A Century Of Bodybuilding Photos Show A Marked Shift In Our Perception Of Body Image

Bodybuilding declares itself to be "the desired image of modern manhood." Do you agree?

Over the years, bodybuilding has literally grown.

Bodybuilders are getting bigger, bulkier and more orange as time advances, and while it's a part of our culture that many of us don't really understand, bodybuilding -- especially the Mr. America contests -- reflects "a desired image of modern manhood," John D. Fair writes in the introduction to Mr. America: The Tragic History Of A Bodybuilding Icon.

If guys want to beef up to meet some modern standard of desirability, why do they look like a medical illustration of a person without skin, or that they've somehow turned themselves inside-out?

"As societal views toward the male body and physical culture evolved," Fair writes, "bodybuilders had to redefine themselves in light of the clash between revered traditions and concessions to current tastes. The Mr. America Contest, which once epitomized the aspirations of tens of thousands of weight trainees, was premised on adherence to time-honored values of health, fitness, beauty, and athleticism, while Americans -- and especially bodybuilders -- became obsessed with appearances and engaged in training practices and lifestyles that often subverted those ideals. By the end of the century, physique competitors and promoters seemed perplexed about what constituted a perfect specimen of manhood. Reckoning with these cultural questions became the foremost concern in modern bodybuilding not only in the United States but worldwide, since the Mr. America title, at least from the 1940s to the 1970s, was, like other aspects of American culture, a global icon."

It's interesting to see just how much these perceptions of pure fitness have changed over the past 100 years, thanks to advances in supplements, workout equipment and our understanding of how the human body works.

It seems people push these limits harder and farther every year, and when you look at the following pictures of guys at peak physical fitness over history (from a guy who looks like Vladimir Putin sucking in his gut in 1900 to the sinewy muscles on show in 2015, you'll see just how much things have changed.

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A Russian bodybuilder, photographed in a studio circa 1900.
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A bodybuilder known as Mr. Eggleton, the manager of Sandows physical school in 1905.
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Mr. Murray, winner of the Sandow bodybuilding competition in 1905.
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Angelo Siciliano, known more famously as Charles Atlas, lifts four Rockettes, each weighing about 110 pounds, on the roof of Radio City Music Hall.

In his bodybuilding career, Atlas pioneered an early form of isometrics and became known as the "World's Most Perfectly Developed Man."
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A bodybuilder lifts weights in 1940.
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Charles Atlas flexes his bicep while posing in a leopard print swimsuit on a rock by the water's edge.
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Grimek inspects candidates competing for the title of Mr Muscle Great Britain in London.
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Bodybuilder Leo Robert, holder of the Mr. Universe title in 1955, checks out his reflection in a large gym mirror.
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English bodybuilder Reg Park flexes his muscles as his wife, South African ballet dancer Marion Park, exercises in the background. Park was the first Englishman to win the Mr. Universe title and later went on to act in five Italian Hercules sword-and-sandal films in the early 1960s. Park ran his own businesses, publishing a bodybuilding magazine and supplying weight-training equipment.
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Former Mr. America Jack Delinger flexed muscles for Mrs. Sheila Saunders, whose husband competed in the "Mr. Universe" in London in 1956.
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American bodybuilder and actor Steve Reeves holds up the world in 1960.
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Portrait of actor and body builder Lou Ferrigno, who would find fame as television's The Hulk, in his second appearance in MTI as "Boy Wonder," circa 1965.
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Arnold Schwarzenegger, here just 18 years old, lifts a friend in Thal, Austria.
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Model and bodybuilder Tony Catanzaro photographed in April, 1965.
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A year later, Schwarzenegger poses his bigger muscles for a portrait circa 1966 in Austria.
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Bodybuilder Paul Zuckerman in 1969.
Chris Dickerson, 30, flexes his biceps as he poses with his Mr. America 1970 trophy in his New York City apartment on July 10, 1970. He won the contest in Los Angeles, June 14, 1970.
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Serge Nubret flexes his muscles during the preliminary judging stage of the 1976 Mr. Universe contest.
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Shigeru Sugita, a Japanese contestant Mr. Universe contest at London's New Victoria theatre.
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Professional bodybuilder Frank Zane photographed in 1979.
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Bodybuilder and model Von Hackendahl photographed in February, 1985.
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Bodybuilder Tony Pearson demonstrates a dumbbell technique in 1985.
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Manfred Hoeberl lifts a block at the World's Strongest Man contest in Orange, France on August 30, 1993.
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German Bodybuilder Rolf Evers in 1995.
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Bodybuilders Tammi Singer, 29, of Oxnard, California, and John Bezerra, 28, of Ventura, strike a pose outside of Gold's Gym in Ventura. They won first place in the National Physique Committee's mixed pairs competition in Dallas in 1996.
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Geena Davis looks on as Bodybuilder Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman squeezes his muscles during an interview with host Jay Leno on November 27, 2001.
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Dallas Scholes prepares himself for the Men's Masters division prior to the pre-judging section of the NPC-IFBB 2001 Victorian Body Building Championships, held at the Darebin Arts Centre, in Melbourne, Australia.
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Claude Groulx, John Davie and Troy Alves in action during the finals of the Australian Pro Bodybuilding Grand Prix three at the John Batman Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.
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Jay Cutler of Las Vegas performs his routine for the crowd and judges at the finals of the 16th Arnold Classic, during the Arnold Fitness Weekend held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus Ohio, March 6, 2004. He went on to win the bodybuilding competition.
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Edward Nunn, Tony Freeman and Dexter Jackson pose during the IFBB Australia Pro Grand Prix XIII at The Plenary on March 9, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.
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Four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler poses on stage during the 2013 NPC Jay Cutler Desert Classic at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort on March 30, 2013 in Las Vegas.
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Dexter Jackson (left), winner of the Arnold Classic 2015 and second place winner Branch Warren pose onstage at the Arnold Sports Festival.
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Professional bodybuilders pose on stage during a competition at the Arnold Classic Brazil 2015 in Rio de Janeiro on May 30, 2015. The third annual multi-disciplinary sports competition is named after -- who else, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Correction: A photo incorrectly mentioning Lee Haney has been removed.

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