Skip to Content

Female Bodybuilders of The 80s (A Review of The Golden Era)

Welcome to the golden age of female bodybuilding: the 80s.

It was a time of empowerment and liberation where women broke barriers and pushed limits. They proved that strength and beauty are not mutually exclusive.

In this article, we’ll examine notable female bodybuilders of the 80s, such as Rachel McLish, Cory Everson, and Bev Francis.

We’ll also delve into controversies surrounding female bodybuilding in the 80s, including criticisms of the sport as unfeminine and allegations of steroid use.

So, join us on this journey back in time to discover the fascinating world of female bodybuilding in the 80s.

female bodybuilders of the 80s

Early Pioneers of Female Bodybuilding

Female bodybuilding in the 80s didn’t happen overnight. It was the result of a gradual shift that started in the 70s.

  • Lisa Lyon and Rachel McLish were at the forefront of this movement.
  • Lyon was the first woman to win the IFBB Women’s World Bodybuilding Championship in 1979.
  • McLish won the first Ms. Olympia title in 1980.

Both women challenged conventional beauty standards with their muscular physiques and androgynous appearances.

They inspired many women to follow in their footsteps and legitimized female bodybuilding as a sport.

Cory Everson, who won six Ms. Olympia titles in the 80s, was also a trailblazer. She was known for her impressive muscularity, strength, and dedication to promoting the sport of bodybuilding.

These early pioneers of female bodybuilding paved the way for the female bodybuilders of the 80s to achieve even greater success.

Rise of Female Bodybuilding in the 80s

The 80s saw a significant increase in the popularity of female bodybuilding, with more competitions and events being held than ever before.

  • The first Ms. Olympia contest was held in 1980.
  • The National Physique Committee (NPC) held its first women’s bodybuilding contest in 1980.
  • The International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) began holding women’s bodybuilding events in the US in the mid-80s.

These events provided more opportunities for female bodybuilders to showcase their skills and gain recognition for their hard work.

The ideal female bodybuilding physique underwent a change in the 80s too.

Women began to strive for a more muscular and defined look, with broader shoulders, a smaller waist, and more prominent muscle groups.

Notable female bodybuilders of the 80s who embodied this new ideal included:

  • Bev Francis, who was known for her exceptional strength and muscularity.
  • Gladys Portugues, who had a symmetrical and well-proportioned physique.
  • Carla Dunlap, who won the Ms. Olympia title in 1983 and had a lean and defined physique.

Notable Female Bodybuilders of the 80s

The 80s were a golden age of female bodybuilding, with many talented women rising to fame and achieving great success in the sport.

Here are some of the most notable female bodybuilders of the 80s:

Rachel McLish

rachel mclish

Rachel McLish was a trailblazer in female bodybuilding, winning the first Ms. Olympia title in 1980.

Known for her athletic physique and feminine beauty, McLish helped to popularize female bodybuilding and inspire a generation of women to take up weightlifting.

Cory Everson

Cory Everson dominated the sport of female bodybuilding in the 80s, winning six consecutive Ms. Olympia titles from 1984 to 1989.

Everson was known for her impressive muscularity, strength, and dedication to promoting the sport of bodybuilding.

Bev Francis

Bev Francis was one of the most muscular and powerful female bodybuilders of the 80s. She won the World Pro Championships in 1987 and became the first woman to bench press over 300 pounds in competition.

Francis was known for her exceptional strength and muscularity, and her legacy continues to inspire female bodybuilders today.

Gladys Portugues

Gladys Portugues was a symmetrical and well-proportioned bodybuilder who had two top 10 finishes in the Ms. Olympia competition.

She was known for her sculpted shoulders and arms, as well as her striking beauty.

Carla Dunlap

Carla Dunlap was the first African-American woman to win the Ms. Olympia title, which she did in 1983.

Dunlap had a lean and defined physique, with muscular legs and a small waist. She was a strong advocate for women’s fitness and helped to inspire many women to take up weightlifting.

Controversies Surrounding Female Bodybuilding in the 80s

Female bodybuilding had a rise in popularity in the 80s, but with it came controversies.

Here are some of the main issues:

Femininity Concerns

Female bodybuilding was criticized for being unfeminine in the 80s.

Many believed the muscular, ripped physiques of female bodybuilders were not attractive or desirable.

This led to debates about what it meant to be a “real woman” and whether female bodybuilders were deviating from this ideal.

Steroid Use

Steroid use was controversial in female bodybuilding during the 80s, as women were accused of taking PEDs to achieve their impressive physiques.

This led to debates about whether steroid use was ethical or fair, particularly since women were not traditionally viewed as being “big” or “strong”.

Lack of Opportunities

Despite the growing popularity of female bodybuilding, women still faced significant barriers in the sport during the 80s.

There were few competitions or sponsorship opportunities available for female bodybuilders, leading to frustration and disillusionment among many female athletes.

Sexual Objectification

Female bodybuilders in the 80s were often subjected to sexual objectification and harassment.

Many people viewed these women’s bodies as objects of desire rather than as athletic achievements. This made it difficult for many women to feel respected or valued in the industry.

These controversies highlight the complex and often fraught relationship between gender, athletics, and social norms in female bodybuilding.

While the sport continued to grow and evolve during this time, it also faced significant challenges and criticisms that continue to shape it today.


The female bodybuilders of the 80s were trailblazers who challenged stereotypes, broke down barriers, and inspired new generations of women to pursue their athletic goals.

They redefined what it meant to be a fit and healthy woman, showing that strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive.

Despite facing criticism and controversy, these women pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for women in athletics, and their legacy continues to impact the world of sports and fitness today.

Their dedication, strength, and passion continue to inspire new generations of female athletes and fitness enthusiasts. And their legacy serves as a testament to the power of perseverance and determination.

That’s all for this article, but how do bodybuilders make money?