Rachel Mc Lish became the most successful competitor of the early 1980s. 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).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.
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Gina La Spina, the champion, is considered the first recognized winner of a woman's bodybuilding contest.
It was judged strictly as a bodybuilding contest and was the first event of its kind for women.
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. In 1978, Mc Ghee 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. 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. Doris Barrilleaux found the Superior Physique Association (SPA) in 1978, the first women's bodybuilding organization run for women and by women.
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. She also began publishing the SPA News, a newsletter dedicated exclusively to female bodybuilding.
Pro competitor Anita Gandol created a stir by posing for Playboy in 1984, earning a one-year suspension from the IFBB.
Lori Bowen, winner of the 1984 Pro World Championship, appeared in a widely broadcast commercial for Miller Lite beer with Rodney Dangerfield.
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.
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. With Mc Lish not competing in the big shows, Carla Dunlap took both the Pro World and Ms. Dunlap possessed a more muscular physique than either Mc Lish or Elomaa, and though she never repeated her successes of 1983, she would remain competitive for the rest of the decade.