Bev Francis (17)THE EVOLUTION:



Physique contests for women date back to at least the 1960's with contests like the Miss Physique and Miss Americana. However, these early "bodybuilding" contests were really not much more than bikini contests. The first U.S. Women's National Physique Championships, promoted by Henry McGhee and held in Canton, Ohio in 1978, is generally regarded as the first true female bodybuilding contest.


More contests started to appear in 1979. 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 U.S. Laura Combes won the inaugural contest. In 1980, the first Ms. Olympia contest was won by Rachel McLish. Like the men's version, the Ms. Olympia quickly became the most prestigious pro show and it's winner the most visible bodybuilder in the world. The Olympia winners have always been the bench mark for what the standard will be. Over the years, certain events in women's bodybuilding resulted in changes to the criteria and expectations. These changes eventually led to the creation of women's physique.

This is the chronicle of the events that have led, not only to changes in women's bodybuilding, but in the the sport itself.

"For there to be improvement, there must be conflict. Without conflict, there cannot be change."evers6
Trent Difler, ESPN Analysist

Conflict came in the form of Bev Francis vs Rachel McLish in the 1983 Ceasar's World Cup. Both woman became the focus of the show. The contest was part of a documentary, "Pumping Iron II, The Women." It was directed and produced by George Butler. Charles Gaines was the writer and was allowed to be a judge on the panel even though he had never been to a women's bodybuilding contest. The movie was highly criticized for misrepresenting the sport, and many felt it didn't give an honest look at the sport. This has been a common theme in documentaries ever since. The show allowed amateurs and pro's alike to compete against one another, a clear violation of IFBB rules. Bev Francis, the reigning world champion powerlifter, had never competed in a bodybuilding show. She would become one of the top pro competitors later in the eighties. Rachel McLish was a two time Ms Olympia who was pitted against Bev Francis as the villian of the documentary. Bev brought a muscularity to the stage that had never been seen before. It was not well received and brought into question the issue of femininity. The femininity question has plagued women's bodybuilding ever since and influences every women's category today. Nothing went according to the film makers plans or or how the contestants expected. The film never reached the popularity of the original Pumping Iron. McLish didn't win the show. Carla Dunlap did and she went on to win the Ms. Olympia title later that year. McLish did more to popularize women's bodybuilding in the eighties than any other competitor but Francis changed it forever. She only placed eighth at that show but her presence was a preview,for what was to come in women's bodybuilding. In my opinion, that preview opened Pandora's box. kim chizevsky

Template: A structure that in some direct physical process can cause the pattern of a second structure.

In 1984, Cory Everson emerged on the women's bodybuilding scene. She won the American World Championships, the NPC National Championships and the Olympia that year. She went on to win the Ms. Olympia title six consecutive years. Much like Arnold, Cory aspired to the entertainment industry and did her own exercise show on ESPN for seven years.  She's appeared in various televisions sitcoms and movies. Despite all her accomplishments, I believe her most lasting contribution to women's competition was her physique. It became the benchmark by which subsequent competitors have been judged. All successive Ms. Olympias have been similar in structure and aesthetic. Everson had the X frame before the term was coined. Newer categories such as Figure, Fitness and Women's Physique are variations of Everson's competitive physique.

"I just can't believe all the things people say, controversy"

Prince 1999

The 1991 Ms. Olympia was the first to be televised live on ESPN. I remember watching it from my living room. There was a great sense of anticipation in my household as well as in the bodybuilding world. Just like the 1983 World Ceasar's Cup, the result was different than everyone expected. Once again, Bev Francis was at the center of it all. By this time, Bev had established herself as a top pro. She had streamlined her physique and placed second at this same show the year before. The reigning champion, and her top competition was Lenda Murray. Several things were different about this show. After every round, all scores were posted live on a big screen to the viewing audience. Bev did not come to the show streamlined as in previous years but was big and cut with the most muscular female physique ever seen at the time. By the end of prejudging, Bev was leading. The magazines later reported she was ahead by six points. A lead like this is usually insurmountable at a bodybuilding contest. The magazines also reported that Lenda Murray beat Bev by five points in the posing round and two points in the final pose down. Lenda would win by one point. I read many of the follow up articles after the contest. The magazines were very critical of the judging and asked how they could have let Bev have a six point lead after prejudging. Once again the femininity issue reared it's ugly head. Bev retired after this show. She was quoted as saying,"If they aren't going to let me win it, it makes no sense to compete." But her mark has been indelibly etched on bodybuilding. The irony of it is that the physiques that followed far exceeded her muscularity. Today, her physique then would be welcomed. kyle3

"The more thing's change the more they stay the same"

In 1999 Kim Chizevsky won her fourth Ms. Olympia title. During her reign, she brought a level of conditioning that surpassed the men, which further heightened the femininity issue. Chizevsky retired to pursue fitness competition and in 2000, the IFBB instituted weight classes at the Ms Olympia, in an attempt to soften the look of the current woman bodybuilder. New guidelines were instituted and the criteria given in Manion's letter included the statement "symmetry, presentation, separations, and muscularity BUT NOT TO THE EXTREME"! Healthy appearance, skin tone face, and makeup would also become part of the criteria. Andrulla Blanchette and Valentina Chepiga were the heavyweight and light weight winners of this show. Their reign only lasted a year.

In 2001, Juliette Bergmann was recruited by Wayne Demillia to compete in this Ms. Olympia. Juliette had been the 1986 World Champion and was returning to competion at the age of 42. In the five years the Ms. Olympia instituted the height classes, 2001 was the only year the light weight won the overall title. Juliette beat Iris Kyle in 2001 for the overall title.

In 2002, and 2003 we saw the return of Lenda Murray. She was coming off a five year absence from competition and went on to win the overall titles the next two years. Lenda had been a previous six time Ms. Olympia winner. Her wins in 2002 & 2003 would set a new standard in woman's bodybuilding for number of Olympia wins. Juliette Bergmann would win the light weight class both of these years.

In 2004, Iris Kyle won the Ms Olympia title. In 2005, the Ms. Olympia had rule changes. The 20 percent rule was instituted, seeking to have female bodybuilders, fitness competitors and figure competitors decrease their muscularity by a factor of 20%. According to the memo, this request "applies to those females whose physiques require the decrease". The weight classes were also abolished in 2005 and Yaxeni Oriquen won the Ms. Olympia title by edging out reigning champion Iris Kyle. Iris regained the title in 2006 and has yet to relinquish it.

Rumor: A circulating story of doubtful or uncertain truth.

In 2008, I was in attendance at the USA to watch Kris Murrell compete for her pro card. The Friday before the show, she informed me of a rumor that a new division was to be created, similar to figure, allowing the competitors to demonstrate a higher level of conditioning. The number of entrants of female bodybuilders at the amateur level was dwindling. The only show's with a large number of entrants are the national shows and top national qualifiers.Since 2009, the number of female bodybuilders has been dwindling even more. The 2009 IFBB North America saw only 40 entrants with the majority being masters level competitors. The numbers weren't much better at the 2009 Nationals.


In 2011, the new category women's physique was introduced. In my opinion, the year was poorly handled by the power's that be. The criteria was vague, there was no qualification standard and most states had no shows at the local level. The numbers grew at every national show but there was no consistency on the body type they were looking for. I was at the inaugural Jr. USA and Jr. Nationals. The prejudging and finals video of the Team U was shown on many websites. The pool of athletes was low and the body type desired was never demonstrated. It wasn't until the 2011 Nationals that there was any consistency in the judges choices. To be fair, the level of athletes got better at every pro qualifier and more classes were instituted with every show. The number of pro cards increased as well. There were well over 100 entrants at the Nationals. Ironically, there were over 100 female bodybuilders as well, a record.

The future of woman's bodybuilding remains in limbo, but the NPC and IFBB is clearly committed to promoting women's physique. There will be more pro women's physique shows in 2012 then pro women's bodybuilding shows. The 2012 women's contest calendar should be interesting. Stay tuned for more updates. They should be extremely exciting and confusing all at the same time but then, that's bodybuilding, isn't it?

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