Two words that almost didn’t seem to go together, female bodybuilding, is more heard of today and
has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings in the 1970s. However, physique contests
for women still have a long way to go when compared to the recognition and sponsorship that their
male counterparts enjoy.
Muscular development was the single factor chosen to judge the earliest female bodybuilding
contests. Most of the first contests held in the United States in the 1970s had the feminine but
muscular contestants strutting their stuff in high-heeled shoes. There were certain restrictions
to female bodybuilding Championships such as prohibition of certain poses which were deemed
too “manly”. Essentially these contests, held under sponsorship by independent promoters, were
more or less like today’s beauty contests except that the women were exhibiting their muscularity
while being femininely clad in bikinis.
The 1980s were better times for female bodybuilding as it gained relatively more prominence and
acceptance as a sport. “Ms. Olympia” was one of the most remarkable contests held for female
bodybuilding professionals. Cory Everson was one of the most famous Ms. Olympia winners.
She won six times and retired as the only female bodybuilding champion to remain undefeated.
As female bodybuilding gained popularity, the contestants were exposed to better standards of
training, especially weight training. Former winners started to spread the word and helped increase
the popularity of the sport.
The 1990s began the era of televised female bodybuilding contests. There were also certain
controversies that marred some of the championships. Subsequently, female bodybuilding again
suffered a lull phase. It is no secret that it was never able to measure up to the standards of
traditional bodybuilding. Fitness publications and diet companies still favor the male bodybuilders.
Most female bodybuilders struggled to find their own identity while being labeled “too muscular”
and “lacking the feminine edge”. Social stigma and the pressure to be appealing in a feminine way
continue to haunt women wanting to participate in female bodybuilding.
In the early days, it was difficult for society to accept the vision of a woman posing her body in a bid
to show off her muscles. They were instantly discouraged from trying to imitate the men in their
sport. However, even with the acceptance of female bodybuilding some of the prejudices remain.
Judging parameters often put the burden of deciding about “feminine quality” on the judges, even
with all the muscularity on display. Contestants to this day suffer from the inconsistent judging and
are often confused about meeting the expectations of being adequately muscular but not masculine.
Female bodybuilding training is much more advanced these days with trainers ensuring that
the contestants are instilled not only with the physical and mental discipline but also advice on
dealing with the politics in the contests. A support crew of advisors inspires contestants to get
over comments like being “too big” and a scanty turnout of fans in the hope that one day female
bodybuilding will also break the proverbial glass ceiling.