Flickr/CC-BY-2.0/istolethetv Poise, elegance and facial beauty aren’t skills you work on at the gym; and yet you can’t deny the work it takes to get on that stage.

I’ve noticed an interesting new trend among my extended social circle of Instagram acquaintances and Facebook “friends.”

Alongside all the birth announcements and engagement photos, there seems to be an increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s participating in fitness figure competitions.

It’s hard to ignore the myriad of progress photographs populating my newsfeed. Women are chronicling their transition from thin, healthy-looking individuals into sculptured hard bodies and uploading a gratuitous amount of full-body shots to bait friends and family into commenting on their changing physique.

Bodybuilding is big business and the amateur industry is growing at a tremendous rate.

The International Natural Bodybuilding Federation hosts over 50 figure-based competitions across North America every year, attracting thousands of men and women to the stage.

For the female competitions, judging is based on a variety of factors including muscle tone, leanness, overall symmetry, facial beauty (makeup, hair, etc.), stage presence, poise and elegance.

Women are required to wear a two-piece swimsuit (solid colour, no patterns, sparkles and sequins encouraged) and high-heeled shoes. There is also an unwritten rule about applying an obscene amount of tanning lotion.

Built and bronzed competitors strut across the stage to show off their musculature through a series of mandatory poses. According to the INBF website, judges are looking for a “toned, conditioned physique with no visible cellulite or fat.”

Aren’t we all!

But in all seriousness, many of the factors on which these participants are evaluated don’t exactly correlate to athletic values, but seem to align a bit more with traditional pageant ideals.

Poise, elegance and facial beauty aren’t skills you work on at the gym; and yet you can’t deny the work it takes to  get on that stage.

Attaining a fitness model figure requires an incredible amount of discipline and strength.

Competitors must adhere to an extremely restricted diet and spend months working through an intense physical training program. In the days leading up to these competitions, women will cut back to 800-calorie-a-day diets, exercise for four hours or more a day and dehydrate themselves in an attempt to make their muscles pop.

Bodybuilding is an endurance sport that takes an incredible amount of mental and physical determination, but I have to wonder what the point of all of it is.

Even if the end goal is to look fit, the emphasis is still on appearance rather than performance-based goals. It seems bizarre to me that competitors spend so much time building their bodies in order to show off how they look rather than what they can do. Why flex instead or lift, or pose instead of press?

Why would a strong woman work so hard for so long only to show up on the day of the competition, slip into a rhinestone bikini and hope the judges decide she’s the best-looking gal on stage?

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