A few weeks ago, the Arnold Classic took place. My boyfriend tuned in online and watched most of the events, as he usually does. This is how I came to see the bikini competition.
Until recently, my experience with the world of bodybuilding has been limited. I had seen bodybuilding competitions on ESPN years ago. I enjoyed the movie Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s such a strange documentary of a man who is so driven to be champion he skipped his father’s funeral so he would not miss training. It becomes even more bizarre when you watch it keeping in mind that one day this man will be governor of California. I could write a whole post about Pumping Iron 2 – which is infuriating as it follows Bev Francis who is clearly the hugest and has the most impressively crazy unnatural looking muscles in the movie, but doesn’t win because she’s not “feminine” enough. I remember watching that and thinking, if the point is not to have the biggest muscles, what is the point?
My boyfriend is into bodybuilding. He trains like a bodybuilder and looks like a bodybuilder in their off season. He reads about bodybuilding and through him, I know a lot more about it than I used to. But I’m not claiming to be an expert by any means. I certainly have no personal experience with it.
On Facebook, there are a lot of bikini, fitness, physique, etc competitors or hopeful competitors. I feel like I am friends with some of them, although maybe they aren’t going to like me after this post. I want to make clear that what I am about to write about is not about the people who participate in these competitions. This is not about jealousy or hate or anything of the sort. All bodies are good bodies. I think these women’s bodies are beautiful and worthy of respect, just like everyone else. However, I have some major concerns about the phenomenon of these competitions becoming mainstream and something more and more women of all ages are aspiring to.
I have specifically chosen not to use images from the competition in my post because I do not want to attach anyone’s image to this post without their permission. You can see the competitors using a simple Google search.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to see. I guess I thought it was going to be similar to the bodybuilding competitions I had seen before. What I saw was not at all what I expected.
I did not expect every single competitor to have huge breast implants.
I did not expect them to be wearing 5 inch high stripper heels.
I did not expect the big blonde extensions that covered up the backs of most of the women (why are they covering their physique if that’s what’s being judged?)
I did not expect the flouncy bouncy prancing.
And I really did not expect the poses to be so sexually suggestive.
What exactly is this all about? Then my boyfriend read me some of the comments people were making about the competitors on Muscular Development.com. They read like the comments you might read on a porn site. I’m not going to repeat any of them. They do not deserve repeating.
Then there was the pose where the woman faces her back to the audience, arches her back, and sticks her butt out. It was too much. I honestly couldn’t believe that this is what these sweet women I know online dream of doing. I’ve seen this pose before… in Penthouse, Hustler or Playboy. And the women in those magazines are sometimes wearing more clothes.
This is where I started to get angry. Women are being lured into these competitions as an end goal of a path to health and fitness. But it has nothing to do with either.
What do breast implants have to do with health? What do stripper heels have to do with fitness? It’s worse than something like a Hawaiian Tropic bikini competition or a wet T-shirt contest to me because at least those things are straight forward and honest: they’re about sex appeal. People talk about this like it’s a sport. It’s disturbing and I believe, destructive.
This is not what health is all about. Because I have read so much written by competitors and former competitors, I know a lot about the risks to your metabolism and mental health that are a part of attaining the figures you see on stage. I know about the weeks of intense dieting down before a show, dehydrating yourself, etc. I know these women don’t look like this year round. And I’ve read the tragic and heart-breaking stories about eating disorders and hormonal breakdowns for years to follow.
But does your average person know all this? Does your average woman looking at the model on the cover of Oxygen at the grocery store with the fitness competitor physique know what that model did to look like that? I don’t think so. I certainly didn’t know. I remember seeing fitness models for the first time and thinking: WOW, now that’s “healthy”. Because I used to be ignorant about these subjects too, like most people are. Why would you know what they do to prepare for a show or photo shoot unless you were somehow involved in it?
The image of the super-fit woman is taking the place of the image of the super-skinny woman, and I don’t see it as an improvement, any more attainable, or any healthier. In fact, you cannot attain the “ideal” figure, because if you do lose enough body fat, you will lose your breasts as well. There’s nothing wrong with small breasts, but the “ideal” fitspo figure is ripped with larger breasts. The only way to get that figure is with surgery.
If a woman chooses to get breast implants, that’s her business, her body, and I sincerely hope it makes her happy and I am happy for her if so. However, I would like to work toward a world where less women felt there was anything wrong with their natural breasts and where less women felt that they needed to have surgery to change their cup size. It becomes my business when the image of health and fitness requires plastic surgery. It pains me when I think about women suffering through having themselves cut up and sewn back together and all the health risks that go along with it because they believe their bodies aren’t good enough without surgery.
I really wish that more women would value the things we can do, our hearts and minds, and the differences we can make in the world beyond our outer packages and sexuality. The bikini competition was a striking example of everything that is wrong with how too much of the world sees women. We are not objects existing solely for the viewing pleasure of others. We should not be pitted against each other solely based on our outer appearances. I did not find it empowering. I found it distressing.
I believe there is a place for these competitions. There are pageants of many kinds in the world. But they do not exemplify health and fitness any more than Miss America exemplifies intellectual achievement. They should not be held up as the gold standard of physical fitness. Health and fitness are about well-being, physical and mental, not what you look like on the outside. Empowerment is about what you can do, not the appearance of your body.