Skip to main content

Women Bodybuilders: The First Ms. Olympia

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Skarlet writes about famous (and infamous) people, business development, medicine, physical education, beauty, fashion, and crafts.

1980s female bodybuilders

1980s female bodybuilders

Rachel McLish- The Original Woman Bodybuilder

There were several well-known women who lifted weights in the 50s and 60s, but they never brought barbell popularity to the average woman. It would take a beautiful, motivated and intelligent woman from Texas named Rachel McLish to drive home the message in the 1980s before the average woman would go to a public gym.

Rachel McLish was very active as a child and had the desire to become a ballet dancer. During her mid-teens she took some time off from dancing to pursue other sports and decided that the time she had taken away from the discipline of ballet meant that she would never be a great dancer.

As a sophomore at Pan American University in 1976, she was quickly getting out of shape while studying for her degree and decided to attend a local gym in an effort to look better. Rachel had never been to a gym before and literally fell in love with the atmosphere immediately.

She went from having skinny limbs and too much body fat to having a firm, well-toned feminine body. Eventually, she was instructing others in the techniques of bodybuilding, and encouraging women to embrace their femininity and not be afraid of becoming too muscular.

Rachel won several physique contests and eventually won the Miss Olympia title.

During the early 80s, Rachel was consistently winning or coming in a close second at the Ms. Olympia contests. Whether she won or finished second, she was undoubtedly the most popular female bodybuilder in the world. She had the physique that inspired normal, everyday women to want to gain more muscle and add healthy curves to their bodies. This is probably the healthiest trend that has ever happened in the realm women's diets and beauty trends.

After "Pumping Iron II, The Women," in which she lost to Carla Dunlap, Rachel focused on doing promotions, a clothing line, fitness books, and an occasional movie.

Female bodybuilders in the 80s

Female bodybuilders in the 80s

Cory Everson bulked up

Cory Everson bulked up

Cory Everson

After Rachel, the most popular female bodybuilder has to be Cory Everson. Cory was competing in the early 80s in smaller competitions and gained national attention in 1984 when Rachel had left the scene to make the rounds of talk shows. Everson won Ms. Olympia six years in a row, and she enjoyed a movie and television career after her retirement from competitive bodybuilding.

Fans of the "feminine look" were not impressed with Cory's extreme bulking up that she displayed in her later Olympia years. Steroid use was rampant in female bodybuilding and those who appreciated this sport as a clean, and natural competition, have shunned the overly bulked up and unnatural appearance that slowly developed in this sport on the women's and on the men's side.

Ms. Fitness

With all the modern emphasis on making women's bodybuilding contests exactly the same as men's bodybuilding contests, there were enough people who missed seeing the original balletic and graceful lines that were present in the earlier women's bodybuilding shows to come up with a "feminine" version of bodybuilding.

Ms. Fitness became the answer to natural bodybuilding and also featured high heels, which went out of style in the late 70s and early 80s.

Women's bodybuilding battled sexual confusion issues from the beginning. There are always hardcore fans at any bodybuilding contest who want to see the ultimate in freak show muscularity, but they were clashing with connoisseurs of the fine art of sculpture. There had to be a difference between males and females to give the sport overall acceptance. It also had to reflect womanhood, rather than a display of the most un-womanly women on the planet to grow a more mainstream audience.

Somehow the sport got away from the judges and sports enthusiasts to become exactly what Ben Weider had feared; a side show display of masculine women drugged into an extreme state.

Ms. Fitness was originally titled Miss Fitness in the mid-'80s, and evolved with growing popularity after the Ms. Olympia contests discovered "the juice."

The first "official" Ms. Fitness as it relates today, was opened in 1993 and was taped for the first time in 1994 as an internationally syndicated special.

Sherry Goggin is the most popular model to win the Ms. Fitness contest and was featured in numerous magazines while making a presence on talk shows of the time. She was the Rachel McLish of the '90s, and is still the most photographed fitness model in the world.

Sherry Goggin

Sherry Goggin

Women's Bodybuilding

  • Women Bodybuilders
    Women's bodybuilding began in the '50s with Betty Weider, who began as Betty Brosmer, and Peggy Stockton, the ideal curvy woman.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Charles Dawson from Bartow, FL on November 04, 2012:

Another great article about women's bodybuilding, and I absolutely love that picture of Cory Everson. Awesome work, Skarlet!

James A Watkins from Chicago on October 05, 2012:

Yes, I agree with you that the situation got out of hand. In the first photo at the top of this page, Rachel Mclish looks awesome. But in my opinion that Everson chick looks gross. Ugh!

Thanks for a thought-provoking Hub. I enjoyed it.

Dianna Mendez on September 02, 2012:

I remember the time when women were into this sport. I think some women have too much muscle, but I'll bet they are pretty strong. Goggin is such a great example of how wonderful a strong, muscled woman can look. Good story and so interesting.

Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on September 02, 2012:

It's great to know about the great fitness models, thanks, voted interesting

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on September 02, 2012:

I remember women's body building in the 80s, and I was a big fan of Rachel McLish; she had incredible grace and exquisite beauty. It was an interesting era for body building and women's body building in particular and I like how you broke down how it evolved.

The Logician from then to now on on September 02, 2012:

I'm not sure what to say! Should I go with my primal instinct or filter that through my politically ideological mind. Oh, what the hey!! CAN I HAVE ONE?

hmmmmm...that's better, I can think clearly now. Voted Up and uh, uh, nothing else really applies.

Does steroids have anything to do with this?