Aesthetics-based fitness competitions are all the rage these days (and they have been for a while). In the context of this post, I'm talking about female-specific competitions, particularly the bikini division.
All the power to you if you decide to compete in competitions like this -- it's your body, after all.
However, here's why we don’t work with clients who want to compete in these events, and why you should think twice about competing:
1. You’re training yourself to care what others think of your body. Don’t we have enough of this harmful B.S. in the fitness industry already?
2. Erasure of gender fluidity and rigid expectations of gender expression. Bikini competitions present women in an extremely gendered way. “Female competitors are required to display femininity and implied heterosexuality on stage through their attitude, gestures, posing, make-up, hairstyle, and adornments.”*
3. Conflating health and fitness with looks. Bikini competitions further the myth that fitness has a “look”. (It doesn’t.) It also furthers the harmful concept that an extremely low body fat percentage is healthy, fit, desirable, and attractive.
4. Fat phobia has racist roots. Read Fearing The Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings. Fat phobia isn’t about health, Strings argues. It’s about using the body to validate race, class, and gender prejudice.
5. Lack of diversity. There’s one standardized ideal of beauty to aspire to in these competitions, which works for only a small percentage of the population that happens to have the genetics for it.
6. Sexualization. Bikini competitions involve hyper-sexualized posing routines. Sexualization in the fitness industry furthers the harmful rhetoric that females exist solely for the benefit of the male gaze.
7. Extremely restrictive dieting protocols that often lead to disordered eating patterns, problematic language around food like “cheat meals”, and expectations of such low body fat that many competitors lose their periods.
The following quotes are from the Social Sciences journal article:
Rival Bodies: Negotiating Gender and Embodiment in Women’s Bikini and Figure Competitions by Favor Campbell, Myra B. Haverda, and John P. Bartkowski (2021).
“Bikini and figure competitors must struggle to negotiate how to exhibit the muscle that is expected to be displayed in these competitions without ‘sacrificing’ their femininity.”
“In fact, a good case could be made that women’s bodybuilding has become further marginalized with the rise of women’s fitness competitions because women’s bodybuilding risks blurring the lines between men’s and women’s bodies. The bikini competition preserves and even underscores that gendered boundary.”
“Many competitors develop strategies to distance themselves from being labeled “too masculine.” The most common strategy used by several competitors to enhance their femininity entailed getting breast implants.”
“Undoubtedly, these attitudes…suggest that prevailing ideas of femininity are reinforced even through fitness competitions”, and this attitude “substantiates how conventional views of femininity are prevalent in these shows.”
*Tajrobehkar, B. (2016). Flirting With the Judges: Bikini Fitness Competitors’ Negotiations of Femininity in Bodybuilding Competitions. Sociology of Sport 33 (4), 294-304.
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