Rachel McLish: Too often, the females get passed over in bodybuilding to discuss the males, which leaves most of us as a loss at to who’s done what in women’s bodybuilding. Though a fairly new and endlessly contentious sport, women’s bodybuilding exhibitions date back just as long as males, and some of the biggest draws of the early 20th Century for physique were women- women like Vulcana, Luisita Leers, and the Great Sandwina. Thus, it only stands to reason we educate ourselves about the modern females of the sport, as the road to competitive greatness has been a long and difficult one for the women of the sport.
Rachel McLish (b. 1955) is the Larry Scott of the Ms. Olympia- she is the first woman to win the title, which she did handily in 1980. With her place secured as the darling of the magazines (no woman appeared on more magazine covers for the next five years), McLish ended up with a competitive career that only spanned the four years from 1980-1984. In that time she took the crown twice and second twice, never placing lower than third in any competition.
In her heyday, Rachel McLish spread her wings a bit and obtained small roles in feature films, as well as a feature in the 1985 documentary Pumping Iron II: The Women and co-starring in the fitness instructional video Shape Up alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, her film career lasted far longer than her bodybuilding career, as she had credited roles in 1984’s Getting Physical, Aces: Iron Eagle III in 1992, and starred as the hard-bodied Native American seeker of revenge in 1996’s Raven Hawk.
McLish retired quickly after having the realization her 5’6” and 129 pound frame was simply not holding enough mass to compete with the up-and-coming crew of bodybuilders led by the-female-Arnold Cory Everson. Her look was so iconic, however, that she was still mentioned as the sort-of Frank Zane of women’s bodybuilding decades later and remains an ambassador for the sport to this day.