Spray tans. Bedazzled bikinis. Platform heels. Sinewy muscles. Power poses. If you google photos of "bikini competitions," this is usually what you come across, along with detailed training plans for how you, too, can become a competitor — or at least work out like one.
If you're not familiar with the concept, a bikini competition is essentially a bodybuilding contest that's tailored specifically to women. Unlike traditional bodybuilding competitions, bikini and women's physique competitions are meant to "give a platform for women who enjoy weight training, competing, contest preparation," according to the National Physique Committee (NPC), the organization that hosts and judges the competitions. Participants perform a series of poses that include flexing certain muscle groups in a regulation two-piece suit, and are judged accordingly.
There's a pretty good chance that someone you know, either in real life or on social media, participates in bikini competitions and shares their journey from gym to stage online. Amateurs are encouraged to participate. A training plan, and typically a professional trainer or coach, is all it takes to compete. In a way, it's like signing up for a 5K or triathlon, except instead of having your endurance tested, it's your muscles (in a bikini).
The thought of judging women solely on the look of their muscles or bodies sounds, at first, pretty icky. Indeed, many competitors are athletes, but to think about diluting their abilities and focusing on just what they look like is a bummer. It just doesn't seem very healthy — but the bikini competitors we spoke to say this is a misconception they'd like to change. As with other sports or beauty competitions, when we assume we know anything about people's lives or habits, simply based on how they look, nobody wins.
The photos that you see on social media or from a Google search only tell part of the story. So, we spoke to six women who participate in bikini competitions about what motivates, bothers, and challenges them about their sport.