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Gallery of Ironmen: Abby “Pudgy” Stockton

The childhood nickname stuck, but she blossomed into a weight-training icon.

Everybody remembers the guys of Muscle Beach during its golden era of the 1940s and ’50s, but one of the ladies on the beach was a physique star by any definition’Pudgy Stockton. She deserves recognition for her pioneering work in the realm of women’s physique development.

Stockton’s route to physical perfection was bumpier than most. She was born Abby W. Eville in Santa Monica, California, on August 11, 1917, and thanks to her rather plump, fleshy build, she acquired the family nickname that has stuck with her throughout her life. She remained plump until she met her future husband, Les Stockton, and he suggested that she start working out with weights.

That was radical thinking in those days, but once Pudgy figured out that regular workouts combined with a sensible diet could reduce her rather ample proportions, she quickly realized that the iron pills were for her. Along with Les, the newly svelte and fit young lady was soon performing acrobatic stunts on the sands of Muscle Beach. People began to take note of the pair, and pictures of them began appearing in magazines. Pudgy also started to give advice to other women who wanted to look like her; later the Stocktons opened their own gym.

Pudgy’s influence became more widespread when she was appointed women’s editor for Strength & Health magazine in 1944. Her monthly column, ‘Barbelles,’ was very popular, and with it she began to disseminate the idea that weight training was not as disastrous for women as the public might think.

Thanks to Pudgy, thousands of women were encouraged to take up bodybuilding. It was not always easy to convince women to start pumping iron in the early days. ‘I had to soft-pedal the muscle part when I tried to get my gym customers to work out with weights,’ she explained. ‘I had to emphasize the ability for people to fill out or slim down by using dumbbells.’ If there was ever a question as to whether her methods were harmful, readers only had to look at the instructor. Pudgy was living proof that women who trained with weights could be as feminine as they were strong and fit.

Today, Pudgy and Les still live near the Santa Monica sands, and she’s grateful for her early athletic experiences. ‘Weight training has paid off for me,’ remarked the perennial star. ‘I am still physically active, and I have a lot of strength and energy.’ Sources:
Strength & Health, November 1941, January 1948
Muscle Power, November 1948

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