August 19, 2011

Gendered Body Competitions

Janis_pic By Janis Prince Inniss

Shhhhh. Don't tell anyone, but I was once a competitor in a body building competition.

I had only been strength training for a few months, when at about 18 years old, I was invited to take part in a body building competition. At that time, I lived in Antigua and the competition was held in Barbados. Then, as now, I loved to travel. And since this was a free trip including hotel accommodations who was I to say no?

I had never seen a bodybuilding competition but that didn’t stop me. I ran to the nearest bookstore and found a magazine featuring female bodybuilders. I bought a book by a champion female bodybuilder and read it as though it were my Bible. I studied each picture, and read instructions on how to train each body part. I read and reread her tips on diet and nutrition, and in order to lose body fat, I took up running.

clip_image002I was thrilled and amazed at the changes my body underwent with this training regime. I had already been impressed by the ability to sculpt my body using weights. I felt great and figured I had a great chance of doing well in the competition, because it was a Caribbean-wide competition. When I saw the other female competitors, I felt smug. They looked no bigger or different than I did.

However, at “weigh in”, I gasped when I saw what was under their clothing. They had abs! Their legs were shredded, and overall their bodies showed a lot of well-defined muscle. I looked soft by comparison.

This was my introduction to bodybuilding. This experience taught me several things, including profound respect for anyone who competes in this sport and all others, because I got a good idea of the commitment and dedication it takes to train one's body. The experience also taught me that I was unwilling to do what it takes to become a champion bodybuilder.

clip_image004Despite my continued interest in being fit, I have not followed the sport. So recently when I saw some bikini-clad women in an otherwise empty studio at the gym, my first thought was that they were preparing for a bodybuilding competition. That is, until I noticed that they were wearing glass slippers!

I don’t know what these shoes are properly called but they look like the glass slippers I read about in Cinderella. Could the sport of bodybuilding have changed so much that women wear high-heeled shoes now instead of going barefoot?

As I got closer to the studio, I realized that there were some men in the room who were clearly rehearsing body building poses and they looked like bodybuilders. The women did not. They did not have the muscle mass, definition, and shredded look of bodybuilders. They looked more like beauty contestants. Fortunately, I saw a trophy in the lobby of the gym. I read with interest that the winner was in a bikini competition! That explained a lot and I have since done some research to discover more about these contests.

clip_image006There are bodybuilding competitions for men and women. But there are also other body contests for women. Some of them are called “fitness”, “figure” and “bikini” competitions. Having observed online pictures of these contestants, I noticed that they conform to an idealized feminine body: These women are slim, busty, wear tiny bikini bottoms, are heavily made-up, sport big hair and jewelry, and wear high-heel glass slippers!

I found rules for these contests; the bikini and figure competition rules state that contestants must wear heels. They are judged on “balance and shape”. An advertisement I found for ”diet secrets” on one of the competition websites makes clear the distinction between a “bikini body” and that of a body builder; the bikini body is described as feminine (YES!) with the implication that the body builder is masculine (NO!). Generally, the competitions are listed as follows:



· Bodybuilding (categories by age/weight)

· Bodybuilding (categories by age/weight)

· Physique

· Figure


· Bikini


· Fitness

The rules for men and women in bodybuilding contests seem to be the same, except that in some cases women are allowed to wear fringe, lace, sparkles, and other decorations on their suits. For figure competitions women seem to be expected have a “small degree of muscularity”. For fitness—strength, flexibility, and cardio (endurance?) seem to be the relevant criteria in addition to a well balanced, but not too muscular body.

Women’s bodybuilding has always been a sport that made some people uncomfortable; women who excel at building huge muscles are very unlike what we think of as feminine. Many of these competitors have been called masculine and some have been accused (as have many men) of taking substances to grow such large muscles. The figure/fitness/bikini types of competitions can be read as a way of keeping fit women feminine and ensuring that there is a clear demarcation between masculine and feminine ideals.


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Janis - Very interesting post. If you haven't already read "Women of Steel," you might really enjoy it. Written by Maria Lowe (sociologist). Her book is a qualitative study of women bodybuilders.

I can't help but thinking body building is boring. If I had enough time and extra energy I would like to think I could find more interesting things to do like hike the Grand Canyon or ride my bike across France, for example.

Thanks, Tood; I haven't.

The last line, I think, is the most important of all. Men and women ARE different and therefore it isn't always prudent to have contexts that start to blur the lines and force equality in areas where there shouldn't be. Differences are beautiful.

I have found that many people my age are disgusted by the thought of women's bodybuilding. People are appalled by it, even offended, but for what? Personally, I find that we need to let go of the Western hemisphere's influence on gender roles. I get tired of people assuming that my goals in life are to get married, give birth a couple of times, and then spend the rest of my life slaving in a kitchen.

This is a very good idea! Just want to say thank you for the information, you have to share. Just continue to write such a position. I will be your faithful reader. Thank you again.

Hmm, some one asked this question in gender studies and out of 33 answers only 1 said women... but I thought women kind of do so now I feel lost... something about curves and hips, smooth legs, women usually shave and get brazilian waxes down there, oh and women have breasts!

I am 21 years old, female and Caucasian. I am casually employed as a cashier in a supermarket. I've noticed when a male cashier has a male customer, its like they are both trying to compete to prove manliness through body language or the words they use.
When I have a male customer its not like that at all. Like, the customer behaves differently as though there is no gender competition.
I would say 8 cases out of 10 this is usually the case. Why does the interaction differ between men and men and men and women?

I find this all really interesting. I never knew there were so many divisions of competitions for female bodies.

I'm so excited to find your blog, I couldn't find so worthy information on this matter. This is perfect job, your post is just what I was looking for!

I have a friend who does this and the posing is actually quite hard to master. It looks very simple, but it's a performance that has to be practiced.

I'd be scared to bang one of these girls.

The dependent variable in this graph is the BMI which is dependent on the Age (independent variable). The parameter a constant in the equation of a curve that can be varied to yield a family of similar curves.

Wow, there are such categories for women. I admire body builder since you guys are focused people. Decision making is powerful. Are you planning to pursue the body building again?

In today’s era everyone is looking for making his body perfect and healthy either male or female, everyone wants to build their body like a body builder. And some of them choose the short way to build their body quickly by using some pills which increase the body muscles like the clenbuterol. But this is not easy to get these pills in original form, but the is the website form where you can get the different type of body building pills for your body.

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