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The Strength Of Women's Bodybuilding

Jan 12, 2008
The history of bodybuilding spans hundreds of years, although relatively few pages are dedicated to the role of women athletes. While this chapter may be relatively short in length, it is rich in character and accomplishment.

History dictates that bodybuilding was typically a male-dominated pastime, and women had a relatively late start entering into the sport. In spite of this delayed introduction, these athletes quickly rose to the top. Their strength in spirit, as well as body, allowed them to heartily overcome the sexist stamp that was placed on them when women's bodybuilding competitions first took place.

Californian athlete Lisa Lyon wrote the first chapter in the history of women in bodybuilding. Born in 1953, Ms. Lyon was a graduate of UCLA and a student of the Japanese martial art Kendo. At the time when Lyon was a budding bodybuilding enthusiast, she was encouraged to join a women's competition by premier bodybuilding promoter Arnold Schwarzenegger. He saw big potential in Lyon's small dancer's physique, and his vision paid off when Lisa Lyon took first place in the first women's bodybuilding championship.

Rachel McLish is another important name in the history of women in bodybuilding. This powerhouse was crowned champion at the first Miss Olympia bodybuilding women's competition, sponsored by the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFFB). McLish combined aesthetic good looks with sheer muscle, and was considered by many to be the epitome of women in bodybuilding. More than just a sports icon, this Texas-born athlete helped to define the popularity of women's bodybuilding.

If McLish was seen as the feminine embodiment of women in bodybuilding, Bev Francis represented the muscular extreme. An Australian shot putter-turned-bodybuilder, Ms. Francis co-starred with Rachel McLish in the movie "Pumping Iron II: The Women". Her incredible appearance and muscular bulk inspired both shock and awe in spectators at women's bodybuilding competitions.

Event organizers and sponsors of women's bodybuilding competitions began to ask, "how much is too much"? Since Francis first stole the spotlight as a finalist in the 1986 Ms. Olympia competition, this has been a topic of debate within the sport of women's bodybuilding.

A newer, "less is more" trend in women's bodybuilding became apparent in 1991 when the extremely muscular Bev Francis placed second to Lenda Murray, a more slender athlete. Ms. Murray then went on to claim victory at eight more Ms. Olympia titles. Her last win was in 2003, but Lenda Murray continues to be hailed as one of the most popular and successful women's bodybuilding figures.

Other important figures in the history of women in bodybuilding include the "Dutch Superwoman" Juliette Bergman, winner of the 2001 Ms. Olympia competition, and IFBB fitness professional competitor Mandy Blank. A leader in the new movement of slender bodybuilding women, Ms. Blank focuses on shaping the muscular body into an aesthetic form, rather than beefing it up to become hugely muscular.

Monica Brant, another important figure in women's bodybuilding, won the title of 1998 Fitness Miss Olympia. A Canadian model by the name of Sharon Bruneau turned her attentions from the runway to the gym, becoming a hardcore female bodybuilder and then a fitness competitor.

Despite the efforts that these incredible women have undertaken, men still have a hand in the sport of women's bodybuilding. Many men and women disapprove of (or fear) extremely muscular women. For this reason, the women's bodybuilding industry saw a decrease in financial support of traditional competitions that promoted muscle mass, and an increase of funds designated to competitions featuring more slender physiques. It's an obvious sexist double standard, but it has not halted the decline of the sport for women.

The history of women in bodybuilding, and modern sport in general, owes a great deal to the strength that these women have displayed. They have overcome obstacles to bring the sport to where it is today, allowing all women the opportunity to work hard and achieve their full potential.
About the Author
Author Horace Jurdon contributes articles to numerous popular web sites, on outdoor recreation and recreation center topics.
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