It’s difficult now to comprehend how revolutionary a physique like Stacey Bentley’s was 40 years ago. You probably see women every day with more lean muscle. But back then it was truly trailblazing for a female to hoist progressively heavier weights and then flex their muscles on stages. Stacey Bentley, who was born in Philadelphia in 1956, was at the vanguard of women’s fitness. When she began working in a gym in 1976, she trained as hard as the men. Initially uncomfortable with the attention her toned body received, she’d say she was a gymnast or swimmer. Women’s bodybuilding wasn’t even a thing yet.

But it soon would be. After moving to Los Angeles, Bentley won two of the first women’s IFBB bodybuilding contests ever staged: the 1979 Robby Robinson Classic and the 1980 Frank Zane Invitational. (She also won the 1980 World’s Couples Championships with future Mr. Olympia Chris Dickerson.) She was featured in People and Sports Illustrated magazine articles about the young sport. She placed fifth (out of 20) in the inaugural Ms. Olympia in 1980.

1980 Ms. Olympia
1980 Ms. Olympia: Rachel McLish (1st), Lynn Conkwright (3rd), Arnold, Stacey Bentley (5th)

In the female physique debate over how much muscle is too much, Bentley was firmly in the anti-drug, not-too-much camp. The first Ms. Olympia was her last contest. Still, she continued to train vigorously, and she trained others, including actor Jack Nicholson. She subsequently worked as a nurse in Pennsylvania. Stacey Bentley died on December 31 at 64. Our condolences to her friends and family.

Inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2005, Stacey Bentley is remembered for her brief but trailblazing career as a female bodybuilder.