By: Karen Mason, WNBF Pro. and Judge
There has always been heaps of controversy concerning what class women should compete in. Judges seems to disagree on what the difference is, so how on earth a competitor is supposed to know is beyond me! What I hope to achieve by writing this is a talking point for judges and competitors alike so there can be some sort of guide line that is clear rather than a mish-mash of personal views leaving women not knowing what class they should compete in or worse, competing in both figure and physique leaving the audience even more confused !!
The only federations that seem to have this a bit more sussed are the non-drug tested ones. The physique women are big and muscular and the figure girls are smaller, easy. However, there is a touch of confusion where fitness sits, with what's looked for and how it's judged, but with regards to figure and physique the line is clearer. For the drug-tested federations it all goes a bit wonky. I have watched shows, even judged shows where a woman is in both figure and physique; sometimes they are in the fitness class too !! All of this leads to yet more confusion, which must in the end lead to less women competing, not the right outcome at all.
The 'rulebook' says something along the lines of a figure competitor is to show, femininity, athletic muscularity, more softness than a physique competitor and open hand poses, all of which can be interpreted in to many things depending on your own personal view of what is feminine, athletic and softer. Are they saying that physique competitors aren't feminine or athletic? Have a look at some female athletes, the ones that run 100 metres for example many are very muscular so what does athletic mean? Confused yet???
I believe that there are so many different women's classes in body building shows to try to encourage more women to compete, but every time you look at a message board on any body building forum web site women still don't know what is asked of them, to tell you the truth after judging shows for a while as I have many of the judges disagree too. So where does that leave us? I have a thought on this one, introduce just one other class Novice Women, then the guide lines for the other classes can be clearer. If there are Novice women then anyone unsure of where they should be goes in that class, just like the men do. If a man has competed before he knows what he looks like, how much he weighs, what the judges are looking for in the particular federation so next year he has a standard to set himself, why not the same for women?
Most competitors don't know how they are going to look on stage until it's very close to the show, unless you are gifted with being a lean person naturally, and most women aren't. So you set a goal for yourself, train and diet and then are able to look in the mirror to see what they have created. For example I have competed in ANB, BNBF, WNBF Physique shows doing quite well and a NABBA figure doing poorly but in the same year I won the ANB British final. I wasn't marked down in the NABBA show for being too muscular, or too lean I just wasn't the sort of shape they were looking for, looking at the line up I didn't look too different for a lot of the girls but my shape once dieted was different, let me explain.
Many women carry a higher density of fat around their bum and thighs than anywhere else, myself included, so when I diet I have to get very lean on my upper body to start even looking like my lower body has dieted so by the time I'm a few weeks away from getting up on stage the look I have is possibly more 'muscular' than 'athletic' on my top half when my bottom half is still a bit soft. Now depending on the density of the amount of fat you carry depends on how much you have to loose to be able to walk on stage without any jiggling going on around your bum and thighs. If I was to go on stage with a top half that might do OK in a figure show the bottom half of me would be laughed off stage for being fat.
Once the bottom half of me is lean enough to step on stage it's too lean to be accepted as athletic it's seen as muscular. I'm not meaning this because I'm particularly muscular, as I'm not by any means, it's just because my body is made up in such a way that I need to be lean to be able to step on stage looking OK where as some women's body fat is more evenly distributed over their entire body so this gives them a 'softer' look.
The point I'm trying to make is that for women it's your body type rather than your own personal choice that will determine whether you are a figure or physique competitor, and you wont know that until you have dieted for the first time. If you know you want to compete in the physique class and diet accordingly but maybe haven't trained for too long so the muscularity isn't as good other woman on stage then 9 times out of 10 you'll find these women going into the figure class, not getting anywhere because they are too lean and you never see them on stage again, which isn't good.
If there were a novice class for these women to compete in then they would be standing on a more equal stage rather than with women who have competed many times and make the 'new girls' look like they haven't been in the gym. Tell me how many men would put themselves on stage for the first time next to an experience heavy weight just because they were tall and big, they wouldn't, they'd be straight in the novice class but we expect our women to do this and wonder why they don't try again.
Enough regarding figure & physique, on to Fitness, again controversy, this time regardless of if you are in a drug tested show or not. Most judges seem to be looking for a figure shape that has a dance or preferably a gymnastics background. If you have the leanness of a physique competitor and the body type of a fitness model, by that I mean long limbs, elegant and beautiful, and can do a good routine you're a winner, oh and in some cases you have to be physically fit too as there might be a fitness test thrown in.
The saddest thing I think I've seen on stage, and unfortunately I've seen this more times than I'd like to have done, is a woman thinking they can dance entering a fitness class and creating a routine that makes them look like a poor pole dancer, may be some men might disagree on this one, but if you can do the splits and wiggle your bum doesn't mean you can step up on stage with a ex-gymnast or dancer and expect to do well. I'm not being disrespectful to pole dancers here, just the wanna-bee's !!
So to conclude: If you are the organiser of a federation and want more women to compete then add a Women's' Novice class to your show program and keep weight classes in the show regardless of how many competitors you have in the show. If you need to put them all up on stage at the same time then so be it but, judge them separately, not everyone will feel OK standing next to some one much bigger than themselves regardless of condition.
If you are a potential first time competitor, diet early enough to see how your body looks in comparison with past winner of the show you want to enter in time, to then enter the right class. Have a routine that suits the class you are entering, do your homework here, there are many videos of past shows to be had. If you are sure you have a physique shape and leanness but there isn't a novice class enter the physique class not the figure and vice versa. Only enter a fitness class if your routine is good enough to do so not just because you think it is. If you are a show organiser don't be shy to suggest that a competitor should enter the class you think they should, guide them with your experience, don't just leave them to the wolves!