Book Assessment: ‘Fit Nation,’ by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela

In good shape Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Workout Obsession, by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela


This previous June, just as swimming swimming pools opened all over again for the summer period, the New York Metropolis Parks Department canceled all its eagerly awaited out of doors pool-health plans, for the reason that of a scarcity of lifeguards. No swimming classes, no senior swim plans, no lap swimming hrs. Eager lap swimmers who would have in any other case attended the canceled early-morning sessions now additional on their own to the currently bloated community pools, corralled into the shallow conclusion as young children and mothers and fathers impassively seemed on. Individuals vented their annoyance in snaking traces outdoors the pool gates and on Twitter. How could the city fall short to guidance a single of the rites of a New York summer months?

In “Fit Country,” the historian and conditioning instructor Natalia Mehlman Petrzela points out why locations like city public swimming pools are battling. She traces how the United States concurrently became obsessed with doing work out and failed to give important assets for it. She follows the evolution of Americans’ attitudes towards operating out above the previous century, from skepticism to downright obsession: for individuals who can afford them, there are now greenback-a-moment exercise session classes, and personal trainers have turn out to be a typical accessory for affluent experts — something that was unthinkable for any person but athletes or superstars before 1990. “People were scrimping on essentials these kinds of as fuel, somewhat than high-class extras these types of as holidays or large style, in get to invest on boutique conditioning,” she writes, citing a 2017 client-expending review. It wasn’t constantly this way, and Petrzela requires us on a whirlwind journey of how we bought below. As late as 1936, when the early health and fitness celeb Jack LaLanne 1st opened a fitness center in Oakland, Calif., individuals imagined he was a “charlatan and a nut,” he when said. “The medical professionals were in opposition to me — they claimed that performing out with weights would give people everything from heart assaults to hemorrhoids that women would seem like guys.”

But thoughts-sets did adjust, and, as I acquired to Petrzela’s additional recent background chapters, I was regularly ashamed of how predictable my physical aspirations had been. She recaps the rise of the “strong is the new skinny” movement of the mid-90s, and how telegenic athletes like Anna Kournikova, Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm popularized athletic femininity with their visibly sculpted bodies. I was only a little one then. It’s barely stunning that I was primed to chase a sinewy figure over hunting waifish. With time, I eschewed long hrs of cardio for excess weight lifting, just as Instagram was beginning to flood with photographs of gals chronicling their conversion, their fat gains, their bulging muscular tissues. I also realized how a great deal I experienced taken my participation in physical fitness as a woman’s birthright. I shuddered when I read that it was not right up until 1967 that a girl, Kathrine Switzer, done the Boston Marathon — and was attacked by the race supervisor though undertaking so. And when I read about how, during the top of the aerobics growth — an action dominated by girls — Nike refused to make shoes for aerobics because, in the terms of just one of its vice presidents, it was beneath their standards to make products and solutions for “a bunch of extra fat girls dancing to tunes.”