'real' man could desire other men. (See the Femi-nancy Press section for more details on how homosexuals were portrayed as feminine).
People such as Bernard MacFadden, publisher of 'Physical Culture', said these images were not at all erotic when viewed by other men. Still, photographs of Greco-Roman wrestling offered the opportunity for homosexual men to look upon the muscular bodies of other men in close physical proximity and intimacy. A classical wrestling style and classical props legitimised the subject matter. In static poses, which most photographs were at this time because of the length of the exposure, the genitalia were usually covered with a discreetly placed fig leaf or loin cloth, or the fig leaf/posing pouch were added later by retouching the photograph (as can be seen in the above image of two wrestlers).