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Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America
     

Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America

by Shelly McKenzie
 

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John G. Cawelti Award

Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences Award

From Charles Atlas to Jane Fonda, the fitness movement has been a driving force in American culture for more than half a century. What started as a means of Cold War preparedness now sees 45 million Americans spend more than $20 billion a year on gym

Overview

John G. Cawelti Award

Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences Award

From Charles Atlas to Jane Fonda, the fitness movement has been a driving force in American culture for more than half a century. What started as a means of Cold War preparedness now sees 45 million Americans spend more than $20 billion a year on gym memberships, running shoes, and other fitness-related products.

In this first book on the modern history of exercise in America, Shelly McKenzie chronicles the governmental, scientific, commercial, and cultural forces that united—sometimes unintentionally—to make exercise an all-American habit. She tracks the development of a new industry that gentrified exercise and made the pursuit of fitness the hallmark of a middle-class lifestyle. Along the way she scrutinizes a number of widely held beliefs about Americans and their exercise routines, such as the link between diet and exercise and the importance of workplace fitness programs.

While Americans have always been keen on cultivating health and fitness, before the 1950s people who were preoccupied with their health or physique were often suspected of being homosexual or simply odd. As McKenzie reveals, it took a national panic about children's health to galvanize the populace and launch President Eisenhower's Council on Youth Fitness. She traces this newborn era through TV trailblazer Jack La Lanne's popularization of fitness in the '60s, the jogging craze of the '70s, and the transformation of the fitness movement in the '80s, when the emphasis shifted from the individual act of running to the shared health-club experience. She also considers the new popularity of yoga and Pilates, reflecting today's emphasis on leanness and flexibility in body image.

In providing the first real cultural history of the fitness movement, McKenzie goes beyond simply recounting exercise trends to reveal what these choices say about the people who embrace them. Her examination also encompasses battles over food politics, nutrition problems like our current obesity epidemic, and people left behind by the fitness movement because they are too poor to afford gym memberships or basic equipment.

In a country where most of us claim to be regular exercisers, McKenzie's study challenges us to look at why we exercise—or at least why we think we should—and shows how fitness has become a vitally important part of our American identity.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This fascinating book covers the development of the philosophy and practice of physical fitness in the United States. Despite the influence of Theodore Roosevelt's ebullient sportsmanship, McKenzie explains, the country as a whole did not begin to think in terms of exercise until after World War II. President Eisenhower's President's Council for Youth Fitness grew out of concern that draftees were being found unfit for military service. President Kennedy's President's Council on Physical Fitness continued this theme, which was also borne out of concern for businessmen dropping dead of heart attacks and pre-Feminine Mystique housewives consumed with staying slim. From this climate came the exercise classes of early pioneers such as Jack LaLanne, followed by the first few joggers, many of whom became runners. Soon enough, there were aerobics classes, marathons, cycling, Jane Fonda's fitness exercises, and yoga. McKenzie shows that while doctors have figured out how people can stay (reasonably) healthy, some of the medical thinking from 50 years ago was mind-boggling. VERDICT This is a thoroughly researched book. Readers who try to exercise regularly will be interested and perhaps inspired. Recommended.—Susan B. Hagloch, formerly with Tuscarawas Cty. P.L., New Philadelphia, OH
From the Publisher
“Shelly McKenzie’s Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America analyzes one of the most understudied aspects of American culture: the impact on the American body of the move to suburbia beginning after WWII. The fitness culture that we assume to be an integral part of what it means to be American in the 21st century turns out to be a response to the mass flight from the urban environment to the car culture of the suburbs. Fitness may be a contemporary commonplace but it is one with a complex and intriguing history. Clearly written and engaging, McKenzie’s account should be required reading for all the public health specialists wondering about the origins of our obesity epidemic.”—Sander L. Gilman, author of Obesity: The Biography “An interesting and ambitious book—based on diverse evidence and clear analysis—that effectively explains the origins of and reasons for many aspects of Americans’ continuing focus on physical fitness.”—Peter Stearns, author of Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West “McKenzie identifies and delineates a number of touchstone moments at which the relations among health, exercise, and cultural ideology changed in palpable ways. The result is an intriguing, well-written and compelling history that rings true, but also offers a number of new surprises. And it is a genuine pleasure to read!”—Philip Deloria, author of Indians in Unexpected Places

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700619061
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
06/12/2013
Series:
CultureAmerica Series
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
1,282,908
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Shelly McKenzie, an independent scholar, holds a Ph. D. from George Washington University, where she has taught writing and American studies.

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