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Betty Pariso posing at the 2001 Extravaganza Strength Contest
A bodybuilder poses at the London Classic and Stars of Tomorrow, November 2007
Pro bodybuilder Nikki Fuller performs a side chest pose.
Female bodybuilding is the female component of competitive bodybuilding. It began in the late 1970s when women began to take part in bodybuilding competitions.
Physique contests for women date back to at least the 1960s with contests like Miss Physique, Miss Body Beautiful U.S.A., W.B.B.G. and Miss Americana, I.F.B.B.. Maria Elena Alberici, as listed in the Almanac of Women’s Bodybuilding, won two national titles in one year: Miss Body Beautiful U.S.A. in 1972, promoted by Dan Lourie and Miss Americana in 1972, promoted by Joe Weider. Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a judge at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York when Maria Elena Alberici (aka) Maria Lauren won Miss Americana. The first U.S. Women’s National Physique Championship, promoted by Henry McGhee and held in Canton, Ohio in 1978, is generally regarded as the first true female bodybuilding contest – that is, the first contest where the entrants were judged solely on muscularity (Todd, 1999).
More contests started to appear in 1979. Some of these were the following:
The second U.S. Women’s National Physique Championship, won by Kay Baxter, with Marilyn Schriner second and Cammie Lusko third.
The first IFBB Women’s World Body Building Championship, held on June 16, won by Lisa Lyon, followed by Claudia Wilbourn, Stella Martinez, Stacey Bentley, and Bette Brown.
The Best In The World contest, held at Warminster, PA on August 18, featuring a ,000 prize fund, with ,500 awarded for first place. Patsy Chapman was the winner, followed by April Nicotra, Bentley, Brown, and Carla Dunlap. (Levin, 1980)
The Robby Robinson Classic, held at the Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles on August 25. Bentley finished first, also winning best legs and best poser, followed by Brown, Lusko, and Georgia Miller. (Roark, 2005)
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 1980.
1980 – the start of the modern era
The National Physique Committee (NPC) held the first women’s Nationals in 1980. Since its inception, this has been the top amateur level competition for women in the US. Laura Combes won the inaugural contest.
The first World Couples Championship was held in Atlantic City on April 8. The winning couple was Stacey Bentley and Chris Dickerson, with April Nicotra and Robby Robinson in second. Bentley picked up her third consecutive victory in the Frank Zane Invitational on June 28, ahead of Rachel McLish, Lynn Conkwright, Suzy Green, Patsy Chapman, and Georgia Miller Fudge.
1980 was also the year of the first Ms. Olympia (initially known as the “Miss” Olympia), the most prestigious contest for professionals. 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 first winner was Rachel McLish who had also won the NPC’s USA Championship earlier in the year. 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.