2023 Digital Video Storytelling, Long Form, Large Newsroom finalist

Exploited for decades, female bodybuilders speak out

About the Project

Bodybuilding is a sport that has long promoted itself as the pinnacle of health, fitness and strength. A Washington Post investigation into the world’s biggest bodybuilding federations uncovered sexual exploitation, dangerous drug use and the corruption of the industry.

With unflinching clarity, this 13-minute documentary delves into the dark underbelly of the sport and the power brokers that preside over it.

The video features compelling interviews with former and current female athletes about their time competing and the pressure they felt to cater to the mostly male judges, promoters and managers in order to advance their careers.

Top leaders pressured women to pose for nude photographs, posting those photos to soft-core pornography sites and, at times, manipulating contest results in favor of those competitors.

As part of the investigation, The Post interviewed nine women who posed for websites run by J.M. Manion, the son of Jim Manion, president of the premier amateur and professional bodybuilding federations. The women said they felt pressured to pose for photographs with J.M. a day or two before competitions to improve their chances of winning. In all, The Post identified more than 200 athletes who appeared on the sites.

This investigative mini documentary shed light on the scores of female bodybuilders who were sexually exploited by officials of the two major bodybuilding federations. The video brough accountability to a sport that for decades has allowed many of its leaders — including the son of the industry’s top leader — to pressure female athletes to pose nude. The piece also exposed questionable judging practices and shady business dealings in the industry. The beautifully shot and produced video features courageous women who tell their stories, a sport and legal expert who weighs in on the psychological and emotional impact of sexual harassment and abuse in sports, behind the scenes access from top bodybuilding competitions/shows across the country and unprecedented findings that have never been reported or seen before or are being reported with unprecedented depth, detail and supporting evidence.