I have been inspired to write this piece with both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. This is not for my own personal benefit, but rather quite the opposite. Now that the competition season is beginning to wind down, I would like to address a few matters of concern.
The sport of bodybuilding is evolving- as every other sport tends to do. Skilled sports such as hockey, baseball, football and the like are always looking for better and better from their athletes. Faster, stronger, more agile- supply and demand commands better to keep it interesting. However with bodybuilding, as the name implies, we are looking for BIGGER, harder, ‘freakier’. My issue is not with the father category that is bodybuilding: my issue is what’s happening to the other categories that fall under the bodybuilding umbrella. Figure, bikini, men’s physique and even the women’s physique division have been changing drastically in the past 3 years- from an observational standpoint. While I could go on about each individual category, I’d like to focus the attention on to the category dearest to my heart: figure.
2016 Figure Olympia
For those of you that don’t know, the Olympia is the equivalent to the Superbowl for bodybuilding. The very best athletes from all over the World in each respective category gather every September in Las Vegas to compete for the title of the best in their division. This year in figure, Latorya Watts won for the second year in a row. She has a very beautiful physique. In previous years, the Olympia had crowned Nicole Wilkins 4 times- almost setting the standard for the desired ‘figure look’ in years 2009, 2011, 2013-2014. While Nicole is a fantastic role model and positive influence on women of all ages- it is very obvious the changes that have been made to her physique. After last year’s Olympia, the IFBB (International Bodybuilding Federation- the sports governing body) released a statement stating that they would be looking for a more ‘down-sized’ look in the sport of figure, meaning less muscle and softer conditioning. After seeing the athletes that made the top 3, it is apparent that this wasn’t the case.
The uproar that this has caused, and why it matters, is the message it sends to the sport at the amateur level… Which brings me to my next area of concern.
Regional and National Level Competition
In Canada, bodybuilding is governed under the CBBF: Canadian Bodybuilding Federation. The CBBF is to carry out their judging of athletes as close to the protocol as the IFBB states. The system is not perfect. As much as one can try to standardize and structure judging, all areas of bodybuilding are ultimately subjective. Historically, judging at the National level in figure has typically been a harder, more muscular look than what you’d normally see in the IFBB. Why- you ask? It’s just the way it’s been. I have noticed this past year at the regional level the more ‘downsized’ look was rewarded in figure. This was good: as this is what the IFBB said was expected, right? I know of many figure athletes headed into Nationals happy with the new protocol- only to be met with the same judging from years past, leaving many of them feeling defeated. They want you big, hard, and full- yet still ‘feminine’, if you can manage that.
I’m here to state a hard truth- some of you who know the sport well will not even flinch, the rest of you are in for a surprise: it is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve what the judges are asking of these women COMPLETELY NATURAL. Even with the very best genetics on your side, we as women are not meant to have that amount of muscle with a body fat percentage below 13% and still hold onto what makes us feminine: plain and simple. There are a vast amount of competitors that have made their peace with the fact that they will have to resort to extremes- such as steroids and diuretics to achieve the approval of that panel of judges. Unless you compete in a drug-tested division, it’s pretty commonplace. In fact, every category under the umbrella of bodybuilding in every level of competition has athletes resorting to these extremes (yes, even bikini). There are of course those exceptional few that may be 100% clean, but they exist in small quantities.
What disheartens me the most is just HOW extreme things have become: women taking steriods that they haven’t even researched the long-terms effects on; causing irreparable damage to their bodies (voice changes, thickening jaw-lines, loss of menstrual-cycles, infertility, etc.). Women blindly taking whatever their coach thinks may/may not help them place higher at a show where they are on stage for 10 mins, tops. Girls wearing waist shapers almost 24/7 to atrophy their midsections to create freakishly exaggerated proportions like it’s the 1800s. Hours upon hours of cardio while on limited food for months on end: only creating a sort of ‘food-phobia’ for regular meals once their show is over and done with, and even exercise bulimia. Not everyone will have an eating disorder after competing, but I can guarantee you will have an element of body dysmorphia.
I went into this sport originally for the physical and mental challenge of bringing my body to its utmost physical peak; and I feel I did do that. I remained informed and educated on each and every method I put my body through, and my doctor was completely in the loop. I drew the line when I saw just how extreme things would have to get in order to achieve that ‘pro’ status. I knew my health, my life, my family, my appearance- who I’d want to see in the mirror each day was so much more important than all that. I have a hard time calling these shows ‘fitness competitions’ anymore: they should be called ‘Sacrifice Competitions’. The more extreme the judging becomes, the more extremes these ladies will resort to- sacrificing like lambs to the judges that are herding them. If you are one of those individuals that can compete simply for the love of the stage, kudos to you. I for one can’t see putting your body, your free time, your finances, your loved ones through all that each year for simple ‘fun’. I can think of 100 other things to do that are fun, that do not sacrifice all those things. But then, it’s not always about winning. I do not mean for this to sound like I’m ‘hating’ on the sport of figure, but rather as an advisory for those who may not know what they are getting themselves into. If you are reading this and you are either just beginning or are in the midst of your journey- please ask yourself your WHY. Follow your heart, it is usually right 😉