MAKERS Profile

Rachel McLish

First Female Bodybuilding Champion

In this video

Rachel McLish on bringing the fitness revolution to Texas, winning the first female bodybuilding champion, and empowering women to take control of their bodies.
Rachel McLish is a female bodybuilding champion, actress and author. When she earned the inaugural Ms. Olympia bodybuilding title in 1980, she put the sport of women’s bodybuilding on the map and became an international role model for women’s and girl’s fitness. Fashion-model beautiful, she dispelled commonly held notions about female bodybuilders as being necessarily masculine and unattractive. She was a leader in making physical fitness as much a part of women’s lives as it had always been for men.   McLish was raised in Harlingen, Texas in the Rio Grande border country. She began weight training while attending Pan American University as an outlet for her high-energy personality and found it to be an almost “mystical experience." She graduated in 1978 with a degree in health and physical education and went on to found South Texas's first health club.   She was catapulted into the public eye when she won the first Ms. Olympia contest in 1980, and then won the title again in 1982. She also won the United States Bodybuilding Championships in 1980, and over the next four years placed in the top three in five other national contests. In the years that followed, McLish authored two New York Times best-selling books - Flex Appeal by Rachel (1984) and Perfect Parts (1987) – and acted in action films. In 1999 she was inducted into the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness Hall of Fame.

More From Rachel

Body as Canvas
McLish explains how she sees bodybuilding as an art form and the satisfying power it gives her.

"Spa," a Useful Label
McLish recalls the early days of fitness centers and how calling them "spas" helped get women over the stigma of strength training.

Loving Your Natural Look
McLish observes that people are becoming increasingly comfortable with how they look, regardless of their body type.

What Makes a True Feminist
McLish asserts that a real feminist should embrace the feminine, rather than emulating men.

First Step to Bigger Change
McLish explains her philosophy that in order to effect change in the world you have to start by changing yourself.

Single Sex Days at the Gym
McLish discusses how a trip to Los Angeles caused her to change the status quo at her own gym.

Very First Trip to the Gym
McLish recalls how her personal quest to stay in shape led her to discover her life's purpose. 

To Be Like Dad
McLish explains why she looked to her father as more of a role model than her mother - he had independence.

Steroids in Bodybuilding
McLish describes how steroid use has changed the sport of bodybuilding.