'The Judges Want to See Boobs': How the Competitive Fitness Industry Pressures Women into Getting Breast Implants
Image via Michael Tessier


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'The Judges Want to See Boobs': How the Competitive Fitness Industry Pressures Women into Getting Breast Implants

Breast implants have become a vital component to success in many corners of the women's fitness industry, which is ruled by conflicts of interest.

Dana Linn Bailey graduated from high school in 2001. She had been a voracious athlete, playing every sport she could: swimming, field hockey, basketball, soccer, softball, track. Petite and agile, but also broad-shouldered, Bailey naturally excelled at sports. She had a reputation as an edgy tomboy, the girl who could beat the guys. But underneath her hard-hitting personality she still had typical teenage insecurities.


"I was always a member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee," Bailey says now, chuckling. "I would see girls in high school with boobs spilling out of their shirts, but I was not confident in my body and I didn't feel feminine. I just never had boobs."

She played four years of soccer at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, leading the Golden Rams to the NCAA's and regional playoffs. After college, with no structured sport to play, Bailey began weight training. She found a new person to compete against: herself. "I train because I love it. I love pushing myself harder and harder," Bailey says.

Within a year, in 2006, she decided to start competing in regional amateur bodybuilding events put on by the National Physique Committee (NPC). She entered the Figure division, which focused on shape and muscularity, but not overall mass like the Bodybuilding division. Bailey hoped to eventually graduate from the amateur NPC to the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB)—the big leagues of bodybuilding—and in doing so, earn what's commonly known as a "pro card."

The transition from an NPC amateur to an IFBB professional is considered to be the defining moment in the career of a bodybuilder. Holding a pro card is a much-respected and highly-sought-after distinction.

"I fell in love with the idea of becoming a pro," Bailey says. "[Being in] the IFBB was this magical thing and that was your goal. Once you were pro, you were on a-whole-nother level and I thought all these doors would open and dreams would happen."


But Bailey struggled in the Figure class. Her hyper-athletic physique strayed away from the rigid feminine norms of the division, and she usually went home disappointed. "I asked for feedback [from the judges]," she said, "but all I got was, 'You're too hard, too lean, too big'—all the 'too's.'" She was constantly getting beat by "more feminine" competitors—many of whom had breast implants.

"At [that time] I wished I could've looked like that," she says, "and I was stuffing my bra to look like them. Nowhere in the criteria does it say I have to have boobs to look feminine," she continues, "but you look at girls who win these shows and you understand what needs to be done, for the most part."

Still, her lack of overall mass made competing in the Bodybuilding division, where breast implants are much less apparent, a non-option. By the fitness world's standards, Bailey was not feminine enough for Figure, but not large enough for Bodybuilding; she felt stuck. "Figure is very petite. They have muscle but they also have curves," she says. It was like high school all over again. "I never really fit in."

Bailey continued to compete, but also stuck to her hard-training approach at the gym. The satisfaction she got from her exhaustive weightlifting regimen outweighed her on-stage rejection, but over the next few years the constant disappointment of not getting a pro card took its toll on her.


In 2010, Bailey decided to quit competing. She felt ostracized by the industry's push for a specific sort of femininity and, after four years of trying with no results, saw little chance of becoming a professional. Competing was expensive, too. She had to cover entry fees, travel, and show suits which could run upwards of $1,000 total.

But then, in 2011, the IFBB and NPC introduced a new division that seemed suited to Bailey's exact strengths: the Physique division was similar to the Figure division in which she had been competing, but valued leaner, more muscular physiology. It was as if a division had been molded out of the feedback judges had been giving Bailey for the past five years.

In her first Physique competition, the 2011 NPC Junior USA in Charleston, South Carolina, Bailey found herself among the final three competitors. She remembers standing on stage as the judges prepared to call off the two runners-up. Third place went to Lori Brooks, a lean, compact blonde from Hawaii. Only Bailey and the muscular Rachel Baker remained.

The judge, after a few moments of grumbling, announced Baker as runner-up. Bailey grabbed the nape of her neck with both hands, shook the jagged black bangs out of her eyes, clutched a bouquet of flowers from a stagehand, and took the podium as the first-ever IFBB Professional for Women's Physique. She finally had her pro card.

Bailey instantly became the face of the new division. Two years later, in 2013, she became the first-ever Ms. Olympia Physique. But even with the creation of the Physique division, and her subsequent success and international fame (she has 1.3 million likes on Facebook, over 600,000 Instagram followers, and 250,000 YouTube subscribers), Bailey still felt pressure to enhance her bust.


"I have been told to my face by judges that I was scored down in Physique because I looked more masculine because of my chest size," she says. "I didn't want to change my morals based on someone's opinion. Once you do that you start to lose yourself."

Dana Linn Bailey. Image courtesy Dana Linn Bailey

In her 1998 book Women of Steel, sociologist Maria R. Lowe estimates that 80 percent of female fitness and bodybuilding competitors have undergone breast augmentation. Many observers believe that number is now even higher. American culture already holds women to absurd physical standards, and in the competitive female fitness subculture, where judging criteria is focused not only on physique but also femininity, those standards are even more extreme. For competitors like Dana Linn Bailey, who want to win, the question is inevitable: Do I need to get breast implants to succeed in my sport?

This question is being asked in the first place because in female bodybuilding, femininity counts as much or often more than physique. There are five divisions in IFBB- and NPC-sanctioned contests: Bikini, Figure, Fitness, Physique, and Bodybuilding. Femininity is most important at the Bikini level, and the need to adhere to traditional feminine physicality becomes less stringent as you move towards more muscle- and mass-oriented divisions. In the Bodybuilding class, the most extreme of the five in terms of muscularity, breast augmentation is less prevalent because femininity is not the most necessary aspect to win.


In the other four, however, femininity is crucial. Women in the Bikini, Figure, and Fitness classes are even required to wear high heels. In addition to femininity, symmetry of muscle groups, posing, hair and makeup, suit aesthetic, and overall presentation are taken into consideration for all divisions. But the actual judging is subjective.

"Panel One likes chicken, Panel Two likes fish. Is it chicken or fish today?" Bailey says.

Much of the official judging criteria is fluffed with vague nonsense terms such as total package, beauty flow, balance, and shape. IFBB Women's head judge Sandy Williamson, in a 2010 video interview with fitness blog HardBody.com, described the ideal Bikini division competitor as "soft," "curvy," and "round."

"The IFBB could never specify that large breasts are a necessary feature without facing huge legal and/or political ramifications," writes Sheena Hunter in "Not Simply Women's Bodybuilding: Gender and the Female Competition Categories," her women's studies master's thesis at Georgia State University, "so the authority to judge in such a way is hidden behind vague language."

But for women who want to compete, there is no avoiding these criteria. The world of female bodybuilding is vertically integrated by the IFBB. As Gene Stone put it in a 1988 article for Sports Business magazine, "It's as if Walter O'Malley owned not only the Dodgers, but also Chavez Ravine, NBC Sports, Sports Illustrated—and most of the players."


With becoming a professional essentially monopolized, women have no other choice but to try and deal with how they are judged. The seed for this current landscape, however—where breast implants slowly became the reason for the industry's rise in popularity—was planted back in the 1970s when female bodybuilding was truly just that: women building muscle to the extreme, without regard for sexualization or perceived femininity.

The IFBB sanctioned its first official female bodybuilding competition in 1978, more than three decades after its founding in 1946 by brothers Ben and Joe Weider. Called "The Best in the World," the competition was the precursor to the Ms. Olympia, which is now the most coveted title in female bodybuilding. In 1979, the IFBB established their internal Women's Committee. As the 1980s kicked off, so too did the popularity of women's bodybuilding.

By the mid-1980s, female bodybuilding gained mainstream attention, and was the subject of the 1985 documentary Pumping Iron II: The Women. But along with popularity came a rise in anabolic steroid use. Women were becoming more and more determined to push their muscle growth past its natural limits. In 1992, the IFBB decided to officially intervene.

The IFBB re-wrote the rules for female bodybuilding, adding femininity requirements, focusing less on muscle mass and more on "womanliness." They hoped the new regulations would deter the use of steroids, while transforming the image of women's bodybuilding into something more stereotypically feminine. Anabolic steroid use did decline, but a new ideal body type began to permeate the subculture. With a low bodyfat percentage necessary to show off muscularity, the majority of competitors found it exceedingly difficult to keep a prominent bust without sacrificing their physique, and by the mid-to-late 90s, breast augmentation started to make its presence known on stage.


"Women were told to get breast implants back then even," says Karen Sessions, who took the stage from 1995 to 2001. "[The rules were] designed to create a feminine look. When it comes down to tooth and nail and they are looking at two [women] side by side, they are going to choose the one with the breast implants. And that's sad to say."

As femininity requirements became more stringent at the turn of the millenium, many women found themselves stuck between being able to fulfill this new judging criteria and trying to build the muscle mass needed to become a professional by IFBB standards. In 2001, to accommodate this new crop of competitors, the IFBB created the Figure division, which was designated to showcase petite but muscular competitors who embodied what they considered to be a more typical display of femininity.

In 2005, the IFBB issued the "20 percent rule," which forced competitors who were deemed too large for their division to decrease their muscle mass by 20 percent, citing aesthetics and health reasons for the change. This amendment only increased the importance of so-called femininity, especially for the Figure division, which was becoming a popular avenue for women who wanted to compete but weren't large enough for the Bodybuilding class, or couldn't enter Fitness because they didn't have an athletic talent, which is required for the category.

As the Figure division's popularity grew, so too did the prevalence of breast augmentation. "Figure is all about a V taper—small waist and broad shoulders—and with that you obviously want to have a broad bust line," explains Angelica Driskell, an amataur NPC Figure contestant who started competing in 2007. "When you go to really low levels of body fat, you lose [your bust line], so, yes, having implants would help to accentuate that."


Driskell says that judges, during her formative competition years, told her to "improve her V taper." Driskell underwent breast augmentation in 2012, citing more personal reasons for the surgery (at 40, "gravity started to take effect") rather than reasons that could help her become an IFBB professional. She did, however, place 1st in the four amateur contests following her surgery.

In her thesis, Hunter tells the story of another unnamed Figure competitor who had a similar experience. "A Figure competitor who won multiple 'overall' titles at her smaller shows consistently placed low in her class at every national competition for two years. Eventually, she had surgical breast enhancement and began placing second in her class at national shows."

Despite Driskell placing better, the surgery had its consequences. "I can't do pull-ups anymore," she says. "It's now to the point where it's damaged me mentally because it [has] shattered my ego. That is the one thing I lost that I wish I had back."

It wasn't until 2009, when the IFBB introduced the Bikini division, that the overwhelming prevalence of breast implants among competitors became glaringly obvious. And, according to some female bodybuilders, a necessity. The Bikini division attracted larger crowds, brought in more lucrative supplement sponsorships for athletes and shows, and heightened media coverage. Much as the Bodybuilding division had been its face in the 1980s and 90s, the blatantly sexual Bikini division has become the new face of female bodybuilding.


"They have taken over," says Dana Linn Bailey. But whereas in the 1980s steroid use was the monster-under-the-bed, breast augmentation has become the tanned, oiled, makeup-lined elephant in the room.

Angela Driskell before and after her breast augmentation procedure. Image courtesy Angela Driskell

Dr. Alan Durkin is a go-to plastic surgeon for breast augmentation. Since starting Ocean Drive Plastic Surgery in Vero Beach, Florida in 2011, he has performed over 1,000 breast augmentation procedures, upwards of 15 percent of which were for fitness professionals. Some women have traveled from as far away as California for his services. For competitors, Durkin offers a technique primarily seen in breast reconstruction, where the silicone implant is wrapped in biological mesh made from decellularized cadaveric skin. The body recognizes the material as natural, accepts it, and blood vessels grow into it. The implant effectively becomes an extension of the muscle, a sort of internal bra. This type of mesh stabilizes the implant and prevents it from sagging as rapidly as traditional silicone. With the mesh, an implant procedure runs between $9,000 and $10,000. Durkin says 70 percent of competitors pay with credit and incur long term loan payments for their surgery.

"Their body is their calling card," Durkin says of fitness competitors. "Find me one person [in the NPC] that doesn't have breast implants. They all have them. It's market-driven." Despite the overwhelming prevalence of breast augmentation in the industry, and the increase in business Durkin has seen as a surgeon, he has noticed that these women view breast augmentation almost as an objective tool, like a specific pair of basketball shoes, used more so to increase sport-based performance than anything else.


"When an NPC-er comes in, they know exactly what they want," he says, adding that fitness competitors go for a fuller look at the top of the breast. This specialized procedure, which isn't as popular among the general public, tends to look best when wearing a bikini, like the ones worn on stage.

Although breast implants are prevalent in both IFBB professionals and NPC amateurs, there is increased pressure for NPC competitors to undergo breast augmentation to increase their chances of getting their pro card. "I'm up in the air on it," said one amateur national level Bikini competitor from Canada, who has come up just short of getting her pro card. "I have mastered the art of stuffing but I think getting them done would balance my physique out. It's very hard to do well in Bikini without them."

Since its debut in 2009, the Bikini division has ballooned to dominate the other divisions in terms of participants. At the IFBB 2013 Bikini International, 157 professionals entered the Bikini division, nearly double that of the other four divisions combined. On the amateur level, at the 2014 USA Championships, 210 Bikini competitors qualified to compete, with 253 women filling the other divisions. This doesn't take into account the thousands of regional amateurs who don't qualify for national events, with some local contests being extremely lopsided. At the NPC Northern Classic, 38 women entered in Bikini. Only two women entered Bodybuilding and six in Physique.


According to their current media kit, the "…Women's Bikini [division] has launched the NPC into the mainstream. Our NPC competitors in [this division] can be seen in national magazines, ad campaigns, etc. [For women]…the Bikini [category makes] up the majority of competitors in most contests around the country." To compete, all women have to do is fill out a registration form and pay an annual fee of $120.

Needless to say, the amateur market has become oversaturated. Breast implants have become even more of a necessity to stand out among fellow competitors, and they are the most reliable advantage a competitor can have when trying to become professional.

At the 2013 IFBB Bikini International, it is rumored that the majority of the women who placed in the top 10 had breast implants. When surveyed, only one competitor, Yeshaira Robles, confirmed that she has not undergone breast augmentation.

It takes less time to achieve a successful Bikini physique, too. Hope Howard only competed in two NPC-sanctioned events before earning her pro card at the 2013 NPC Junior Nationals. Likewise, four of the six women who earned their Bikini pro card at that event had been competing less than a year.

These stories of going pro quick (and the subsequent sponsorships and media coverage), have fueled the Bikini division's explosion in popularity. But with direct bias towards women with breast implants, these idealistic competitors are soon faced with the harsh realities of what is needed to succeed in this industry.


It all started at the 1991 Ms. Olympia contest. In Women of Steel, Lowe outlines how the contest was the hidden catalyst for the ensuing change in judging criteria concerning femininity.

Image via Michael Tessier

Then-IFBB president Ben Weider allegedly wrote a note to the head judge stating: "Under no circumstances shall Bev Francis win this contest," after he saw that Francis was ahead of more traditionally feminine competitor Lenda Murray after the first two rounds. In the end, Murray, who underwent breast augmentation in 1990, won her first Ms. Olympia the same year, and held the title through 1995, edging out Francis by one point.

"I think my breast augmentation played an important role in winning the Ms. Olympia," Murray says. "I believe they enhanced my physique [but they weren't] distracting. To the trained eye, breasts should compliment the body and be present within reason."

In a similar instance of contest fixing, at the 1970 Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger took the title despite Sergio Oliva, a black Cuban, being the largest and most muscular on stage. When asked, Joe Weider, IFBB co-founder and founder of Muscle and Fitness, replied, "I put Sergio on the cover, I sell x magazines. I put Arnold on the cover, I sell 3x magazines."

Conflict of interest still exists today. Jim Manion, president of both the IFBB in the United States and the NPC, judges the more prestigious and important events of both circuits. His son, J.R. Manion, owns JM Management, a fitness athlete management company. These athletes compete in the contests that his father judges, and J.R. takes a cut of their contest winnings. Prizes can exceed $20,000.


As independent reporter Anthony Roberts noted, "In the Fitness Olympia, Susie Curry (JM Management athlete) held the first place title for four years while Kelly Ryan was in second place for three of those years. Then, when Susie retired [in 2004], Adela Freidmansky (another JM Management athlete) took first (inexplicably bypassing Ryan). This same year [2004], arguably the best Figure competitor ever to step on stage, Monica Brant, took second in the Figure Olympia to…yes, you guessed it, a JM signed athlete, Davana Medina."

Sheena Hunter, who is also a fitness coach, presents this bias in her master's thesis. "My client placed second while a girl much more slender won. We learned later that the girl who beat her was affiliated with a well-known training group, and it was rumored that she was scored favorably because of her association. However, because of the subjectivity of the sport and its judging criteria, it is impossible to prove or disprove these rumors."

Anthony Roberts also noted that Manion managed all top five competitors in the 2008 Figure Olympia, including the winner Jennifer Gates, who appeared on the cover of Muscle & Fitness Hers, the leading publication for female competitors, that same year.

Muscle & Fitness Hers was originally published by Weider Publications, which was founded by Joe Weider in 1940, six years before he started the IFBB. In addition to Hers, Weider Publications also puts out Muscle & Fitness, FLEX, and Shape. He also founded Weider Health and Fitness, which sells health supplements, and by 2000 the company was grossing $1 billion annually. In 2002, American Media, Inc. (AMI) bought Weider Publications for $350 million.


In 2011, AMI CEO David Pecker made IFBB Figure Pro Mona Muresan the editor-in-chief of Hers. With no discernable journalistic skills, Muresan acted more as a figurehead for the publication rather than an editor.

"Mona couldn't write or edit, but she was heavily involved in the shoots. We did not have the same taste," says Amy Wolff, who was photo editor under Muresan (and also for FLEX) from September 2011 to May 2012. "She would always say things like, 'The judges want to see boobs' and 'You can't lose your boobs,'" Wolff says. (Muresan has breast implants.) Muresan was fired in August 2014 over allegations of plagiarism. She did, however, manage to feature herself on the cover of the September 2013 issue.

Brant Louck, an art director at FLEX from September 2011 to April 2012, shares Wolff's observations. "When I was editing photos for FLEX, there was the male gaze involved. You have to edit for physique, but you also have to edit for sexiness," he says, adding that editor-in-chief Robbie Durand enforced this viewpoint, and strayed away from the more masculine competitors. "Editorially, when they make these photo choices, they are reflecting the ideals of the bodybuilding community," Louck says. "Women were second-class citizens to [Durand]."

Between January 2013 and January 2015, 11 of the 16 Hers cover models were IFBB professionals and one was an NPC competitor, all of whom competed in the Bikini or Figure divisions. "Our readers are attracted to certain body types," says Shawn Perine, chief content director of Muscle & Fitness, FLEX, and Hers. "Bikini has a large, wide appeal because it's more attainable and it fits conventions as to what typical people see for beauty. When we feature them we have higher profit."


In terms of breast augmentation, Perine sees it as a trend that AMI has to work with—something that is implemented at the core-level that they have no control over. "It's difficult to find competitors that don't have [breast implants]," says Perine. "We want to feature top competitors [on the cover] and it just so happens that they have breast implants. It's all market-driven. Whether it's breast augmentation or a certain hairstyle, everything is market-driven. If that's part of the formula [that we use for the] cover, and it sells, then that's what we are going to go for.

"We like them to be aspirational—to use as a template for something [women] would like to achieve."

In a 2011 Slate article, fitness model Kim Strother said she was turned down for a Muscle & Fitness photoshoot due to, she believes, her lack of implants. The same year, in a blog post by fitness author Charlotte Hilton Andersen on her personal website, she quoted one of her readers as saying, "So I buy just about every fitness magazine on the market and I gotta say that it makes me sad that I find it quite rare if I see even ONE model without breast implants. It's such a strange contradiction, you know?"

Supplement companies that sponsor the athletes and advertise in the magazines reinforce this predisposition. "They want the dollars from the supplement companies. They want them to see that FLEX is the real voice of the subculture," Louck says.


In addition to promoting women with breast augmentation, AMI also leaves a paper trail of advertiser bias. The July 2014 issue of Hers featured IFBB Bikini Pro Amanda Latona on the cover—her fourth appearance since 2012. Latona is sponsored by BSN, a supplement company, and also appears in their advertisements. BSN places advertisements in Hers. Tiffany Gaston, the only NPC amateur to appear on the cover in the last two years, is also sponsored by BSN.

"The whole thing is tied together. [For] the editorial content we [had] to feature, we talked about girls that were models for supplement companies that were in [advertisements] in the magazine already," says Amy Wolff. "It's like one big mafia organization," she adds. "There are no black sheep of this industry. If you aren't in with those people you aren't gonna go anywhere."

"To my knowledge, no athlete has ever been on the cover because of an advertiser contract," says Perine.

"The choice for a cover comes first, and then the ad team…take[s] advantage of this person and their situation to make added revenue," says Chris Scardino, executive vice president of Active Lifestyle Group Publishing at AMI. In terms of Amanda Latona and BSN, Scardino says, "I tried to get them to run more pages [when Latona was on the cover], but they wouldn't. BSN as a brand is spending less money in print than before. We chose her because of her ability to sell magazines."


But Hers photography director Tony Nolan says that bias is still present at American Media. "We can't use some women from specific supplement brands because we don't have a relationship with them," says Nolan. "We typically don't use people from non-IFBB [organizations] because [AMI] is tight with the IFBB thing."

During the Weider acquisition, AMI also bought the rights to Olympia Weekend, with many of its advertisers also sponsoring the event. In 2004, before the Bikini category existed, 108 companies sponsored the event, with 12,000 paying attendees. In 2014, five years after the Bikini division's introduction, 55,000 people attended, with estimated ticket sales (including additional tickets for the finals) grossing in the multi-millions. The 2014 Olympia Weekend also boasted 221 sponsors, double that of five years prior, including BSN and other AMI advertisers. American Media declined to comment on who was the largest sponsor for the event, how much companies pay to sponsor the contest and, more importantly, to be associated with the women competing in it.

The rise of Olympia's popularity (and its subsequent profits) coincides neatly with the rise of breast augmentation among competitors. "If you can put more people in seats at Olympia, and if a certain look does that, then that's where the trends goes," says Perine. Olympia Weekend also offers a wide variety of other fitness-related events, including CrossFit and MMA, and has ramped up their social media marketing, which may also play a role in its increased popularity, says AMI. "Women aren't that big an influence over its growth," says Scardino.


Making money isn't an immoral ambition, but American Media, Inc. is still reinforcing the augmented standard for women set forth by the IFBB. Regardless of if they feel it's beyond their control, the undercurrent for their continued profits is breast implants—a burden carried solely by its female competitors. These women are backed into a corner, with only one option that will allow them to do better in a sport they love, a sport they get validation from, and a sport that has come to define them as people.

"I've never heard this brought up. I scratch my head and wonder why there is a question. I don't understand honestly," says Scardino. "I don't think [breast augmentation] is relevant in how we go about our business."

A few months after earning her pro card in 2011, Dana Linn Bailey became sponsored by Maximum Human Performance (MHP), her first endorsement by a large-scale supplement company. It was something that she had to seek out. "I didn't get photoshoots, I didn't get big magazine coverage," she says about turning pro. "I wanted that validation factor." A friend introduced her to people at MHP and, in 2012, she was officially sponsored.

After being crowned Ms. Olympia in 2013, a monumental feat, Bailey was still shunned by the media. "I won the first ever Physique Olympia and no magazine came to shoot me," she says. "In the past few years, I've only been in Muscle & Fitness Hers once—a tiny photo in the back. Nothing major at all," she adds. "I don't fit their type, which is definitely more of the Bikini look."

Around the same time she signed with MHP, in late 2011, Bailey and her husband, Rob, started their own clothing line, Flag Nor Fail. During the proceeding two years, with Bailey's rise to fame on social media, the benefits of her business started to outshine the obligations of sponsorship. "I don't like being told what to do, what to say, what to wear," Bailey says. "[Rob and I] felt we could do more, and be more, without a supplement sponsor. It's not worth having my image being controlled by someone else."

Since parting from MHP in March 2014, Bailey has been offered top-of-the-line endorsement deals, some with $250,000 paychecks. "We have turned down every supplement sponsor that has approached us," she says. "People respect me more because I'm not with a supplement company. It makes it so you are completely honest. Money is not a driving factor for us. The driving factor has been following our heart."

Despite her lack of traditional media glamorization and global sponsorships, Bailey has built her personal business into a lucrative operation. She and her husband own their own gym as well as two Porsches (a 911 and a Cayman), each plastered with Flag Nor Fail stickers. They even got to cruise the Las Vegas strip with them last September before the 2014 Ms. Olympia, pounding on the gas in the 100-degree heat with the windows open—a little freedom before Bailey took the stage to defend her title.

Dana and Rob flew out to Las Vegas on a Monday for that Friday's contest. Getting there early allowed them to acclimate and prepare: finding a grocery store and a nearby gym, as well as allowing Dana's body to properly deflate after mild swelling during the six-hour flight. Instead of staying at the Olympia's host hotel, The Orleans, they chose another resort where they could have privacy. "It's a long, rolling 20 weeks before the Olympia," she says. "The last week, I just like to relax, and be secluded and peaceful."

On Wednesday, Rob accompanied Dana to her morning cardio workout at a gym down the road. She carried a coffee as they walked, the early-morning sun splashing over the eastern horizon. The day's plan was mellow: hit the gym, get a massage, go grocery shopping, watch television, and practice her on-stage posing maneuvers—moving from muscle group to muscle group, tensing and flexing.

On Friday, Dana and Rob showed up a couple hours before the start of the show, Rob getting a spot in the crowd while Dana went backstage to prepare her suit and makeup. A small clique, the women in her division exchanged words of encouragement as well as light critiques on suit positioning and last-minute makeup changes. The women got final touch-up spray tans as the prep-period dwindled.

Dana calmed her nerves by doing push-ups and some shoulders raises with a resistance band. A light pump-up, she called it. The contest is a two-day endeavor, and on the first day the women are required to be on stage alone, with no music, cycling through mandatory poses for the judges to evaluate. As it crept closer to being Dana's turn, with Rob in the front of the audience, she stood offstage in silence and imagined each pose, each position, each muscle. Her heart raced. Her breath quickened. They called her name and she stepped into the spotlights. "Once I'm on stage," she says, "everything disappears."

At the end of the second day of competition, Bailey again found herself one of the last two competitors on stage. "In my head, I thought I had it," Bailey says. "I was considered the standard. I came in looking 10 percent better than I did last year. I thought I nailed it."

As both women stood at the front of the stage in a full-body flex, 20 weeks worth of effort carved into arms and legs, Bailey was called as the runner-up. Juliana Malacarne had taken the title as the 2014 Ms. Olympia in Physique. Malacarne, from Brazil, is famed for her flowing blonde hair, curvy hips, dense muscularity, and breast implants. ("I know Juliana personally and [I] really admire her dedication and the physique she built. I think Hers readers would be very interested in reading about her—learning from her," says Shawn Perine. "She's a very knowledgeable and inspiring person.")

"Was I disappointed? Yes," says Bailey. "But I also felt happy because I knew what it felt like to win, and [Malacarne] was going through that, just like I had the year before. Our body types are just completely different. And the judges went with her look."

After collecting her runner up prize atop the podium, Bailey walked off stage to meet her husband. Among all the press, it took a few minutes before they found each other. They brushed off photographers and embraced one another. "To me, I had already won," she says. "The biggest competition is with myself. And I only compete with myself. At the end of the day, it's me. Only me."