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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 1950s to the mid-1970s 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." 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. It was not until the late 1970s, after the advent of the feminist movement and female powerlifting events that women were seen as capable of competing in their own bodybuilding competitions.
Prior to 1977, bodybuilding had been considered strictly a male-oriented sport. 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 1977 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. In 1978, McGhee organized the first National Women's Physique Championship, along with the short-lived United States Women's Physique Association (USWPA), which he formed to help organize women interested in competing in bodybuilding. The USWPA became defunct in 1980.
On August 18, 1979, promoter George Snyder organized a "female bodybuilding" contest known as The Best in the World contest, which was the first IFBB-sanctioned event for women that awarded prize money to the top finishers, with the winner receiving $2,500. It was considered the forerunner for the Ms. Olympia competition. 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 1978, 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, 1979, SPA held Florida's first official women's contest in which thirteen women competed. The contest was held in Brandon Florida and promoted by Megas Gym and Doris Barrilleaux. The winner of the show was Laura Combes. Also in 1979, the IFBB formed the IFBB Women's Committee; Christine Zane was appointed the first chairperson to serve as head of the newly formed committee. One of the significant differences between the SPA and the IFBB was that while the IFBB was organized and run by men, the SPA was run by women and for women.
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 $5,000 prize fund, with $2,500 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.
The 1980s is when female bodybuilding first took off. The early 1980s signified a transition from the fashionably thin "twiggy" body to one carrying slightly more muscle mass. 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.
In 1980, 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 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. Also in 1980, 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, 1988) helped to popularize the federation.
Rachel McLish became the most successful competitor of the early 1980s. She lost her Ms. Olympia crown by finishing second to Kike Elomaa in 1981, but regained the title in 1982. A new major pro contest, the Women's Pro World Championship, was held for the first time in 1981 (won by Lynn Conkwright). Held annually through 1989, this was the second most prestigious contest of the time. McLish added this title to her collection in 1982. George Snyder lost the rights to the Ms. Olympia in 1982, and after this the contestants were no longer hand-picked, but instead qualified for the Ms. Olympia through placings in lesser contests. Women's bodybuilding was officially recognized as a sport discipline by the 1982 IFBB Congress in Bruges, Belgium.
As the sport grew, the competitors' level of training gradually increased as did the use of anabolic steroids (most of the competitors in the earliest shows had very little weight training experience or steroid usage), and the sport slowly evolved towards more muscular physiques. This trend started to emerge in 1983. With McLish not competing in the big shows, Carla Dunlap took both the Pro World and Ms. Olympia titles. Dunlap possessed a more muscular physique than either McLish or Elomaa, and though she never repeated her successes of 1983, she would remain competitive for the rest of the decade.
In 1984, a new force emerged in women's bodybuilding. Cory Everson won the NPC Nationals, then defeated McLish to win the Ms. Olympia. At 5'9" and 150 pounds, Everson's physique set a new standard. She would go on to win six consecutive Ms. Olympia titles from 1984 to 1989 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. Pro competitor Anita Gandol created a stir by posing for Playboy in 1984, earning a one-year suspension from the IFBB. Erika Mes, a Dutch competitor, posed nude for the Belgian issue of Playboy in September 1987, also earning a one-year suspension. Lori Bowen, winner of the 1984 Pro World Championship, appeared in a widely broadcast commercial for Miller Lite beer with Rodney Dangerfield. Additionally, competitors Lynn Conkwright (1982) and Carla Dunlap (1984) were included in ABC's Superstars competition.
In 1985, a movie called Pumping Iron II: The Women was released. This film documented the preparation of several women for the 1983 Caesars Palace World Cup Championship. Competitors prominently featured in the film were Kris Alexander, Lori Bowen, Lydia Cheng, Carla Dunlap, Bev Francis, and Rachel McLish. 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 1980s and early 1990s. 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. In 1985, the National Women's and Mixed Pairs Bodybuilding Championships were held in Detroit, Michigan by promoter/bodybuilder Gema Wheeler (Long). It was the first amateur bodybuilding event televised internationally by ESPN Sports.
For several years in the mid-1980s, 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. Nevertheless, Rachel McLish and some of her leading competitors were receiving national TV coverage. McLish authored two New York Times best-selling books - "Flex Appeal" (1984) and "Perfect Parts" (1987) – and was also starring in action films. The popularity was growing and women were being empowered and inspired to train. In 1983, the top prize money for the women bodybuilding was $50,000, equal to that of male bodybuilding.
The Ms. International contest was introduced in 1986, first won by Erika Geisen. In 1987 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. The AAU brought Serge Nubret (a former Mr. World, Mr. Universe and Mr. Europe) from France to be the featured guest poser. Since 1988, the competition has been sanctioned by the IFBB. Since the demise of the Pro World Championship after 1989, the Ms. International has been second in prestige only to the Ms. Olympia. The 1989 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 1988 Ms. Olympia contest. Consequently, runner-up Jackie Paisley received the 1989 title. Knight was suspended from IFBB competition through the end of 1990, and was forced to return her prize money from the 1988 Ms. Olympia and 1989 Ms. International, a total of $12,000 (Merritt, 2006).
Normally, competitors must qualify for the Ms. Olympia by achieving certain placings in lesser pro contests. However, the cancellation of the Women's Pro World contest in 1990 left only the Ms. International as a Ms. Olympia qualifier. Consequently, the IFBB decided to open the 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 1991. The contest was named for its promoter, a marketer of tanning products, and ran annually until 2003 with the departure of Wayne Demilia (it was later briefly revived in 2007). 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. 1991 also saw Tonya Knight return to competition, winning the Ms. International.
The 1991 Ms. Olympia contest was the first to be televised live. Lenda Murray faced a serious challenge from the 1990 runner-up, Bev Francis. Francis had started bodybuilding in the mid-1980s, 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 1991 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 1992, there was more controversy, this time at the 1992 Ms. International contest. 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." Since extreme size generally requires extreme AAS usage, with more women gaining more androgenic (masculine) side effects, this was clearly an attempt to retain a higher level of female aesthetics and maintain the standard. The judges’ guide to the competitors stated that they were looking for a highly feminine and optimally developed, but not emaciated physique. The contest winner was Germany's Anja Schreiner, a blue-eyed blonde with a symmetrical physique who weighed 130 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.
The 1992 Ms. 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 162 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. This resulted in an uproar from the crowd. With the audience chanting her name, Bircumshaw returned to the stage along with the top six competitors.
Advertising in Muscle & Fitness for the 1992 Ms. Olympia featured Schreiner prominently, relegating two-time defending champion Murray to a small "also competing" notice. Nevertheless, Murray also apparently met the "femininity" requirements, and managed to retain her title; Schreiner finished sixth, and promptly retired from competition.
Following the 1992 debacles, the judging rules were rewritten. The new rules retained provisions for aesthetics, but allowed the contests to be judged as physique contests. Lenda Murray continued to dominate the sport from 1990 to 1995, matching Cory Everson's record of six consecutive Ms. Olympia titles. Murray's closest rival was probably Laura Creavalle, who won the Ms. International title three times, and twice was runner-up to Murray at the Olympia. During this time, some additional professional shows were held, in addition to the three mainstays. The 1994 schedule included the Canada Pro Cup, won by Laura Binetti, and the first of three annual Grand Prix events in Prague, won by Drorit Kernes. In 1996, the Grand Prix in Slovakia was added. Besides providing the competitors with extra opportunities to win prize money, these contests also served as additional Ms. Olympia qualifiers.
The mid-1990s of bodybuilding was known as the "Dorian Era", AKA the "drug years". In 1996, Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls would win the Ms. Intentional and dethroned the Ms. International champion, Laura Creavalle. Also in 1996, she would unseat six-time defending champion, Lenda Murray. This was the first time a pro female bodybuilder would win both the Ms. International and Ms. Olympia in the same year. She would retain her Ms. Olympia title in 1997 against Lenda Murray, who retired afterwards. At the 1997 Ms. Olympia, she competed at 157 pounds (71 kg). In 1998, she again won the Ms. Olympia title. The 1998 contest was held in Prague, Czech Republic, the first time the competition had been held outside the United States.
The 1999 Ms. Olympia was originally scheduled to be held on October 9 in Santa Monica, California. However, one month before the scheduled date, the IFBB announced that the contest had been cancelled. The main cause was the withdrawal of promoter Jarka Kastnerova (who promoted the 1998 contest in Prague) for financial reasons, including a low number of advance ticket sales for the 1999 event. The backlash following the announcement led to a flurry of activity, with the contest being rescheduled as part of the Women's Extravaganza (promoted by Kenny Kassel and Bob Bonham) in Secaucus, New Jersey on October 2. Last minute sponsorship came from several sources, most significantly in the form of $50,000 from Flex magazine. Amid all the turmoil, Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls won her fourth consecutive title. Chizevsky-Nicholls decided to retire from bodybuilding after winning the 1999 Ms. Olympia. According to Bill Dobbins, she retired due to gender discrimination guidelines set up by the IFBB that advocated for more "femininity" and less "muscularity" in the sport.
The IFBB introduced several changes to Ms. Olympia in 2000. The first change was that Ms. Olympia contest would no longer be held as a separate contest, instead became part of the "Olympia Weekend" in Las Vegas and held the day before the men's show. The second change was when heavyweight and lightweight classes where added. The third change was the new judging guidelines for presentations were introduced. A letter to the competitors from Jim Manion (chairman of the Professional Judges Committee) stated that women would be judged on healthy appearance, face, makeup, and skin tone. The criteria given in Manion's letter included the statement "symmetry, presentation, separations, and muscularity BUT NOT TO THE EXTREME!"
Of the three pro contests held in 2000, only the Ms. International named an overall winner - Vickie Gates, who had won the contest in 1999. The Jan Tana Classic and the Ms. Olympia simply had weight class winners. With Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls retiring from bodybuilding to pursue fitness competition, the Ms. Olympia title was shared by class winners Andrulla Blanchette and Valentina Chepiga.
The 2001 pro schedule opened routinely enough, with Vickie Gates winning the Ms. International title for the third consecutive year. However, the Ms. Olympia featured a "surprise" winner, as Juliette Bergmann returned to competition at age 42. Bergmann, the 1986 Pro World champion, had not competed since 1989. Entering the Olympia as a lightweight, she defeated heavyweight winner Iris Kyle for the overall title. In the five years that the Ms. Olympia was contested in multiple weight classes, this was the only time that the lightweight winner took the overall title.
In 2002, six-time Olympia winner Lenda Murray returned after a five-year absence. Bergmann (lightweight) and Murray (heavyweight) won the two weight classes in both 2002 and 2003. Murray won the overall title both years, setting a new standard of eight Ms. Olympia titles.
Murray was unseated as Ms. Olympia for the second time in 2004. Iris Kyle, a top pro competitor since 1999, defeated Murray in a close battle in the heavyweight class, and bested lightweight winner Dayana Cadeau for the overall title. Kyle became only the second woman to win both the Ms. International and Ms. Olympia titles in the same year, matching Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls's feat of 1996.
In a memo dated December 6, 2004, IFBB Chairman Jim Manion introduced the so-called '20 percent rule', requesting to all IFBB Professional Female Athletes. It read, “For aesthetics and health reasons, the IFBB Professional Division requests that female athletes in Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure decrease the amount of muscularity by a factor of 20%. This request for a 20% decrease in the amount of muscularity applies to those female athletes whose physiques require the decrease regardless of whether they compete in Bodybuilding, Fitness or Figure. All professional judges have been advised of the proper criteria for assessing female physiques.” Needless to say the directive created quite a stir, and left many women wondering if they were one of “those female athletes whose physiques require the decrease”. On April 20, 2005, the IFBB adopted, by a 9 for, 1 against, and 3 no votes for Resolution 2005-0001, which announced that starting with the 2005 Ms. Olympia that the IFBB was abolishing the weight class system adopted in 2000.
The 2005 contest season saw another double winner, as Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia won her third Ms. International title, then edged out defending champion Iris Kyle to win the Ms. Olympia. Also notable in 2005 was the return of Jitka Harazimova, who had last competed in 1999. Harazimova won the Charlotte Pro contest in her return to competition, qualifying her for the Ms. Olympia where she finished fourth. Also in 2005 the documentary Supersize She was released. The documentary focused on focused on British professional female bodybuilder Joanna Thomas and her competing at the 2004 GNC Show of Strength and the 2004 Ms. Olympia.
In 2006, Iris Kyle won both the Ms. International and the Ms. Olympia, repeating her accomplishment of 2004. Iris won the Ms. International and Ms. Olympia for a third time in 2007. Also in 2007 saw the brief revival of the Jan Tana Classic, which featured two weight classes for the female competitors. The class titles were won by Stephanie Kessler (heavyweight) and Sarah Dunlap (lightweight), with Dunlap named the overall winner.
There was a bit of a controversy in the 2008 Ms. International. Iris Kyle was placed 7th due to "bumps" on her glutes, which according to head IFBB judge, Sandy Ranalli, was “distortions in her physique.” Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia went on to win the 2008 Ms. Olympia. Iris made up for this by winning the 2008 Ms. Olympia.
Iris Kyle continued her success by winning both the Ms International and the Ms. Olympia in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2012, Iris suffered an injury to her leg and thus couldn't attend the 2012 Ms. International. Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia won the 2012 Ms. International. Iris went on to win the 2012 Ms. Olympia and winning her seventh consecutive Olympia win and surpassing Lenda Murry's and She went on to retake the 2013 Ms. International after not being able to attend the 2012 Ms. International due to leg injury. At the 2013 Ms. Olympia, Iris won her ninth overall Olympia win, thus giving her more overall Olympia titles than any other bodybuilder, male or female.
In 2012, Venezuelan Adriana Martin won the National Physique Committee's South Florida Bikini Championship in the over-30 category. At the time, the bikini division was a new element of the competition.
On June 7, 2013, event promoter of the Arnold Sports Festival, Jim Lorimer, announced that in 2014, the Arnold Classic 212 professional men's bodybuilding division would replace the Ms. International women's bodybuilding competition at the 2014 Arnold Sports Festival. Lorimer, in a statement, said “The Arnold Sports Festival was proud to support women's bodybuilding through the Ms. International for the past quarter century, but in keeping with demands of our fans, the time has come to introduce the Arnold Classic 212 beginning in 2014. We are excited to create a professional competitive platform for some of the IFBB Pro League's most popular competitors.”
At the 2014 Ms. Olympia, Iris Kyle won her tenth overall Olympia win, beating her own previous record of nine overall Olympia wins. She also won her ninth consecutive Olympia title in a row, beating Lee Haney's and Ronnie Coleman's record eight consecutive Olympia titles in a row, thus giving her more overall and consecutive Olympia wins than any other bodybuilder, male or female, of all time. After winning she announced that she will be retiring from bodybuilding. The 2014 Ms. Olympia was the last Ms. Olympia competition held until that competition's relaunch in 2020.
On March 8, 2015, Wings of Strength announced the creation of the Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championships. Regarded as the successor to the Ms. Olympia, Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championships adopted the point qualification system that the Ms Olympia had. On August 22, 2015, Margaret Martin won the title and best poser award for the first 2015 Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championships.
IFBB Hall of Fame
- 1999 – Carla Dunlap, Cory Everson, and Rachel McLish
- 2000 – Bev Francis, Lisa Lyon, and Abbye Stockton
- 2001 – Kay Baxter, Diana Dennis, and Kike Elomaa
- 2002 – Laura Combes
- 2003 – Lynn Conkwright
- 2004 – Ellen van Maris
- 2005 – Stacey Bentley
- 2006 – Claudia Wilbourn
- 2007 – Laura Creavalle
- 2008 – Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls
- 2009 – Juliette Bergmann
- 2010 – Lenda Murray and Vickie Gates
- 2011 – Tonya Knight and Anja Langer
International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB) competitions
- 2019 IFBB pro schedule
|2019 IFBB Toronto Pro Supershow Women's Bodybuilding||Toronto, Canada||June 1–2, 2019||$6,000|
|2019 IFBB Omaha Pro Women's Bodybuilding||Omaha, Nebraska||June 1, 2019||$5,000|
|2019 IFBB WOS Chicago Pro Women's Bodybuilding||Chicago, Illinois||July 4–6, 2019||$9,500|
|WOS 2019 IFFBB Yamamoto Nutrition Tampa Pro Women's Bodybuilding||Tampa, Florida||August 1–4, 2019||$9,500|
|2019 IFBB Pittsburgh Master Women's Bodybuilding Over 35||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||August 28, 2019|
|2019 IFBB WOS Rising Phoenix World Championships||Phoenix, Arizona||September 6–7, 2019||$100,000|
|2019 IFBB WOS Romania Muscle Fest Pro Women's Bodybuilding||Bucharest, Romania||November TBD, 2019|
Qualifications for IFBB Pro Status
In order to become an "IFBB Pro" you must first earn your IFBB Pro Card. In order to win a bodybuilder looking to do this must first win a regional contest weight class. When a bodybuilder wins or places highly they earn an invite to compete at their country's National Championships contest for that year. The winners of each weight class at the National Championships will then go head to head in a separate contest to see who is the overall Champion for the year. Depending on the federation, the overall Champion will be offered a pro card. Some federations offer Pro Cards to winners of individual weight class champions. This can mean that each year more than one bodybuilder may earn a Pro Card.
In the United States, the NPC (National Physique Committee) is affiliated with the IFBB and awards IFBB Pro Cards. The following competitions award IFBB Pro Cards:
- NPC Women's National Championships has three weight classes: Lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight. All three class winners in the contest are eligible for professional status.
- NPC USA Championships has three weight classes. The overall winner is eligible for professional status.
- IFBB World Championships, each weight class winner is eligible for pro status.
- IFBB North American Championships, the overall winners is eligible for professional status.
Pro qualifier competitions
- 2018 Pro Qualifier Pro Card Winners
|Competition||Place||Date||Pro Card Winner||Pro Card Winner's country|
|Bari Pro Qualifier||Bari, Italy||May 12, 2018||Cristina Maffeis||Italy|
|Ben Weider Worldwide Classic||Rimini, Italy||June 1–3, 2018||Carita Barbara||Italy|
|Toronto Pro Supershow Pro Quailifier||Toronto, Canada||June 1–2, 2018||Mona Poursaleh||Iran|
|Amateur Olympia Spain||Alicante, Spain||June 8–10, 2018||Nelida Castillo||Peru|
|Vancouver Pro Qualifier||Vancouver, Canada||July 6, 2018||Wan Law||Hong Kong, China|
|NPC Teen Collegiate Master National Championships||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States||July 18–21, 2018||Leslie Heidemann
|Bigman Weekend Show Pro Qualifier||Benidorm, Spain||July 20–21, 2018||Marcela Venegas||Chile|
|NPC USA Championships||Las Vegas, Nevada, United States||July 27, 2018||Marla-Maria Merrithew
|North American Championships||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States||August 29-September 1, 2018||Rheta West|
|Amateur Olympia San Marino Pro Qualifier||Abano Terme, Italy||September 22–23, 2018||Zeljka Dzafic
| Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|Ben Weider Woldwide Classic Alicante Pro Qualifier||Alicante, Spain||October 20, 2018||Cristina Jimenez||Spain|
|Iron Rebel World Show Pro Qualifier||Copenhagen, Denmark||November 3, 2018||Tamar Makar||United Kingdom|
|Amateur Olympia Italy Pro Qualifier||Campodarsego, Italy||November 10–11, 2018||Corinne Ingman
| United Kingdom|
|Iron Rebel Showdown Pro Qualifier||Faroe Islands, Denmark||November 17, 2018||Marie Silmari||Finland|
|Romania Pro Qualifier||Bucharest, Romania||November 24, 2018||Nataliya Kuznetsova||Russia|
|Venice Cup Pro Qualifier||Campodarsego, Italy||December 2, 2018||Maria Bradley||United States|
|Caribbean Grand Prix Pro Qualifier||Nassau, Bahamas||December 1, 2018||Kelly Nauyokas||United States|
National Physique Committee (NPC) Competitions
National level competitions
Qualifications for national level competitions
In order to qualify for national level competitions a competitor must place in one of the following:
- Rank in the top three in their weight class of the Women's open division in a contest that has been sanctioned as a national qualifier.
- First overall in an area championship of the open division.
- Top two in a weight class from an area level national qualifier
- Overall winner in a district level competition designated as a national qualifier.
- Winner of the weight class in a regional competition designated as a national qualifier.
- Weight class winners from the Armed Forces.
- Qualifications for Junior USA, Teen and Masters Nationals
To qualify for Junior USA, Teen or Masters Nationals a competitor must place in one of the following:
- Top five in a weight class from a national level competition
- Top three in a weight class in the Teen or Masters Nationals
- Class winner in the Armed Forces
- Top three in a weight class from an Area national qualifier
- Top two from a district level national qualifier
- Qualifications for USA and Junior Nationals
In order to qualify for USA and Junior Nationals a competitor must place in one of the following:
- Top five in a weight class from the Nationals, USA, Team Universe or Junior Nationals
- Top three in a weight class from the Teen, Collegiate Masters Nationals
- Class winner in the Armed Forces
- First overall in an area level national qualifier
- Top two in an area level national qualifier
- Weight class winner from a district level competition designated as a national qualifier
- Qualifications for Nationals and North American Championships
In order to qualify for Nationals or North American Championships a competitor must place in one of the following:
- Top five in a weight class from the Nationals, NPC USA or North American Championships
- Top five in a weight class from the Team Universe, Junior Nationals or Junior USA
- Top five in a weight class from Teen Collegiate Masters Nationals
- Top two in a weight class in the Armed Forces
- Top two in a weight class in an area level national qualifier
- Overall winner in a district level competition designated as a national qualifier
- Class winners at the US and Nationals will be given five years of eligibility.
National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) Competitions
- NABBA European Championships
- NABBA Universe
Fitness and figure competition
There are two other categories of competition that are closely related to bodybuilding, and are frequently held as part of the same event. Fitness competition has a swimsuit round, and a round that is judged on the performance of a routine including aerobics, dance, or gymnastics. Figure competition is a newer format, which combines female bodybuilding and gymnastics altogether, is judged solely on symmetry and muscle tone, with much less emphasis on muscle size than in bodybuilding.
In a competition, each woman poses in a bikini. She must strike different poses, while facing forward, to the side, and to the rear. During her poses, she must emphasize her arms, shoulders, chest, stomach, buttocks, and legs by flexing them. The judges carefully observe, evaluate, then numerically grade the firmness and shapeliness of the woman's physique.
Sexism and discrimination
Since the sport of female bodybuilding was organized, gender discrimination has been an issue. People recognize that part of the feminine identity is sculpting their physical appearances and they usually associate the common feminine identity with slenderness and a trim figure. In Studies in Popular Culture A.J. Randall and colleagues describes this as the result of the patriarchal society which emphasizes that femininity is created by altering the body for society's gendered expectations When women venture away from the gender expectations, society's view of their femininity begins to slip. Female bodybuilders experience this criticism of their body, as they build bodies which are commonly associated with the masculine identity. Despite this there is a very dedicated female bodybuilding fan base.
The International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness has made several rules changes on the sport of female bodybuilding that relate to expected feminine identity. In 1992, the IFBB, attempted to "feminize" the sport by making the judges deduct points from competitors who were “too big,” meaning too muscular. The IFBB then made a rule change in 2000 that emphasized a need for the women to decrease muscularity once again. Before Ms. International in 2005 the IFBB created another rule that required the women competing to decrease their own muscle mass by 20 percent to compete. Yet the men's bodybuilding rules have not changed in the same time period. In Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise Chris Shilling and Tanya Bunsell state that all of these rule changes reflect the IFBB's attempts to make women more closely fit gender expectations, as they all emphasize the need for the female bodybuilders to become less massive. Bunsell and Shilling further state that male bodybuilding hasn't changed because their bodies are seen as masculine in identity, while female bodybuilding rules inhibit females from reaching the same muscularity.
Female bodybuilders are rewarded far less prize money for their competitions than their male counterparts. For example, the 2012 Mr. Olympia winner received $250,000 in prize money while the Ms. Olympia winner only received $28,000 in prize money.
- Afghanistan – Women's bodybuilding is forbidden.
- Iran – On January 18, 2017, an Iranian female bodybuilder was arrested for "nudity" after she posted selfies of her flexing sleeveless on social media. "Nude", in this context refers to women not wearing a headscarf, or revealing body parts like arms and legs.
According to Dan Duchaine, author of the book Underground Steroid Handbook and worked with countless world-class female bodybuilders, and Greg Zulak, listed the following performance-enhancing drugs that female bodybuilders may use:
- oxymetholone (Anadrol)
- oxandrolone (Anavar)
- nandrolone decanoate (Deca-Durabolin)
- methandrostenolone (Dianabol)
- boldenone (Equipose)
- fluoxymesterone (Halotestin)
- human growth hormone
- ethylestrenol (Maxibolan)
- tamoxifen (Novaldex)
- methenolone (Primabolan)
- stanozolol (Winstrol)
- Acne and oily skin
- Male pattern baldness
- Lowering of voice tone
- Disruption of menstrual cycle
- Increased hair growth on face, legs and arms
- Increased feeling of well being
- Increased energy
- Decreased recovery time from workouts
- Heightened sex drive
- Muscle and strength gain
- Decreases in estrogenic fat (e.g. upper legs, abdomen, upper arms, buttocks)
Surveys and studies on side effects
- A 1985 interview of ten weight-trained women athletes who consistently used anabolic steroids were interviewed about their patterns of drug use and the perceived effects. Anabolic steroids were used in a cyclical manner, often with several drugs taken simultaneously. All participants believed that muscle size and strength were increased in association with anabolic steroid use. Most also noted a deepening of the voice, increased facial hair, increased aggressiveness, clitoral enlargement, and menstrual irregularities. The participants were willing to tolerate these side effects but thought that such changes might be unacceptable to many women.
- A 1989 study of competitive female bodybuilders from Kansas and Missouri found that 10% use steroids on a regular basis. The female bodybuilders reported that they had used an average of two different steroids including nandrolone, oxandrolone, testosterone, metandienone, boldenone, and stanozolol.
- A 1991 study of nine female weight-lifters using steroids and seven not using these agents has found that it appears that the self-administration of testosterone and anabolic steroids is increasingly practiced by women in sports where strength and endurance are important. Of the nine anabolic steroid users, seven took multiple anabolic steroids simultaneously. Thirty-fold elevations of serum testosterone were noted in the women injecting testosterone. In three of these women serum testosterone levels exceeded the upper limits for normal male testosterone concentrations. A significant compensatory decrease in sex hormone-binding globulin and a decrease in thyroid-binding proteins were noted in the women steroid users. Also, a 39% decrease in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol was noted in the steroid-using weight lifters. Most of the subjects in this study used anabolic steroids continuously, which raises concern about premature atherosclerosis and other disease processes developing in these women.
- A 2000 survey found that one-third of the female bodybuilders reported past or current steroid use and almost half of those who were non-steroid users admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs such as ephedrine. The study investigators found that women who used steroids were more muscular than their non-steroid-using counterparts and were also more likely to use other performance-enhancing substances. Despite its popularity among female bodybuilding, usage of steroids among female bodybuilders, unlike male bodybuilding, is a taboo subject and rarely admitted use among female bodybuilders. Although the IFBB officially bans the usage of performance-enhancing drugs, it does not test athletes rigorously.
- A 2009 survey of both men and women found that while men overall use anabolic–androgenic steroids, more women than men who use anabolic–androgenic steroids were competitive bodybuilders or weightlifters, with only 33.3% describing themselves as "recreational lifters" with no interest in competition. The survey found that 75% of the women experienced clitoral enlargement, half had irregular periods and showed changes in their voices. Despite this 90% said they would continue to use steroids.
Trans female bodybuilders
- Chris Tina Foxx Bruce
- Janae Marie Kroc
Bodybuilding causes increased lean body mass and decreased body fat, which causes breast tissue reduction in female athletes whereas the current trend regarding the judges' search for "feminine" physique at competitions makes compensative breast augmentation with breast implants an increasingly popular procedure among female bodybuilders. It is estimated that 80% of professional female bodybuilders get breast implants so they can show some cleavage in competitions.
- The 1985 documentary film Pumping Iron II: The Women focuses on female bodybuilding and is one of the first female bodybuilder documentaries around.
- The Tiny Toon Adventures episode That's Incredibly Stupid Plucky is the judge of a group of female bodybuilders who are competing for the title of Ms. Teenage Iron-pumping Kick-boxer Wrestler USA.
- In a 1995 Geraldo episode, he featured notable female bodybuilders on his show Lenda Murray, Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls, Sha-ri Pendleton, Nikki Fuller, and also featured female bodybuilding photographer Bill Dobbins.
- Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends in the episode Body Building focused heavily on female bodybuilding, included female muscle fantasy, fbb sessions, and the 2000 IFBB Jan Tana Classic competition.
- The 2000 documentary Bodybuilders deals with female bodybuilding and specifically concentrates on Ms. Olympia and the rapid changes that happen to the sport from 1980 to 2000. Female bodybuilders interviews in the documentary include IFBB Jan Tana Classic champion Lesa Lewis, former Ms. Olympia champion Cory Everson, and former Ms. Olympia champion Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls.
- Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls starred in the 2000 movie The Cell.
- The 2001 TLC documentary The Greatest Bodies talks about the evolution of female bodybuilding and the 2000 Ms. International. It also features female bodybuilding pro Gayle Moher.
- The Simpsons episode Strong Arms of the Ma focused entirely on female bodybuilding. Marge takes up bodybuilding after getting mugged. She competes in a female bodybuilding competition where she places 2nd.
- The Taboo episode Gender Benders focuses on the gender role of female bodybuilding. IFBB pro Betty Pariso, Rosemary Jennings, and the 2003 Ms. Olympia is featured in the episode.
- The Totally Spies! It's How You Play The Game Clover is given three micro-organisms that contain performing enhancing hormones by the Zanzibar coach. She has to take the place of Maria for Zanzibar in the figure skating at the Olympics and she obtains a bodybuilding physic due to the micro-organisms. She loses her muscle mass after sneezing those micro-organisms out. The Totally Spies! episode The Incredible Bulk Alex consumes a number of 'Bulky Bars' which allows her to grow a bodybuilding physic and defeat Ulrich Wernerstein.
- The 2005 documentary film Supersize She focuses on professional female bodybuilder Joanna Thomas participating in the 2004 IFBB Ms. Olympia.
- Iris Kyle appeared in the 2008 episode of Wipeout.
- The 2008 documentary film Bigger, Stronger, Faster* focused on anabolic steroids and featured a few female bodybuilders in it.
- The 2008 documentary film Hooked: Muscle Women focuses on professional female bodybuilder Colette Nelson and Kristy Hawkins participating in the 2008 IFBB Ms. International.
- The TV3 documentary Modern Ireland: Supersized Shes explores female bodybuilding in Ireland. This documentary follows the stories of two female bodybuilders, Inga Beinara and Sophia McNamara, over the course of one day, as they prepare to take to the stage of the Millennium Theatre in Limerick, for the Republic of Ireland Bodybuilding Federation Championship.
- The 2010 documentary film Twisted Sisters focuses on professional female bodybuilder Kim Buck, along with amateur bodybuilders Brenda Smith and Lauren Powers.
- A Super Bowl XLVIII GoDaddy commercial featured Danica Patrick as a female bodybuilder.
- Iris Kyle will appear as the character "Dina" in the yet to be released film We Are Sisyphos.
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- List of professional bodybuilding competitions
- List of female fitness & figure competitors
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