In the Beginning
As you can guess, the sport of bodybuilding began with the men. Competitive male bodybuilding started in the very late 19th century. The most prestigious competition for men today is the Mr. Olympia contest.
Here Come the “Girls”
Female bodybuilding noticeably came on the scene in the late 1970s. The first official female contest in the U.S. was the Women’s National Physique Championship in 1978. The most prestigious title for women today is Ms. Olympia, which started in 1980 as Miss Olympia. The Ms. Olympia competition is currently the top competition for professional female bodybuilders.
The National Physique Committee sponsors the top amateur level competition for women in the U.S. Interestingly, contestants in this competition are required to “maintain a feminine look. Extreme hardness and extreme muscle size is not acceptable.” Besides these two competitions, there are many other organizations and contests for female bodybuilders all over the world.
Mainstream Exposure and Acceptance
In the 1980s, female bodybuilding started to get some mainstream exposure due to some “scandals.” A couple of female bodybuilders had posed for Playboy magazine. They were suspended from competition for a year for doing this. The movie “Pumping Iron II: The Women” and some small television coverage of the females’ contests – usually months after the actual competition and used only as TV filler – provided additional coverage. The Ms. Olympia competition in 1991 was the first female bodybuilding title to be televised live.
More Controversy and Some Double Standards
Since the beginning of recognized female bodybuilding contests, there has been a level of controversy and/or conflict found in the rules and judging panels of the bodybuilders’ governing organizations.
Mostly, the conflict has to do with how “feminine” the women bodybuilders are supposed to be while at the same time being very muscular. For example, in 2000, new guidelines introduced by the International Federation of Body Building and Fitness (IFBB) stated that women would be judged on “healthy appearance, face, makeup, and skin tone.” The IFBB also said that women would be judged on “symmetry, presentation, separations, and muscularity BUT NOT TO THE EXTREME!” (The caps and exclamation point were in the original guidelines.)
In 2004, IFBB introduced a “20% percent rule,” requesting that “female athletes in Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure decrease the amount of muscularity by a factor of 20%.” These kinds of double-standards and ever-changing rules can get confusing!
The Sport Continues to Grow
In spite of the difficulties of the double standards, and the fact that extreme discipline and commitment is needed for the sport, female bodybuilding continues to grow in popularity as more women are drawn to weightlifting and the athleticism of the sport.
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