The Bikini Division: A Positive or Negative Development ?

The bikini division has emerged in strength sport competition and has generated controversy. There are claims that the relatively new category is just there as a sex sells method and that it is designed to phase out the traditional bodybuilding for women. Some have made the claim women got too extreme in appearance causing the move to a more acceptable mainstream model. The general public may never be accepting of women’s sport participation or sports such as these, but there seems to be factions in terms of aesthetic ideals. There is the group that favors a more muscular and larger appearance of the female bodybuilder. Other want a more classic image of the female bodybuilder of the 1970s and 1980s  when favoring physique and figure. Fitness was the outgrowth of women who did not favor neither of these models, but wanted to also demonstrate acrobatic skills and gymnastic skills in their routines. These women of the established divisions have made complaints that bikini is not even much of a competitive endeavor. To an extent they may be correct. It would be difficult to distinguish them from an average woman in a bikini or regular bikini model. Other observers claim this represents the death of female bodybuilding and is probably a negative development. This assessment is not entirely accurate. Bikini is still evolving and the female bodybuilding category still exists. There is one positive element is that more women are becoming involved in fitness sports. Some women enjoy the look of muscle so much that they even switch over to the physique and bodybuilding divisions. To comprehend bikini one must examine the attributes of the category. Its rise can be positive or negative depending on a fan’s perspective.

          Just like other categories the bikini competitors have judging rules. The first is balance and shape. There is no emphasis on muscle size or definition in particular. There still has to be symmetry presented in the physique that is presented on stage. Skin tone, poise, and complexion are parts of scoring. Overall presentation, which is pivotal to all categories is also part of the total score. These are the general guidelines by the National Physique Committee. These set of standards do seem nebulous, but competitors do seem to be able to present physiques through trial and error. Physique, fitness, and bodybuilder competitors claim that doing this category does not require that much training. That is not correct, because bikini competitors are doing some form of weight training.  The difference can be seen when on stage.

Bikini competitors appear leaner just like their bodybuilding, physique, and fitness counterparts. The same process applies to an extent. Cutting fat levels, exercise or training regimens are employed to produce a certain appearance. Bikini may favor women who are sleeker in body and do not have the ability to add size to the level of a physique or bodybuilder competitor. This does give more women a chance to compete who have the desire to do so. Navigating the often contradictory or unclear judging criteria seems to be a challenge for most competitors. Sports such as these are subjective which does cause some confusion. One  element that can be agreed on is that judging can be difficult to understand.

      One argument that persists is that bikini competitors so not have the look of an athlete. Depending on the sport that is played athletes can have various body types. A tennis player may not look like a weightlifter. The reason is they train for different physical activities. The argument seems to lacks cogency that their is one single athletic appearance. This applies to the bodybuilding sports. Muscle size, definition, conditioning , and symmetry varies among the classes.  When one compares a bikini competitor to the average bikini model there is a significant difference.

The women on stage are still defined, but not as large as figure, bodybuilding, or physique competitors. Bikini is relatively new, so it is still evolving. The sport for women as a whole seems to be doing that as well. The critics of bikini seem to forget the history of the sport. The first women bodybuilders of the 1970s  almost resemble the bikini competitors of today. As the years progress women’s physique did increase in size. The female bodybuilders  had a more lean sleeker look in the 1970s. The 1980s brought a more middle level amount of size as represented by Rachel Mclish and Carla Dunlap. The hypermuscular image was born in the the 1990s  with Bev Francis, by started earlier with Kay Baxter. The bikini division wants to resurrect the sleeker body  image.

These paradigms have varied over the years causing debates over aesthetics. When women entered bodybuilding there was objection to having them participate. They faced extra scrutiny for their looks . While there were men who embraced this new image, other who were more conservative repudiated women’s involvement. It was inevitable at some point the factions would develop new categories. The 1991 Ms. Olympia was the turning point in the debate. The fitness competitions emerged and the same criticisms were used against it. Later there was acceptance with some female bodybuilders switching over. Bikini competitors just have revived an other aesthetic of the 20th century.

        There is a negative aspect to the rise of this division. It could be used by the corporate gatekeepers mainly by the Weider Corporation to phase out female bodybuilding. This may be an attempt to present fitness for women as more marketable seeing as the popularity of standard female bodybuilding has declined. The end of the Ms. Olympia in 2014 demonstrated a decline, but not death. There are still bodybuilding contests for women although not as large in number. Another problem is that some longtime competitors feel that now pro-cards are so easily obtained with the multiple divisions available. The positive part about this is that more women can get involved in the bodybuilding sports. There are attempts to mainstream this underground sport. This does not seem feasible considering the popularity of football, basketball, and the Olympics. The idea that a new division can make this happen is misguided. The only reason it should be there is to give women a fair chance to compete who do not have the size for bodybuilding, figure, physique, or cannot perform the gymnastics of fitness competitions. Sports need divisions and weight classes for the sake of fair competition.

To a person attempting to find out more about the sport to can be confusing. A potential competitor may find it challenging to figure out which division is best for them to compete in. It would probably make more sense to do research before hand before just randomly selecting a division. The judges need to elucidate the differences and standards. Otherwise, it would make more sense just to call these weight classes. This confusion goes to a larger controversy in the sport for women.

           The size controversy continues to be an issue in the sport. Critics claim that when women got “too big” that caused the decline of the bodybuilding division and the rise of fitness, figure, and bikini. There could be some truth to this, however that is not the entire story. Women have never been fully accepted into sports. This is due to long term sexist prejudice and dated gender roles. The strength sports  cause problems for women who are either viewed as less feminine or “too extreme.” These criticisms are relative. To extreme conservatives women who pursue careers or independence are masculine. Thankfully, there are more open mined individuals. Women have to struggle in most sports to keep them going and expanding. There is a bias that effects each sport for women. The problem with bikini is that there are attempts to reduce it to merely a sex sells model. While the presentation of a muscular physique looks attractive to some, sexual objectification does not help the sport. The idea that if the women were smaller in muscle size that this would improve marketability is not proven. Women’s divisions have lower attendance and the athletes are less than their male counterparts. This was even true back in the golden age of female bodybuilding in the 1990s.  There is no reason for women to impose limitations on themselves just because society finds it inappropriate. There is no reason larger physiques cannot still be part of the fitness circle.

timthumb (1)The divisions as they are now could solve the size controversy. The split between fans and organizers can be mended as well as competitors. There should be a place for women of various fitness levels. Only if the sport is allowed to thrive and be promoted can this issue be resolved.

          The addition of bikini contests does not seem like a negative or positive development. It is still a neophyte division and gradually evolving. There is uncertainty to how it might develop in the distant future or its overall impact. There is at least a positive development among women. More are coming into the fitness world due to the opening of the division. Some even switch over to physique and bodybuilding wanting to reach a higher level. A new generation of women athletes are emerging. Women do not see physical fitness as male only or strange. There were vexed reactions to the additions of fitness and figure competitions. This soon dissipated as athletes proved themselves as talented. Those divisions are now accepted as part of the fitness community. Bikini should at least be given a chance. There will soon be competitors that will impress peers and fans alike putting to rest the debate. The best action women can do in the sport is to show solidarity. There should not be enmity  between divisions, but collaboration on certain issues. Unequal pay and limited coverage are problems that should involve every woman in the sport to challenge. Only then can women be fully integrated into a male dominated sport.

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The Bikini Division: A Positive or Negative Development ?

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