For as long as women’s figure has been around, there has been much confusion among competitors across all organizations with regards to what judges look for specifically. Should the most muscular woman on stage win? What about the leanest? Should really skinny women do well? Are six-packs necessary to win? What follows should clear up most of the confusion.
Since the IDFA’s core values focus primarily on drug-free competition, women’s figure becomes comparable to bodybuilding. To retain their femininity, however, women’s physiques are displayed via quarter turns rather than mandatory bodybuilding poses. According to the IDFA’s rules, figure competitors are defined as lean, healthy-looking, female athletes . . . with muscle. I mentioned in “Judging Men’s Bodybuilding in the IDFA” that the judging of physiques is very subjective in nature. So, to ensure consistency across the entire organization, the IDFA has guidelines and basic definitions that each judge is required to follow. According to the IDFA rules, women’s figure is assessed based on the following criteria:
Muscular development: This relates to both muscle size and muscle shape. Although judges are looking for a muscular physique, it is important that the athletes still look feminine. Therefore, excessive muscularity should be avoided as it will take away from that feminine look.
Muscle definition: This relates to how lean a muscle is. The absence of subcutaneous body fat and subcutaneous water helps show the degree of muscularity.
Figure competitors should be lean enough to display the shape of the muscles and show light separations between the major muscle groups. However, looking excessively lean and hard will take away from a woman’s femininity. Deep muscle separations, striations, and excessive vascularity should be avoided.
Symmetry: The athlete should display an equal balance of muscle development and muscle definition between all muscle groups. This means there should be an appropriate balance between the left side and the right side of the body, the upper body compared to the lower body, and the front compared to the back.
Stage presence: This relates to the overall presentation of the athlete, including confidence, poise, skin tone, makeup, suit selection, and execution of the quarter turns.
No physique is perfect. With competitors presenting different strengths and weaknesses and displaying various degrees of muscle definition and muscularity, judges need to decide which combination of muscular development, muscle definition, and symmetry looks best onstage at the time competitors are assessed. Similarly to men’s bodybuilding, stage presence can give figure competitors an edge when things get really close.
Competitors are compared against each other and ranked accordingly. Just as when they are assessing bodybuilding, if ranking is close between two competitors, judges start comparing the overall structure and balance between the two. At this point symmetry and overall shape become key factors. If a competitor displays greater flaws (e.g., poor shoulder development, legs aren’t quite as lean as the rest of the body, wider midsection, etc.), then the edge generally goes to the other competitor. If the overall balance and symmetry is comparable between the two physiques, then the judges might need to decide if one’s muscularity takes over the other’s muscle definition. As already mentioned, if things are extremely close, then stage presence can certainly be the deciding factor.
As simple as it sounds, it’s not always easy when it’s time to make decisions. The process can become quite complicated with large line-ups or when line-ups have several competitors with very similar physiques. It also needs to be done in a timely manner and the rankings need to be accurate.
Competitors are always encouraged to approach the judges immediately following the contest for feedback. This gives them an opportunity to learn about their strengths and flaws so they can figure out where they should focus their efforts for future competitions.
. . . Steve Duperre, IDFA Pro
Note: Steve Duperre is a lifetime natural competitor, a pro bodybuilder in the IDFA, and the head judge for the IDFA. The IDFA is Canada’s top physique organization featuring men’s and women’s competitions.