A woman stands onstage: her lips form a tight smile; her eyes blink rapidly through falsely-lashed lids. Cameras snap, capturing her winning physique with its carefully sculpted muscles and impeccably bronzed skin. Palms come together in recognition of her achievement.
As the epitome of beauty and fitness, she is awarded the coveted status of Pro Bikini Athlete. Yet she can hardly raise the plastic trophy. She is on the verge of physical and psychological collapse. Her body is starved, dehydrated, exhausted; her mind is obsessive, anxious, depressed.
When the lights have dimmed and the audience have left their seats, she will return to her cheap hotel room. Here she will binge uncontrollably on Nutella, Oreos, Ben & Jerry’s. Afterwards she will perhaps vomit from guilt. She will remove her sequinned bikini and 5” stripper heels and stand under hot water, watching her stage-self drain into the plughole.
In a few days she will be soft, watery and bloated. Her abdominals will lose their definition; her complexion will pale; and her veins will retreat underneath the skin. With flat muscles and an even flatter mood, she will examine her reflection, feeling out of control and lost.
As the face and body of the popular Bikini division, her image will now serve to inspire countless women.
– Victoria Stockwell (Pro Bikini Competitor)
Within the glamorous, aesthetics-driven world of physique competitions, judgement of the female body takes centre stage. This work explores the effects of this judgement by examining the relationship between the Bikini competitor and her meticulously constructed body. The nature of this connection will be clarified through investigating disorderly eating and distorted body image: their causes; the way in which they are perpetuated and sustained; and their damaging effects upon women, both within competitions and the wider sociocultural arena.
Subjected to a hyperbolic version of the pressures that are placed upon females within the general population, the competitor highlights the patriarchal control of women that is played out through the medium of their bodies. This blog investigates how the physique competition functions as a social microcosm, and examines the way in which the dynamics operating between the competition and its models reflect those affecting women within Western society. I argue that the competitor represents modern woman, with the Bikini class silhouette signifying the cultural trend for a lean, yet curvaceous ‘bikini body’. Comparison with this ideal causes bodily dissatisfaction amongst women, who subsequently engage in various self-destructive behaviours in order to attain it, often at the expense of their mental and physical health.
My central thesis is that eating disorders are thus embedded in cultural and political practices. Replicating general socioeconomic pressures, the physique competition often leads to the development of, or triggers pre-existing, patterns of disorderly eating. I aim to outline the struggles faced by competitors and the potentially damaging nature of preparing for a show, whose fundamental premise is to judge women based solely on their physical appearance.