One of the world’s biggest amateur bodybuilding championships has added a new “wellness division” for female competitors—a move that will both open up the competition to even more women, while undermining the less traditionally feminine categories that made the sport what it is.
The 2020 Arnold Amateur international championships, which will be held in Ohio this coming March, will now feature a “wellness” division alongside more established categories like bodybuilding, physique, fitness, figure, and bikini. Despite what the name might suggest, competitors will have to do a whole lot more than just pop a few SugarBearHair vitamins, manifest their intentions, and call it a day. They will be judged on their “body mass in the hips, glutes, and thigh areas,” according to NPC News Online. “The upper body is developed but not to the same degree as the lower body.” In other words, while bodybuilding is judged on overall muscle size in relation to other parts of the body, wellness will focus on the less extreme toning and conditioning of these lower body parts.
“We are excited to add wellness in 2020 as we believe it will grow into one of the sport’s most popular divisions in coming years,” said Arnold Amateur co-promoter Mike Davies, per Generation Iron. “Our goal for the Arnold Amateur has always been to encourage and provide an opportunity for as many athletes as possible, and this new division opens the [National Physique Committee] and [International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness] pro league to even more competitors.”
Davies is right to think that the wellness division will bring even more competitors to female bodybuilding. The bikini division did the same thing after the IFBB added it in 2012. “The bikini category is simply a more attainable physical endeavor,” Andrea Valdez of 3D Muscle Journey said in 2016. “[T]his entry level physique is seeing a lot more people coming into this division.”
At the same time, the addition of categories like bikini, wellness, and physique often prove detrimental to the longstanding bodybuilding division, which already has a difficult time attracting competitors given its rigorous demands—and the fact that it can be difficult for a female bodybuilder to navigate the world beyond competition in a body that goes against feminine gender norms.
“Despite the fact that, semantically and practically, women’s bodybuilding was intended to be a female version of the male sport, the category has not ever existed on such simple terms,” writes Sheena A. Hunter in Not Simply Women’s Bodybuilding: Gender and the Female Competition Categories. “Attempts to define and redefine the category have led to the creation of several other categories for women [like bikini, physique, and wellness], and further complicate the ways that female physique athletes experience gender in the sport of bodybuilding.”
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