The early 90’s were full of controversy for women body builders. For instance, the Ms. Olympia contest of 1991 became the first ever aired live on TV. In this contest, the legendary Lenda Murray had faced a fierce challenge from Bev Francis, the runner-up to the title in 1990. Francis had previously been a powerlifter and had only converted to body building in the mid 1980’s, gradually, she refined her supreme physique in line with contest judging standards for body builders. To make matters worse for Lenda, Bev entered the 1991 Ms. Olympia larger and more defined than in all other years previously. By the night show Bev was leading and Lenda needed all of the votes she could get for the first place. When Lenda finally retained the title by one point over Bev, the contest became the most controversial to date.
The 1992 contest of the Ms. International was even more controversial. Bev and Lenda had set a new benchmark of size during the 91 Ms. Olympia contest. Fear gripped the industry and IFBB attempted to feminize the women body building sport, as a response. Led by Ben Weider, IFBB created a set of femininity rules requiring women body builders not to be too big so as to qualify for contests. The judges had to select a feminine, though not an emaciated physique as a champion, henceforth. The German Anja Schreiner won the title to spark phenomenal controversy. The blue-eyed German blonde had a symmetrical physique that only weighed 130 pounds and stood at 5’7. Her victory was announced amid so much booing until Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped on stage trying to calm the audience. He said, ” To hell with these judges”.
Critics said repetitively that IFBB had strictly instructed all judges to choose a marketable contestant in size and dimensions to the public and not the one with the best physique.
The same controversy was featured in the 1992 Ms. International contest. Paula Bircumshaw, a British competitor, stood at the same body height with Schreiner. Most people felt that both possessed the same symmetry and muscle definition. It was unanimous among observers that Paula had more muscle and weight (162 pounds ). Paula was the audience’s favorite for reasons clearly observable in her physique, but the judges relegated her to the eighth place. As if to cover up, the judges did not call all top 10 contestants as was custom, back to the stage after the show before announcing the winner. They only called back six contestants in an effort to keep Paula at the back stage.
The crowd simply rioted, chanting Paula’s name. To their relieve, Paula returned dignified in poise and pose, to the main stage to stand alongside the top 6, before dramatically giving the judges the middle finger. For that, she was given a yet more controversial year-long suspension.
Similar controversy was also seen in women body building circles in 1993 and 1994. It was becoming a trend, that judging body builders on vague femininity features was becoming a hot iron on the heels of IFBB. But that did not stop Murray winning the 1992 Ms. Olympia for being more feminine than the muscled Schreiner. The resulting controversy saw Schreiner retire from the Pro field.