During my research, every Bikini competitor whom I interviewed had an ideal vision of how they wanted to look. Interestingly, their ideal had changed over the years. The majority of women idolized the slender figures of 90s and 00s runways, embodied by supermodels such as Kate Moss and Gisele Bundchen. The ‘anorexic fashion model’ look was the most attractive, with several competitors revealing that they just wanted ‘to be thin and weigh as little as possible.’ The ideal body comprised ‘a flat stomach,’ ‘visible bones’ and a ‘thigh gap.’ For most, the preoccupation with slenderness originated in their early teens. This suggests that the desire ‘to be skinny’ was a reaction to their developing pubertal bodies.
Some described an alternative ideal that was still model-like and ‘feminine’, yet more athletic than anorexic: ‘slim but not skinny.’ ‘Toned’ was a term almost ubiquitously used, with competitors stating a preference for ‘the fitness cover model look that is projected in magazines.’ The perfect body was ‘healthy and glowing’ with ‘visible abs and good definition around the shoulders and arms.’
Since they entered the fitness world, however, there has been a marked difference in competitors’ perception of the ideal physique. ‘Toned’ is now replaced with ‘muscular’ and ‘anorexic’ with ‘lean’. Competitors strive for the ‘almost unattainable superhero body.’ The superhero image is associated with ‘strength, beauty and control, and success’. No longer viewing themselves as ordinary women, competitors wish to create exaggerated versions of their former selves with more muscle, lower body fat, bigger legs and tinier waists. Having experienced a taste of the physical elite, they now want to rise firmly above the masses and ‘be different.’