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Instead of more bikini contests what we need is more physique categories
By Bill Dobbins
I see a lot of female physique competitors who go into figure because they don’t think they can – or don’t want to – get as big and muscular as either amateur or pro bodybuilding champions. However, although you can make a lot of changes to the body with dieting and training, there seems to be very distinct differences in the genetics of bodybuilders vs. figure competitors. Like the story of the Ugly Duckling, ducks are ducks and swans are swans and wanting to be something other than you are doesn’t really accomplish anything.
Successful figure competitors in general look more like models with some muscle and definition than they do dieted down and depleted bodybuilders. Good bodybuilders tend to have more of a compact build. Their muscles are fuller and flare out from the joints. They tend to be thicker and harder. When you try to modify this kind of physique to suit figure judging it simply doesn’t work. There has never been a really good female bodybuilder who changed over to be successful in figure.
However, the opposite transformation is quite possible. There are many women in figure who struggle in competition because their genetics are really those of bodybuilding. But for one reason or another they simply don’t want to compete as bodybuilders. A prime example that comes to mind is Monica Brant. Monica won in fitness but has gradually placed lower and lower competing in figure. But I have seen her in several contests in which I felt she could be the best lightweight bodybuilder in the world with just slight changes to her contest preparation.
Why do so many women in figure with bodybuilding genetics resist making the change? One reason has influenced bodybuilding for women since the beginning. A lot of women have a self-image that won’t allow them to put on too much muscle because this would give them a look too far outside what is generally considered as acceptable and attractive in the current culture. Even the legendary Sharon Bruneau admits that this kind of thinking plagued her constantly when she was one of the top pro bodybuilders. Women bodybuilders never existed before the late 1970s and the standards today are way beyond those of 15 or 20 years ago so we are still going through a cultural revolution that many find disquieting.
And there is the matter of anabolic drugs. Many women believe they can’t become as big and muscular as the top pros and amateurs without using them and they simply don’t want to put what are essentially male hormones into their bodies.
So what changes can be made to the sport to make it more attractive to genetic bodybuilders now competing in figure to make the transition? There are two I can think of:
1. Use weight divisions in ALL pro contests. In many pro events a shapely, perfectly proportioned 135 pound woman might find herself standing next to women like Yaxeni Oriquen, Heather Armbrust or Alina Popa all of whom weight 170 pounds or more. And they can never win most pro titles as a result. With the correctly adjusted weight divisions we would see more champions like Dayana Cadeau (who has won almost every contest she’s entered that had a lightweight class), Cathy LeFrancois – or even Monica Brant.
2. Create a type of contest that falls between bodybuilding and figure, one that rewards bodybuilding-type physiques that are smaller in size than what we see with the top female bodybuilders. Call if Body Sculpture or Artistic Bodybuilding or whatever you like. Bigger, fuller and more muscular than figure competitors – smaller than pro bodybuilders. IFBB amateur contests in Europe have categories like this. Perhaps it’s time to see the same thing in the NPC and the IFBB Pro Division.
Imagine all those genetically gifted figure women who struggle with diet and excessive cardio trying to deplete their physiques to conform to judging standards who could stop punishing themselves and simply let their bodies assume the size and shape nature designed them to have.
The federations and promoters thrive on getting as many competitors to enter contests as possible. They pay a fee to the federations and to the federations as well. So we end up with what are supposed to be physique federations promoting what are nothing more than bikini beauty contests in which the women need to be in some kind of shape. (Many of these competitors look fabulous, by the way – along the lines of “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.”)
But there are thousands of women out there who are disappointed by figure but don’t enter bodybuilding contests who could be persuaded to enter a contest which features a new in-between class of physique competitors. More satisfaction for these women, more money for the federations and promoters.
The only other alternative for these women is enter some kind of “natural” contest, although the judging standards in many of these is even more subjective and arbitrary than you see in the NPC and IFBB. And if lie-detector tests, which many of these events use, were all that reliable they would be admissible in court. Which they aren’t.
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