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Female Bodybuilders; The Beginning

Updated on August 12, 2013

April Nicotra was a winner of Miss Americana

1977, April Nocotra
1977, April Nocotra

Womens Bodybuilding

Female bodybuilding was beginning to gain popularity in the 1970s, however, the contests that were for women bodybuilders were a mix of women who were taking the sport seriously and women who were just looking for a little publicity. There were no real guidelines, and no formality as far as what the goal of the competitions were. The contests that women bodybuilders were competing in during the 70s was called the Miss Americana competition, Miss United States, and Miss Eastern America. Most of these contests were held in New York.

There were several judges who began to realize that something had to be done for those female bodybuilders who were serious athletes.

The International Federation of bodybuilders had established itself as the number one bodybuilding organization in the world but even there it seemed the main effort was to put male bodybuilding on the map. Ben Weider made one stipulation as for as the IFBB Women Bodybuilder's Association was concerned. It was to make certain that the women who competed in events sponsored by the WBA all trained with weights. Clearly the plan was to spread the good word of female bodybuilding by offering the best developed figures in America as proof of the wonders of exercising with barbells and dumbbells.

The events were advertised in Muscle Builder magazine and female bodybuilders wrote back stating that they would be competing. The day of the event the girls showed up to be judged. Simple as that.

It was a mixed bag when it came to physical appearance. Many of the contestants had no right to be in a contest for beautifully developed bodies at all.

Patsy Chapman wins "Best In the World" title

April Nicotra, Patsy Chapman, Stacey Bentley, and Carla Dunlap.
April Nicotra, Patsy Chapman, Stacey Bentley, and Carla Dunlap.

Real Women Bodybuilders

As part of the new system of attracting quality women, the girls who planned on competing were required to send a recent photograph as a method of presenting only athletic looking girls. The Weider brothers were very interested in showing the public what bodybuilding could to for the female physique, and wanted the general public to have a positive attitude toward the sport.

The title of this very serious female bodybuilding contest would be called, "Best in the World," as women who had won other physique contests would be competing. The contestants were asked to perform repetitions in bench press and barbell presses weighted about half of their own body weight. Most of the girls who were competing for the Best in the World title were beautiful advertisements for female bodybuilding.

They were asked not to strike muscle poses that one thinks of when viewing make counterparts, and most of the women followed these rules. There were a few rebels who did not follow this request. One of these women even kicked off her shoes and proceeded to strike a number of muscle poses reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The title of this contest went to a beautiful young woman named Patsy Chapman.

Female bodybuilding was now off to a great start.

Miss Olympia 1980

Best in the World resulted in guest appearances for contestants and the Weider brothers on talk shows, and a heap of interviews, product promotions and magazine sales. The next move was to continue the enthusiasm and excitement. A contest that would be the true female bodybuilders version of the male gold standard; Mr. Olympia, would be launched. Who would be the woman to win the first Miss Olympia title?

After all the buzz connected to the Best in the World contest, women now knew what was expected of them. The shrewd bodybuilding campaign for the 1980 Miss Olympia contest was already under way when Best in the World was coming to a close.

Patsy Chapman and April Nicotra would get themselves in the most beautiful and muscular shape of their lives for the most coveted title in female bodybuilding. It is at this point in women's bodybuilding that many people became turned off due to the new similarities to male bodybuilding. These contestants had a very low body fat percentage, trained hard with weights and many resembled young athletic boys.

While the title and much accolades would go to a very feminine, yet extremely muscular woman, Rachel McLish, it would not be long before the square hips, huge biceps and thick waists would gain favor in female bodybuilding.

Ms. Olympia & Ms. Fitness

April Nicotra and Patsy Champman had not even placed in the Miss Olympia contest. Things had changed so rapidly that fast. Many of the women who competed in female bodybuilding contests prior to Miss Olympia quit after not placing because they were disenchanted with the direction of the sport imitating their male counterparts.

In the late 1980s after female bodybuilding had become a cone of male bodybuilding only with bikini tops, some attempts at bringing back femininity to female physique contests were made. Ms. Fitness was the answer for women who valued their feminine attributes and whished to compete in an athletic physique contest. Ms. Fitness began with ultra feminine, beautiful shaped women who worked out with weights and has degenerated into another muscle freak show with bikini tops and high heels. What will be next?

Rachel McLish, Flex Appeal on Amazon

Rachel McLish Miss Olympia 1980

The First Miss Olympia
The First Miss Olympia


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    • maalarue profile image

      John Mark 

      5 years ago from Texas

      I had totally forgotten about Rachel McLish. Corey Everson was also a favorite. Thanks for a great read.

    • chuckd7138 profile image

      Charles Dawson 

      6 years ago from Bartow, FL

      I've always been fascinated by those in the bodybuilding lifestyle and the ones that compete within it. Even with the concentration heavily on the men, I've been extra intrigued by the women that compete. For some reason, I find them very attractive. I've read many articles over the last couple of decades, but this hub contained information that I've never read before. I like that. This is very informative. Very much voted up. Great work.

    • GlstngRosePetals profile image


      6 years ago from Wouldn't You Like To Know

      Loved the article ! I'm not much on the bodybuilding but i do like to stay fit and tone. I guess i still like to look like a lady. Great hub. Voted up!!

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 

      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Tremendously interesting Hub. I gave up on the female bodybuilders when they began to take on the "man" muscles -- women can have beautiful, non-masculine bodies and be toned to perfection. I'd love to see this come back into vogue but alas, probably not. Best/Sis

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Another good hub on female bodybuilders, Skarlet. I think they do have to be admired for their hard work in getting into this shape.


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