'I couldn't stop eating afterwards': Instagram star reveals the dark side to bikini competitions

‘It took me about a year and a half to get over competing’

Every year more than 600 women line up side by side on a stage where they will be judged on their appearance – wearing nothing more than a bikini and a pair of high heels.

What might sound like a perverse, rights-deprived, dystopian beauty pageant is actually a popular bodybuilding competition that fashions itself as a “sport”, with competitors often referring to themselves as “athletes”.

The United Kingdom Bodybuilding & Fitness Federation (UKBFF) organises a huge number of competitions throughout the year, but it’s the bikini-fitness category that is widely-known for pushing first-timers to their physical and psychological limits.

Chessie King and Oenone Forbat are two one-time competitors, who spoke to The Independent about the severe impact that competing had on their mental wellbeing.

What is a bikini competition?

“Bikini-Fitness is a category where the athlete shows on stage that she has trained hard, keeps fit and lives a healthy lifestyle,” explains a UKBFF spokesperson.

The events are divided into three further categories: juniors (16-23 years); masters (35 years and above); and Rookie, which is for first-time competitors only.

There are 21 events in total this year, plus the British Championships, for which only the top three from each will qualify. According to UKBFF, the majority of competitors are in their twenties.

Why do it?

For fitness Instagrammer and presenter Chessie King, it was simply about taking on a new challenge.

“It was like a science experiment to see how I could change my body. I learnt so much about training and nutrition,” the 24-year-old told The Independent.

Her plan was to show young girls that they could transform their bodies simply by eating right and working out.

However, her good intentions backfired when she realised how obsessive her regime became, admitting that she became addicted to working out and eating right.

What does it take?

“To compete, the girls have to embark on a calorie-controlled diet,” explained the UKBFF spokesperson. Typically, this is maintained by cutting out major food groups like gluten and / or dairy.

“They still have to eat very healthy food, like chicken, rice, fish, sweet potato etc, in small meals,” they said.

“Competing is not easy in any sport, and it takes dedication and willpower. It takes courage to go on stage and show the audience what you have achieved. Our advice is to always enjoy it.”

While the intention might seem innocent enough, the reality is far darker, with King recalling girls backstage suffering from intense exhaustion due to their highly restrictive diets.

“None of them had any energy. All of them were drinking red wine to dehydrate. They were so drained and it was just so sad to see them.

“It’s a lifestyle for people but it’s not healthy,” explained King, who has been working with Powwownow to promote body confidence.

Neither King nor Forbat ranked in the top three for their respective competitions, with King being told that she was carrying “too much water weight” and Forbat told she was too muscular for the bikini category.

“It was awfully difficult putting so much pressure on my aesthetics for a prolonged period of time. You are focussed so much on the process, but at the end of the day you are literally just being judged on how you look – the judges don’t care how you got there,” Forbat told The Independent.

What support is provided?

Aside from routine drug tests, there’s no official pre-care on offer.

However, UKBFF do run posing courses which competitors can pay for, in which the girls are taught “the proper way to stand and act on stage to show off their symmetry, shape and toned body,” explained the UKBFF spokesperson.

“We do correct them on stage if they stand wrong,” they said.

For Forbat, who runs a fitness and lifestyle Instagram account, not having a coach was extremely challenging. “I was not entirely sure about how to go about things,” she told The Independent, revealing that she felt very much left to her own devices throughout, prepping for just six weeks in total.

Both King and Forbat expressed a deficiency in post-competition care too, with King citing this as “the hardest part”.

Each of them admitting to bingeing on unhealthy amounts of sugary foods once they’d competed.

“I literally couldn’t wait to have a bag of white chocolate buttons,” said King, who headed straight to the food shops following her competition. “I ate them before we’d even gotten round the supermarket. I showed the guy at the till my packet and he was like, ‘Have you just eaten that whole family bag?’

“I had to really learn to find that control again,” she said, revealing that it took her a year and a half to fully get back to a healthy relationship with food and exercise.

Forbat was similarly indulgent, confessing that post-competition she “had no control” and “just couldn’t stop eating” for months afterwards.

When The Independent asked UKBFF if they believed that their competitions were ethical, they responded with: “Not sure what you mean with this.”

Would they do it again?

“It certainly is not a healthy lifestyle for anyone, constantly putting your body under stress both during prep and off season,” explained Forbat.

“I personally would never compete again. I don’t think that I would gain anything from it and it definitely affected my mind set negatively afterwards when I was putting on weight.”

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