Bodybuilding competitions are riddled with bias

Taylor Moran, Reporter

How would you feel if you spent months preparing for a competition – one that was judged by how you looked – to then receive runner up because the person next to you knew one of the judges?

As a society we often look at bodybuilding competitions as if they are an excuse for women to dance around on stage in a bikini and call it a sport. For most women, stepping on stage means the chance to show off the physique they have dedicated their life working toward.

But, with a stage filled with beautiful women, what is the determining factor of who places and who doesn’t? Is it the girl with the best abs or the girl with the best stage presence?

Although you need to be physically prepared to compete, the difference between a first place and a second place winner could be solely based on your last name. For one league in particular, the National Physique Committee (NPC), is often the leading factor for how well you do.

“I think who you know is true depending on what federation you are competing in,” said Kerry Champlin, a NPC and NMA judge, and retired bikini competitor. “Back in the day, I would have said it doesn’t matter one bit, but now, I can’t defend that option. The Natural Muscle Association (NMA) is completely fair and the judging is fool proof, the numbers don’t lie. Anyone with a competitor in the show has to be excused from judging the individual, but the NPC however, is all about who you know and the money.”

The NPC is one of the most premier amateur physique organization in the world. As a competitor in the NPC, you do not need to take a trust test, and although everyone is hoped to be a clean athlete, not everyone is. This is a deciding factor for athletes competing because the person that did it the respected way might not look better than someone that had help.

“I’ve competed in both the NMA and NPC as a natural athlete, and must say that I like the NMA better, it’s much more rewarding to win knowing that you didn’t get help,” Jessica Lugo, NMA pro athlete explains. “I do feel that politics within the NPC exist, and it can be about who you know, but in my case, I don’t know anyone. I don’t have a big name trainer, I workout at the YMCA and do 90% of my diet myself, and have still won my height class in five out of six shows I have competed in.”

According to NPC Northeast, the competition is scored with two rounds, the Physique/Swimsuit and the Fitness Routine.

The Physique/Swimsuit round is judged the morning of the show and is worth two-thirds of the total score. The Fitness Routine is at the end of the day, referred to as the night show, and is worth one-third of the total score.

Who has the best physique; bikini, hair, makeup, tan, stage presence, and posing, are what the judges are looking for. Seeing that competing and being judged is subjective, it is also easier for competitors to blame losing on politics. With having five girls standing next to each other with the perfect physique, what the final decision might come down to is who’s arm muscle is more defined than the girl next to her.

“When two competitors are close in physique, I have to get specific on certain body part developments to choose the winner,” Champlin said. “It also can come down to stage presence, and if one girl can “bring it” to the stage vs. the other, my choice becomes clear.”

Politics become a distracting factor when competing in the NPC, but in shows that have a larger following, they may look for a girl that will fit better with their brand, even if someone else has the better physique. We also might see other competitors competing in a show that their coach might be judging.

This past weekend was an example of this when two girls who competed at the NPC Mr. /Ms. Buffalo were seen walking around backstage in warm-ups with the judge’s name on the back. Although this is not illegal, it is frowned upon because it gives the girls an unfair advantage of feeling above the other competitors.

“I stay neutral in judging, if one of my posing clients is the best poser up there but her physique is not up to par and the conditioning is not there, I have to mark her lower,” Champlin said. “This sport is about esthetics.”

The idea is not to attack judges and criticize how they run the show, but to help the audience understand that competitors are frustrated, and have a right to be. Working on your physique for months, to have it come down to not knowing the right person is discrediting to your hard work.

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