It’s the 1st day of class @TheNewSchool + I’m teaching my 1st lecture course: on US fitness culture!

It’s *also* the 1st time I integrate social media into class

Watch this thread - and chime in w hashtag #FitNation - to get a peek at what we’re reading, discussing, thinking!
I’ll post some reading links and key points Tuesday afternoons after lecture...

ULEC students + tweeps who are interested in these themes, I’m looking forward to learning from you too, + hoping Twitter can enrich our conversation in the course + expand it beyond.

Here goes!
Day 1 #FitNation began w this pic

Arnold Schwarzenegger + the PUMPING IRON (1977) phenomenon evoke transforming attitudes re fitness

Working out was still weird enough that many watched as voyeurs, but growing popularity of jogging, group exercise also fueled interest /1
Students pointed out that the gym was ALL free weights and barbells (yup, no cardio or high-tech equipment back then!) AND that only men were in the shot

Another students hails from LA and works out at the original @GoldsGym + grew up with AS as governor :-)/2
Core to #FitNation is understanding how #fitness + sport are interconnected but different

Fitness often gendered female, discounted as non-competitive + lesser than sport

This pic of the @JazzerciseInc performance at LA 84 Olympics evokes this at-times fraught relationship/3
#FitNation students will report on "My Week in Fitness Culture" - contextualizing personal encounters w fitness in course themes

Today's ex: sports bra founders, who sewed 2 jockstraps together back in 1977, inducted into Nat'l Inventors Hall of Fame!/4
Can't resist 1 more image to sports bra (or jock bra, then Jogbra) story: this ad, feat the 2 founders, who emphasized this is "not the product of a fancy lingerie company"

It was hard to get them displayed, bc despite functionality, they weren't pretty + lacy /5 #FitNation
A fun first day of #FitNation!

Students reading 2 VERY different takes on social value of the gym

- Mark Greif, “Against Exercise,” @nplusonemag 2004

- Kathy Acker, “Against Ordinary Language: The Language of the Body,”
Outlaw Bodies, 1993

Can't wait to hear YOUR thoughts!/6
Day 2 #FitNation @thenewschool - "Fat Cats, Ladies of Leisure, and Strong Men"

Purpose was to set up 19th-c context when leisure, labor, luxury and their relationship to the bodily health/beauty were understood quite differently than today, and also w/r/t gender, race, class /1
Today fitness culture often assumed to rep individualistic secularism, but we read @RMarieGriffith BORN AGAIN BODIES to show roots of modern body projects in Christianity, in faith in perfectibility of body AND ambivalence abt how important the earthly bod shld be?/2

Also showing continuity in concern re people deemed excessively fat, Amy Farrell's FAT SHAME charts LONG history of "fat shaming" but highlights how fat people were first used to symbolize civic/political dissipation more than individual moral failure #FitNation/3
cc @NYUpress
Fatness WAS constructed differently @ turn of century!

Presence of "Fat Men's Clubs" - which received generally positive coverage of members widely described as wealthy, successful, and jolly - suggests v different range of personal attributes assoc w fat people /4 #FitNation
So whose bodies made them outcasts in early 20th c?! The peeps Bernarr MacFadden assembled, who just wanted to exercise, eat healthy food, and hang out in nature

His Physical Culture City in Spotswood, NJ had neighbors angry abt women in "unrestrictive dress" + w loose morals/5
Lots to say re MacFadden, incl that his "liberatory" take on corsets, which he blamed for more violence than all wars ever... wasn't so radical

He said corsets crushed insides of WHITE women, minimizing their ability to perpetuate race; also his rationale for women's strength/6
Fascination with fitness as PERFORMANCE was a crucial foundation for the #FitNation

Strongman Eugen Sandow was v popular entertainment act @ World's Fair 1893 + after but as "living statue" not aspirational bod for regular folks /7
Fascination undoubtedly becomes fetishization when it comes to strongwoman Katie Sandwina

Constantly gushed over as surprisingly feminine, "perfect proportions magnified," also a vessel for hopes of suffragists who imagined a "world of Sandwinas" who outmatched their husbands/8
Wouldn't be long before these perfectly sculpted specimens would be successfully marketing their aesthetic + exercise routines to a public becoming more eager to resemble - not just gape at - them /9

Great Qs, @TheNewSchool students; excited for next week!
WEEK 3 #FitNation, on Progressivism + Physical Education Movement is on!

We are connecting the P.E. movement with the broader physical culture movement - which rarely happens?! - as well as w Progressive impulses to SYSTEMATIZE in a disorienting moment... incl managing BODIES/1
David Churchill's excellent article @HistEdUSA HEQ re making "broad-shouldered boys" in Chicago schools was perfect reading to make these connections

Paired with Martha Verbrugge's brilliant ACTIVE BODIES re girls'/ women's P.E. activism @OUPHistory/2
Nothing makes clearer the "social control" aspect of recreational physical fitness programs than those enacted by white educators "for" POC... like this folk dancing lesson typical of those at federal Native American boarding schools/3
COLLEGES were also crucial in establishing idea that fitness was crucial to full personhood + recreational/intramural programs emerged in late 19th/early 20th c. for men AND women... tho activities were highly gendered/4

(Love this @MountHolyoke 1911 h/t @monicalmercado )
Concluding w a little ARCHIVAL shoutout - the holdings of @NIRSAlive are so valuable to my project in charting the rise of campus recreational fitness... and in highlighting how this is SO not a white, coastal phenomenon.

NIRSA was founded in 1950 out of work on HBCUs!/6
Day #4 #FitNation @TheNewSchool took on FITNESS BUSINESSES of early 20th c

While regular exercise was hard sell to men who saw (the few) gyms around as louche, women long socialized to tend to their looks were easier to target as long as fitness was for beauty, not strength /1
Men like Brit Simon Kehoe since late 19th bemoaned the bodily weakness of “merchants, bankers, clerks” + promoted Indian club exercises to offset it

Soon he described his converts as identifiable by their “well-knit + shapely form” + literally changing landscape of Broadway/2
Mail-order fitness programs boomed especially for MEN - which is usually chalked up to a growing interest in fitness - but I argue is also due to a deep discomfort with working out publicly as unmanly

This Atlas ad is v much arguing EXERCISE MAKES YOU MANLY! Chicks love it!/3
Important to note physique culture - gyms/media - WERE important sites for men to find one another in an era when homosexuality was persecuted in public

Shouted out @GayHistoryProf fantastic work, also George Chauncey re our own campus neighborhood!/4
Fitness as BEAUTY - specifically “reducing” - was an easy sell to women... esp when sold in skincare salon

Helena Rubinstein + Elizabeth Arden piloted a kind of proto-women’s gym

Then outfitted like a high end home to put women at ease!

Read arch historian Marie Clifford!/5
There is SO MUCH FOOTAGE of these slenderizing salons that offered “passive exercise” on high-tech machines

Much of the commentary is kind of patronizing... tho in discussing AGENCY w students, pointed out that who KNOWS what these “giggling” ladies were chatting abt/plotting/6
Overall, #FitNation @TheNewSchool contemplated where DOES pressure to be fit come from?

Excellent reads by @PurkissA @JournWomensHist re black women’s fitness regimes + Elizabeth Matelski re the role of Hollywood, fashion + INSURANCE cos (?!) deepened convo/7

See ya next time!
Day 5 #FitNation talking male bodies + The New Deal

OBVIOUSLY we read @rlouisemoran GOVERNING BODIES, which I enjoy more with each read

Her dive into how the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed an ideal fit male is 👌🏽 /1

Cc @PennPress
I realize more w each class that students in this university-wide lecture, who come from all over the world, *really* don’t have a grounding in US history + w/o that #fitnesshistory is not nearly as interesting

So we unpacked Depression/New Deal

I❤️ @AmericanYawp for context/2
While most New Deal agencies emphasized how they fostered industriousness, productivity, independence... CCC stressed how these virtues showed up as a fit male BODY, often transformed from a scrawny boy headed for the dole (read @rlouisemoran on this, did I mention her book?!)/3
After learning how bad the Depression was, the students were surprised to learn that some costly New Deal programs focused on “lifestyle” resources like community pools, parks, playgrounds

This vid re California’s rec programs 1933-37 shows it so well/4
Phys Ed was mandatory in most states by the late 1920s... but the Depression cut funding AND there was a lot of worry that state-sponsored body projects were a slippery slope to fascism

Seeing Germany here, it’s easy to understand:

… /5
The CCC wasn’t the only New Deal agency shaping ideas re ideal male body

This 1936 Treasury Relief Art Project commission by Paul Cadmus was *supposed* to go in a post office but was deemed too controversial... in part bc of the rich bloated men leering at the strapping caddy/6
Next week, a New Deal playground that was built near the Santa Monica Pier for impoverished children but ended up attracting gymnasts and weightlifters... the (FIRST!) Muscle Beach/fin

See ya next week #FitNation!
Day 6 #FitNation @TheNewSchool was abt MUSCLE BEACH

The only day in a course about the whole country that we take such a narrow geographic focus...

Bc Muscle Beach such an important literal + figurative space in spread of fitness culture

Assigned great @E_Devienne article/1
I have many students from CA... even they were surprised the FIRST Muscle Beach was located in Santa Monica, est at a WPA playground + REVILED by local conservatives for attracting “sexual athletes”

Even getting a plaque acknowledging this ignominious history took til 1980s!/2
Thanks in part to major midcentury promo efforts marketing California as a lush land of health and leisure, Muscle Beach became nationally known *and* its image (somewhat) burnished

Check this 1930s poster + 1948 film by Joseph Strick... so wholesome!
The rehabilitation of Muscle Beach’s image was hardly complete!

LIFE magazine wrote a 1951 rapturous feature re the hardiness of “west coast youth”... but said Muscle Beach = sublime becoming absurd

Some readers were aghast musclemen were included in a family mag /4
“This is dumb, divine Jocie, the sort of girl you will find at Muscle Beach”

This 1959 novel about a brainy NYC journo tempted by the beauty of Muscle Beach who learns how vacuous the women+impotent the men are

Shows how MB was nationally known... enticing but ridiculous/6
One of many fascinating figures to come out of Muscle Beach was Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton who both championed lifting weights for women in 1940s (!!!)... and participated in contests that specifically said “Muscles do not count” (beauty did)

Highly rec Jan Todd on Stocktons! /
Day 7 #FitNation @TheNewSchool – we discussed how the White House promo of “total fitness” in the 1950s + 1960s was both a reaction to fear of how “push-button luxuries” were affecting American bodies AND an important stage in establishing exercise as a pastime of affluent /1
1959 “kitchen debate” btw Nixon/Khrushchev, in which Nixon presented labor-saving devices in US homes as evidence of the US’ superior way of life is a *perfect* entrée into what was actually ambivalence abt how all that leisure was making white suburbanites lazy+fat/2
Bonnie Prudden, a Westchester mom, was early to ID how suburban “tyranny of the wheel” in 40s/50s led to unfit kids + became a major booster of youth AND adult fitness nationally (she’s an incredible ex of working in public AND private fitness sectors in a way rare today) /3
Founding of Presidential Council on Youth Fitness in 1956 under Eisenhower – but run by Nixon – was a big deal, but they kept mood militaristic, focusing on training soldiers + holding meetings @ Annapolis, engaging Marines in community workouts... "fun" not a focus /4
JFK, despite personal health issues, did much to EMBODY “picture of fitness” + to denigrate “soft Americans” (title of 1960 @sportsillustrated essay)

He amped up Ike’s msg but by posing swimming in Palm Beach, playing ball in Hyannis Port, framed fitness as fun + affluent /5
JFK also dropped “youth” from the PCYF, making exercise a pursuit (or new social pressure) for ALL.

This ad highlights the ominous tone of often cheery PCF AND the push for citizen action; a rotund belly = future if Americans don’t push for PE /6
Last, while PCF boosters ALWAYS emphasized “no one gets cut from the squad of fitness,” JFK was savvy in knowing PCF wld benefit from association w SPORT, and celebrity. Appointing adored football coach Bud Wilkinson was a smart move in elevating image of fitness, esp for men /7
We read M Verbrugge/D Yingling’s "The Politics of Play: The Struggle over Racial Segregation and Public Recreation in Washington, D.C., 1945-1950" WASHINGTON HISTORY

AND Shelly McKenzie’s chapter on PCYF

Good luck on the midterm, #FitNation!
HI! #FitNation is back (online)+ this week we explored mainstreaming of "mind-body" Idea in 1960s/70s U.S.

By late 70s, counterculturalists AND conservative fundamentalists surprisingly *both* subscribed to a belief in holistic health/individual responsibility to achieve it /1
Body projects - sometimes recognizable as "fitness," sometimes not - was at heart of this moment

Counterculture talked a LOT re mind-body connection, like "revolutionary" approach to sports @ Esalen thru introducing non-competitive, inclusive activities like "yoga-tennis"/2
Feminists in particular argued that women taking control of their bodily health and strength was a POLITICAL act, be it in policy activism around repro rights, sexual violence, or... self-defense classes and prenatal yoga

This 1974 text lays it out well /3
While 1970s yoga + the mainstream wellness movement it helped launch is often typed as white, affluent fascination, POC activists like ROSA PARKS practiced yoga, a crucial chapter in history of self-care

@Prof_Evans on Parks+yoga is excellent/4
More surprisingly, 1970s conservatives embraced "whole-person" idea re health, and physical fitness as how to achieve it

Like at Oral Roberts U, where students sued against weight limits + the gym was named for exercise celeb doctor Kenneth Cooper.../5
Excellent readings this week (and always, I think!)
- @rootjb_root “Pounds Off for Jesus: Oral Roberts University + the Fat Body, 1976-78,” 2015
- @GayHistoryProf “Physique Pioneers: The Politics of 1960s Gay Consumer Culture” 2010
- C Lasch, “The Degradation of Sport,” 1979
And we concluded with this *fantastic* @DanRather 60 Minutes story from 1979 on "wellness", a "word you don't hear every day"

BUT YOU SURE DO NOW... thanks to this widespread embrace of mind-body-ism in the 1960s/70s.

See you next week #FitNation!
"MOVEMENT CULTURE" wrt 1960s/70s US usually means youth activism against the Vietnam War, for civil rights, hippies, etc

Today @thenewschool we discussed how this context was (not?) connected w LITERAL movement culture, thru lenses of JOGGING + STUDIO FITNESS /1 #FitNation
BIG changes in 60s re what exercise MEANT... as opposed to weightlifting + calisthenics, Dr. Kenneth Cooper's 1968 book AEROBICS introduced the revolutionary idea of CARDIO

(Hard to imagine, but he was so closely associated w it that in Brazil, jogging was called "Coopering"!)/2
Cooper + other researchers mostly focused on men - bc there was a scare about white-collar male workers getting heart attacks and bc WOMEN AND STRENUOUS EXERCISE, WHAT?!

Ironic, bc discovery of cardio wld be HUGE for women's exercise! Cooper's book for women came out 1972/3
JOGGING was both loved by "aerobics"-promoting doctors AND in fit in w counterculture bc it was environmentally friendly, meditative, and caused "natural high"

There was no market for swank run gear...

Future founder of Nike co-wrote JOGGING + advised running in old clothes!/4
Women challenged idea they shouldn't run- interestingly, many who broke these fitness barriers didn't necessarily see their actions as feminist THEN

That's legend Katherine Switzer w Jock Semple in 1973; 6 yrs earlier he tried to chase her off Boston Marathon! (She finished!)/5
It was a tough road for women runners to be taken seriously

At NYC's 1972 Crazylegs (sponsoring shave cream) "mini" race (so called bc of miniskirt fashion), there were PLAYBOY BUNNIES at the start... an ambivalent win for women's run culture - WATCH /6
As women's liberation + running became more mainstream, so too did a *market* emerge

Check out 1970s Nike women's run collection + language of emancipation

Mixed feelings abt this! Yes, capitalism, but also how great there's enthusiasm for women w $ to spend + miles to run/7
As some women fought to access male run culture, same context spawned VERY female fitness studio culture

Impt to see these together bc while hitting "the open road" cld be liberating, so could entering new spaces free from catcalling, built for women- big theme in Interviews/8
Yes these women's studios had roots in passive-exercise "slenderizing salons", but they were far less prim!

Free love enthusiast Lotte Berk famously told her clients how much her ballet-inspired workout would improve their sex lives... and NO MEN ALLOWED IN THE STUDIO!/9
Similarly, a dancer named Judi Sheppard tried to take a YMCA fitness test in 1969, but it was made for a man's body!

She soon created @Jazzercise the overwhelmingly female dance-exercise format meant to welcome moms on sidelines, suburbanites, to DANCE FOR FUN/HEALTH/10
Jazzercise was revolutionary in 70s, but Judi was reluctant to connect it TOO explicitly to women's lib THEN

Today, the runners who broke into a male sport AND the women who created something entirely new in studios all deserve a place in history of feminist movement culture/11
Highlights from this wk @TheNewSchool #FitNation:

The 80s consolidated a massive, diverse fitness INDUSTRY as appeal of teaching PE waned

@thejennye“Let Me Hear Your Body Talk: Aerobics for Fat Women Only”
J Black,Making the American Body
M Stern,
By 1983, fitness was mainstream enough that Pres. Reagan posed on a Nautilus machine AS well as chopping wood, TR style

He even made a bodybuilding joke - "Pumping Firewood" lol - suggesting a familiarity w a subculture that was subversive just 10 yrs earlier/2
Speaking of Nautilus - MACHINES had much to do w broader popularity of fitness in 1980s, bc popping a pin in a stack of weights way less intimidating than heaving huge(or not-so-huge) barbells

Founder Arthur Jones smartly realized this + Nautilus machines soon a gym fixture/3
But this fitness innovator also had a horrifying resume: he boasted of killing hundreds of elephants, married 6 women all before under age 20 , advocated the death penalty for drug users, and kept human body parts in his freezer for "research" /4
The fitness industry also expanded in 1980s thru franchising, still popular today

In 1984, the second-fastest growing franchise biz (after Domino's!) was Jazzercise - and almost all franchise owners were women, many of them balancing entrepreneurship w family responsibilities/5
Dingy weight gyms never disappeared, but glitzy "health club" was topic of many a trend piece as "the new singles club" where the beautiful people hang etc etc

One @RollingStone article re LA's Sports Connection- aka "Sports Erection"-spawned a feat film...+ another RS cover!/6
VHS *really* spread the fitness gospel far + wide... lots more on that in this thread/7
Esp during HIV-AIDS, gym culture + gay culture were v intertwined

Nightclub+fitness impresario John Blair talked of how for gay men, a fit body displayed health+robustness

Studio owner Molly Fox described the "3rd space" of gyms in this era/6
When Tamilee Webb-major 80s/90s fitness force-said if she'd been born earlier "she'd have ended up a P.E. teacher" I had no idea this narrative wld be a recurring motif in oral histories of this era

Low-pay PE teaching was suddenly v unattractive as a private industry boomed/7
Lots more to come, but I leave you with this image - of Lydia Bach, who brought the dance-based Lotte Berk Method to the U.S., arm-wrestling with Arnold @Schwarzenegger - that really shows the convergence of many different parts of the fitness industry/8
#fitnation @TheNewSchool
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