Origins[ edit ] Female bodybuilding originally developed as an outgrowth of not only the late nineteenth-century European vaudeville and circus strongwomen acts, Bernarr Macfadden 's turn of the century women's physique competitions, and the weightlifting of Abbye "Pudgy" Stockton , but also as an outgrowth of the men's bodybuilding.
The contest formats of men's events during the s to the mids had often been supplemented with either a women's beauty contest or bikini show. These shows "had little to do with women's bodybuilding as we know it today, but they did serve as beginning or, perhaps more properly, as a doormat for the development of future bodybuilding shows.
Maria Elena Alberici , as listed in the Almanac of Women's Bodybuilding, won two national titles in one year: Miss Body Beautiful U. Henry McGhee, described as the "primary architect of competitive female bodybuilding", was an employee of the Downtown Canton YMCA , carried a strong belief that women should share the opportunity to display their physiques and the results of their weight training the way men had done for years.
The first official female bodybuilding competition was held in Canton, Ohio, in November and was called the Ohio Regional Women's Physique Championship. It was judged strictly as a bodybuilding contest and was the first event of its kind for women. Gina LaSpina, the champion, is considered the first recognized winner of a woman's bodybuilding contest. The event organizer, McGhee, told the competitors that they would be judged "like the men," with emphasis on muscular development, symmetry, and physique presentation.
It was considered the forerunner for the Ms. Although sanctioned as a bodybuilding contest, women were required to appear on stage in high heels. Doris Barrilleaux found the Superior Physique Association SPA in , the first women's bodybuilding organization run for women and by women. She also began publishing the SPA News, a newsletter dedicated exclusively to female bodybuilding. SPA disseminated information to women about contests and proper training and dieting.
On April 29, , SPA held Florida's first official women's contest in which thirteen women competed. The winner of the show was Laura Combes. Some of these were the following: Bentley finished first, also winning best legs and best poser, followed by Brown, Lusko, and Georgia Miller. Roark, Although these early events were regarded as bodybuilding contests, the women wore high-heeled shoes , and did not clench their fists while posing.
Additionally, they were not allowed to use the three so-called "men's poses" — the double biceps, crab, and lat spread. The contests were generally held by promoters acting independently; the sport still lacked a governing body. That would change in The early s signified a transition from the fashionably thin "twiggy" body to one carrying slightly more muscle mass. Since its inception, this has been the top amateur level competition for women in the US.
Laura Combes won the inaugural contest. In , the first Ms. Olympia initially known as the "Miss" Olympia , the most prestigious contest for professional female bodybuilders, was held. Initially, the contest was promoted by George Snyder. The contestants had to send in resumes and pictures, and were hand-picked by Snyder based on their potential to be fitness role models for the average American woman.
The contest was a major turning point for the sport of women's bodybuilding. McLish turned out to be very promotable, and inspired many future competitors to start training and competing. Stacey Bentley finished in fifth place, in what turned out to be her final competition. Also in , the American Federation of Women Bodybuilders was also founded, representing a growing awareness of women bodybuilders in America.
Winning competitors such as Laurie Stark Ms. Southern States, helped to popularize the federation. She lost her Ms. Olympia crown by finishing second to Kike Elomaa in , but regained the title in A new major pro contest, the Women's Pro World Championship, was held for the first time in won by Lynn Conkwright.
Held annually through , this was the second most prestigious contest of the time. McLish added this title to her collection in George Snyder lost the rights to the Ms.
Olympia in , and after this the contestants were no longer hand-picked, but instead qualified for the Ms. Olympia through placings in lesser contests. This trend started to emerge in Dunlap possessed a more muscular physique than either McLish or Elomaa, and though she never repeated her successes of , she would remain competitive for the rest of the decade.
At 5'9" and pounds, Everson's physique set a new standard. She would go on to win six consecutive Ms. Olympia titles from to before retiring undefeated as a professional, the only female bodybuilder ever to accomplish this. During this period, women's bodybuilding was starting to achieve some serious mainstream exposure.
In , a movie called Pumping Iron II: The Women was released. This film documented the preparation of several women for the Caesars Palace World Cup Championship. At the time, Francis was actually a powerlifter , though she soon made a successful transition to bodybuilding, becoming one of the leading competitors of the late s and early s.
The main theme of the movie pitted the sultry and curvaceous Rachel McLish, the current champion; against the super-muscular Bev Francis. This "rivalry" brought to light the true dilemma of Women's Bodybuilding and exposed the root of all the controversy aesthetics vs size which was the focal point at that time and which still continues today.
For several years in the mids, NBC broadcast coverage of the Ms. Olympia contest on their Sportsworld program. The taped footage was telecast months after the contest, and was usually used as secondary material to fill out programs featuring events such as boxing. Typically, the broadcasts included only the top several women.
The popularity was growing and women were being empowered and inspired to train. International contest was introduced in , first won by Erika Geisen. In the Amateur Athletic Union AAU , who were sanctioning amateur bodybuilding at the time, positioned the International as a premiere amateur event.
It was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Europe from France to be the featured guest poser. Since , the competition has been sanctioned by the IFBB. Since the demise of the Pro World Championship after , the Ms. International has been second in prestige only to the Ms. International was noteworthy for the fact that the original winner, Tonya Knight , was later disqualified for using a surrogate for her drug test at the Ms.
Consequently, runner-up Jackie Paisley received the title. Knight was suspended from IFBB competition through the end of , and was forced to return her prize money from the Ms. Olympia and Ms.
Olympia by achieving certain placings in lesser pro contests. However, the cancellation of the Women's Pro World contest in left only the Ms. International as a Ms. Olympia to all women with pro cards, and a field of thirty competitors entered.
Lenda Murray , a new pro from Michigan, earned a decisive victory and emerged as the successor to Cory Everson. Murray became the next dominant figure in the sport. A new professional contest, the Jan Tana Classic , was introduced in The contest was named for its promoter, a marketer of tanning products, and ran annually until with the departure of Wayne Demilia it was later briefly revived in The inaugural event was won by Sue Gafner.
The Jan Tana filled the void left by the Women's Pro World contest, and occupied the number three slot on the pro circuit throughout its lifetime. Olympia contest was the first to be televised live.
Lenda Murray faced a serious challenge from the runner-up, Bev Francis. Francis had started bodybuilding in the mids, converting over from powerlifting. Over the years, she had gradually refined her physique to be more in line with judging standards.
However, she came to the contest noticeably larger than in previous years. Francis was leading going into the night show, with Murray needing all of the first place votes to retain her title. Murray managed to do just that, winning a somewhat controversial decision by one point. In response to the increased size displayed by Murray and Francis at the previous Ms. Olympia, along with increasing drug abuse and androgenic side effects, the IFBB made an attempt to "feminize" the sport.
The IFBB, led by Ben Weider , had created a series of "femininity" rules; one line in the judging rules said that competitors should not be "too big.
The contest winner was Germany's Anja Schreiner , a blue-eyed blonde with a symmetrical physique who weighed pounds at 5'7". The announcement of her victory met with so much booing from those who prefer size over aesthetics that Arnold Schwarzenegger had to step on stage to address the audience, saying "the hell with the judges". Many observers felt that the IFBB had instructed the judges to select the most marketable aesthetic physique, not the most muscular.
International is also famous for an incident involving British competitor Paula Bircumshaw. Bircumshaw was the same height as Schreiner and possessed a similar level of symmetry and definition, but carried significantly more muscle, weighing in at pounds. She was the clear audience favorite, but was relegated to eighth place. Normally, the top ten contestants are called out at the end of the show when the winners are announced, but the judges only called back the top six, hoping to keep Bircumshaw back stage.